"Sorry Luchador, but your princess is in another castle". Guacamelee! doesn't hide from what it is - a loving throwback to the classic games of a bygone era. The great thing is it doesn't have to. This Metroidvania mashup of mexican wrestling, chickens and melodrama is executed so perfectly, it can stand on its own two feet amongst the very games it takes reference from.
Guacamelee! is an open-world Metroidvania game that takes place during Dia de los Muertos - the day of the dead. Players fill the shoes of Juan, a humble agave famer who is murdered by an evil spirit named Carlos. He is somehow revived, given a magical luchador mask, and becomes a super-hero wrestler that the town needs to survive. Without spoiling too much of the adventure, Guacamelee! becomes a silly tale of revenge and damsels in distress, delivered entirely via text. It's not the deepest of tales, but it is certainly satisfying, with sprinklings of comedy here and there that will have you grinning from start to finish.
Taking inspiration from the Metroid series, the game gives you free reign over the entire game map as you complete main missions and side-quests. As you progress through the story you will unlock new powers, which gives you incentive to backtrack to previously visited areas to access places you couldn't before. The exploration of the world isn't terribly rewarding, but the world of Guacamelee! is so inviting, you'll want to see everything it has to offer.
While backtracking and powers are certainly a big part of the gameplay, the combat is where Guacamelee! really shines. Learning and perfecting new combos, while recognising the strengths and weaknesses of each enemy, and stringing together impossible combos is beyond satisfying. I would go as far to say that this could be the most fun I've had with a 2D brawler since the original Double Dragon.
Guacamelee! also features some RPG elements as you move throughout the world. Juan will discover three types of treasure chests: one will provide coins which can be used to purchase new skills and moves, another will increase his stamina, and the final will increase his health. By the end of the adventure, you walk away feeling like you have helped Juan realise his full potential, which is certainly a great feeling.
The art style of Guacamelee! is simply stunning, regardless of whether you are playing the PS3 or the PS Vita version of the game. Each cast member is screaming with character, the environements are full of charm, and the colour palette really stands out as something unique. Backed up by a mexican-themed soundtrack that will be stuck in your head for days, the presentation is absolutely top notch on both versions of the game.
One of the best features is the cross-buy functionality. Purchase Guacamelee! for your PS3 and you get a free copy on your Vita, and vice-versa. Both versions are identical except for one feature - the PS3 version allows you to play the entire game with a friend, with two-player local co-op available. Sharing cloud saves between devices literally takes seconds, which was great when playing the game at night on my PS3 and then heading out the next morning to continue of my Vita.
There are two minor gripes I had with Guacamelee!, neither of which detract from the overall experience. The first would be the length - players can easily smash through the main game in under six hours, yet by the time you compelte the side missions and discover everything that the game is hiding, the length could be pushed to eight or nine hours. It's not a terrible thing, yet I was certainly hoping for a little more adventure to be had.
The other is the gross underusing of the dimension mechanic - because Juan is actually dead, during certain areas he can travel between the land of the living and the land of the dead. It works really well and really spices up the gameplay, but it is used sparingly which is a shame. It could have provided some truly innovative platforming sequences.
THE FINAL VERDICT
Guacamelee! is a shining example of what the PSN can achieve when paired with smaller studios. Outstanding art style, amazing combat mechanics and a certain charm that is unforgettable, this cross-platform Metroidvania adventure is definitely one you will want to add to your collection.