Ryan's Always Right: Guacamelee!
Guacamelee! is a metroidvania-style action-platformer where you play as Juan, a Luchador on a quest to save a damsel in distress. Metroidvanias are easily one of my favorite genres in all of gaming, and by far my favorite single-player genre, with two of them appearing in the top 10 of my Best Games of the Decade List (Ori and the Blind Forest and Hollow Knight). Guacamelee has a bit of a cult following and won an IGF award for Excellence in Visual Art, but can it stand up to the goliaths of its genre?
The story in Guacamelee is fairly cookie cutter. You play as Juan, a peasant agave farmer who is in love with the daughter of El Presidente. In an era where Luchadors are considered heroes, Juan is looked down upon by the community for being a common man. The daughter of El Presidente still loves Juan, however, and is excited to go to the Dia de los Muertos festival with him. That is, until she gets captured by the evil skeleton charro Calaca. Failing in his attempt to save his love interest, Juan is killed and El Presidente’s daughter is taken away by Calaca. In the land of the dead, Juan finds a special mask, enabling him to gain incredible power and come back to life as a Luchador. He must use his newly acquired Luchador powers to track down Calaca and save El Presidente’s daughter.
Like all metroidvanias, Juan is initially pretty weak and has a very limited skillset. As you progress through the game, you acquire new skills which have dual-utility and assist you in both combat and platforming. These skills are also color-coordinated, allowing you to break blocks and shields of the respective color. Unfortunately, most of the skills are pretty boring or just outright annoying. The Rooster Uppercut is necessary for much of the platforming in Guacamelee, but it’s an inconsistent move that is much more effective for combat. The Frog Slam is easily one of the worst abilities in any game, serving virtually no purpose other than to break green shields and blocks. Thankfully, the game does eventually introduce some abilities that make things much more fun.
By far the most interesting mechanic of the game is the ability to switch between dimensions, going from the land of the living to the land of the dead. This affects both platforming and combat encounters, as well as the cityscape and townsfolk. While it can be a bit of a nuisance for combat, the dimension-switching is an absolute joy for platforming. Unfortunately, although this particular mechanic is awesome (it reminds me a bit of Fez), there isn’t much else that impressed me about this game. While learning new combos and chaining them together in combat is a lot fun, most fights are either completely boring or are riddled with un-fun mechanics that eliminate your ability to do combos. This game is not difficult in the slightest, and it seems that the developer’s only concept of difficulty was to give enemies a way to stop your fun or to just throw more enemies on the screen.
Although it’s a metroidvania, combat is definitely the focal point for this game. Unlike other combat-focused metroidvanias such as Hollow Knight however, the boss fights in Guacamelee are some of the most boring boss fights I’ve ever encountered. The mechanics are simple and the fights are generally easy and uninteresting. Aside from the lackluster platforming and combat, the game also introduces a bunch of random elements that serve no purpose. You unlock teleport spots but you never have any reason to use them. You occasionally get pointless miniquests which feature the most trivial tasks and lifeless dialogue. The game constantly tries to be funny but it just falls short.
I know this review has seemed pretty negative thus far but I don’t want to portray this game as being awful; it’s not. It’s just that Guacamelee feels like it had potential and failed to realize it. The inter-dimensional aspect is genuinely exciting and there are certain sequences in the game that are really fun. It’s just unfortunate that the game is hobbled by its poor writing, the many sequences that are either boring or frustrating, and its half-hearted attempts at adding pointless additional content. That said, you do get to become a chicken which is pretty cool.
Overall, Guacamelee isn’t a bad game; it’s just not a great one either. As far as metroidvanias go, Guacamelee is very easy and is a serviceable entry to the genre for those who are unfamiliar with it. It’s not going to give you the incredible platforming of Ori and the Blind Forest or the exhilarating combat of Hollow Knight, but it is a decent game and will likely hold your attention for its short 6-7hr duration. I wouldn’t recommend buying the game at its normal price of $15 but if you find it on sale it might be worth your while. Ryan’s Rating: 3/5 Guacamelee is available on all major platforms excluding mobile. P.S. There’s also a sequel to the game, Guacamelee 2. If there’s any Guacamelee fans out there that think the sequel is better than the original and want me to review it in the future, let me know in the comments below.