Guacamelee is only the third game from the Toronto-based developer DrinkBox Studios. It’s their first game beyond their Tales from Space series, and already it’s easy to see the studio’s identity quickly coming together. Guacamelee uses the wild, flamboyant backdrop of Mexican Luchadore culture as its playground. Moving from classic sci-fi to high-octane Luchadore action, Guacamelee effortlessly channels the cheeky, abundantly silly personality of the studio’s earlier work.
You are the would be Luchadore, Juan. You live in a shack outside of town. Overlooked your entire life, today is the day that your childhood friend and hopeful romance interest will be kidnapped by an especially ill-tempered skeleton by the name of Calaca. As the down trodden do-gooder that you are you follow and confront Calaca, subsequently leading to your death. But that’s just the beginning.
Guacamelee borrows much of the so-called Metroidvania template, touting a huge 2D gameworld that slowly reveals itself as new player abilities are earned. The abilities that Juan learns throughout the adventure serve a variety of uses, the most obvious allowing you to break a series of color coded blocks that impede your progress and hide various secrets. Each ability is unlocked when you destroy a specific statue, which leads to a series of funny and memorable encounters with an old man who is also a goat. He’s none too pleased with your repeatedly destroying his Choozo Statues, and if he had a lawn, he’d likely tell you to get off it.
Guacamelee is chock-full of these little details. In the main town you can go through a series of escalating combo trials administered by the Combo Chicken, who has his own dojo of course. There’s some subtle nods to the work of some of DrinkBox’s friends and not-so-subtle homage to the games that inspire the creators, but everything is added with care, ensuring that Guacamelee’s world, though absurd, remains believable.
“Character designs use strong silhouettes and bold colors”The fantastical Mexico of Guacamelee is realized by an incredible art style. Character designs use strong silhouettes and bold colors to define mood. The world and its inhabitants have a slightly geometric look to them, creating crisp environments and clear lines of action. Unlike Tales from Space, which had a gelatinous protagonist and thus a limited set of animations, merely moving and fighting with Juan becomes an immediate, simple joy. His actions, along with those of his enemies, are all exaggerated, which plays into the larger-than-life aesthetic of the game as a whole.
Combat is easily one of Guacamelee‘s pinnacles. Some recent combat-centric 2D games have struggled to create fighting engines that are as fun as they are flashy, but Guacamelee sidesteps this issue with a combat system that is equal parts easy and deep. As a wrestler, the Luchadore possesses a number of grappling moves, which allows the player to fling enemies across the room. Tossed enemies crash into other enemies, creating the easy crowd control option that is necessary in a game that sometimes overwhelms you with baddies.
“Players can toss and juggle enemies between one another, creating an impressive production line of death”Where Guacamelee‘s fighting gets really interesting is in the long, elaborate combos that become possible as more and more of Juan’s skills are unlocked. Launchers and air combos and pile drivers, everything becomes second nature as you experiment with the systems, looking for the most satisfying looking combinations. With a second player combat is even more manic, as players can toss and juggle enemies between one another, creating an impressive production line of death.
Combat is definitely the highlight of Guacamelee‘s co-op experience, but it’s only one half of that experience. Platforming plays a huge role in the game, and it features some of the most difficult platforming sequences I’ve ever completed – think Super Meat Boy, or the Tricky Treasures in Rayman Origins. These sections require an incredible amount of precision and patience, sometimes requiring you to use several different abilities in quick succession while flipping between two separate realities (Guacamelee takes place in The Land of the Living and The World of the Dead), because a platform may exist in one but not the other. Now, imagine two people trying to do these simultaneously. It doesn’t work, and it is why Guacamelee allows one player to “bubble” and skip the section altogether.
Without reservation, Guacamelee is easily DrinkBox’s finest game to date. It subscribes to the design that made Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night the classics that they are, but it offers its own unique spin on the genre. Guacamelee is both fun and funny, the DNA of a DrinkBox Game.