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Game Reviewed: Guacamelee!
Publisher: Drinkbox Studios
Developer: Drinkbox Studios
Platform: PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One, WiiU, PC, Mac, Linux
Category: Beat 'em Up Platformer
ESRB Rating: E10
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Well, that’s the longest “platform” section I’ve ever had to fill out. As you can tell, this side-scrolling beat-‘em-up has been getting spread around between systems like mad lately, so it’s very easily accessible and fairly popular, as indie titles like this go.
Guacamelee! is based on traditional Mexican folklore, specifically Dia de los Muertos: the Day of the Dead. In Guacamelee!, Juan is a normal guy who has a childhood history with El Presidente’s Daughter. While their village is preparing for the Dia de los Muertos festivities, beings from the underworld attack, kidnapping El Presidente’s Daughter and killing Juan. The end. It’s a rather short game, I guess.
No, of course it doesn’t end there. Juan is resurrected by a mysterious force that prompts him to become a Luchador, a costumed warrior capable of being in both the land of the living and the land of the dead, in order to rescue El Presidente’s Daughter and stop Calaca, a vengeful spirit, from wreaking havoc on the world.
The story is, of course, pretty rote for this medium. El Presidente’s Daughter doesn’t even get a name; she’s just the one who gets taken that Juan must then rescue, invoking classic tales of princesses and koopas. The unique elements of this game center on its setting and aesthetics, as Mexican folklore isn’t often explored in games; you won’t learn much about Mexican traditions or anything, but the setting is fun, and the art style looks great in action.
So then, let’s dive in and see if you should send your kids to the land of the dead.
…that sounded a lot better in my head.
What Parents Need to Know
Guacamelee! focuses on melee combat, as the name implies. Juan will punch his way through a variety of enemies, from living skeletons to carnivorous plants to powerful undead beings. This violence is cartoonish and entirely devoid of blood.
I did not notice any offensive language in Guacamelee!
Some female characters (including the character player 2 will play in co-op mode) are wearing revealing clothing, but there is no nudity.
There are, however, many double entendres, mostly from one of Calaca’s minions that has a serious obsession with him, yet can never seem to be as important to him as his vengeful mission. At one point, she even laughs and calls out her own double entendre. Yeah, this game is really self-aware.
There is also a point where Calaca mentions El Presidente’s Daughter as a “sacrificial virgin,” to which she replies, “Virgin? Yeah, about that…”
Being based on Mexican folklore, and specifically Dia de los Muertos, there are a lot of fantasy elements central to the game. Juan himself is something of an undead warrior, and Tostada (the woman played by the second player in co-op) is as well. The antagonists are all beings from the land of the dead, and Calaca plans to merge the two entirely, allowing the land of the dead to completely ravage the land of the living. His plan involves sacrificing El Presidente’s Daughter.
Oh, and the personification of death has been transformed into a rooster. Have I mentioned this game is kind of weird?
Alcohol use is implied in a variety of situations, and barrels of liquor are found throughout the world.
Guacamelee! pleasantly surprised me. It’s no masterpiece, and it certainly doesn’t have anything particularly great to offer the world through its existence, but it’s one of the most well-designed games I’ve seen of its genre. Taking cues from Metroid and Castlevania (a combination so common it’s become known as “Metroidvania”), it structures itself by granting the player new abilities as the game goes on, which allow them to access new areas and progress in the game at a pace they’re comfortable with. The powers tend to be pretty creative, and they are used in platforming sequences that are intensely exciting and satisfying. The combat is also enjoyable, with a large amount of combos and a surprising amount of depth for such a simple system. My only real gameplay complaint is in a color-based mechanic introduced later in the game, which was challenging for me due to my color deficiency; but assuming you have normal eyes, it won’t be a problem for you.
In the end, Guacamelee! is an enjoyable little beat-‘em-up with a fun setting and aesthetic, and a really enjoyable sense of self-awareness. Nothing elevates it to greatness, but it’s an enjoyable diversion, and harmless enough if you’re old enough to see through the double entendres.