If I had a quid for every game I’d played where a Mexican farmer gets killed before being brought back to live by a magic wrestling mask, only to get the ability to turn into a chicken and jump dimensions, I’d have… well… a quid. Guacamelee certainly takes an unusual approach when setting the story up, and with a series of glances towards classic platforming action it manages to mix up some fun ideas with solid, enjoyable platforming action, easily downloadable from the PSN store.
As a mere farmer with no magic tricks whatsoever, our hero Juan is given the fun task or rescuing the president’s daughter from the clutches of Carlos Calaca, an undead badass whose main intention seems to be being a huge pain in the ass. After getting killed in his first attempt, the aforementioned wrestling mask brings him back to life and lets him go on his merry way, moving through a colourful Mexican themed series of non-linear 2D levels while disposing of countless hoards of skeleton dudes, may of them in ponchos. Perfectly normal. Luckily he won’t need to rely on his own power for long, with several fancy upgrades on offer to bulk him up a bit.
Some of the powers are fairly simple affairs, allowing access to areas previously unreachable. Powerful uppercuts, headbutts and ground slams break blocks of certain colours, something which carries on a little later when you face various enemies with shields which glow in a certain colour, helpfully telling you how to kill them (can you kill a skeleton..?). But the true fun turns up when the powerups get a bit crazy. Being able to jump dimensions between the land of the living and that of the dead leads to some mind-bending puzzle sections as you switch dimensions mid-leap to allow you to pass through seemingly impossible areas. It’s akin to something we’ve seen before in the Prince of Persia games, and lends itself to some incredibly challenging and frustrating moments. It’s a good job you have unlimited lives and get reset to a very close location when things go wrong, otherwise the controller may well have ended up being thrown at a nearby passing animal.
But the most bizarre power comes in the form of being able to transform into a chicken. What sounds on paper like an utterly pointless idea actually works as a method of reaching areas that you previously couldn’t get to. With a simple press of the L1 button all of those teasingly small wall spaces can now be traveled through, giving you access to hidden areas, more chests to crack open and some cunning shortcuts through previously traversed areas. The chicken moves quickly too, something quite handy when trying to either get out of trouble or dodge some incoming attacks.
There’s actually an element of open world action in Guacamelee. Characters will request your help in various tasks which either need you to clear an area from enemies, track down people or items and even get a load of chickens back into a cage. It’s quite a powerful distraction, with several of the mini quests needing the powerups gained later in the game, so you’ll keep coming back to them as the main story progresses. A fast-travel system helps you move around already-seen areas quickly and easily, as a huge stone statue head sends you back and forth at will, so exploring and questing is made more fluid, aided by the speedy loading between sections.
The fighting sections are generally good fun, even when being locked into a room until all enemies have been dealt with. These arena moments do, as you’d expect, get tougher as the game progresses and share the shame occasional frustrations as the cross-dimension platforming. You quite often get attacked by enemies in the other dimension, needing to flick carefully between the worlds of living and dead in order to finish off every bad guy around. But the action is good fun, a mix of jumping and punching combos, special moves and throwing bad guys into each other. It’s faced paced seat-of-your-pants stuff, and rolling away from attacks is a key skill to learn early on if you’re going to last the distance.
I enjoyed Guacamelee quite a lot. If you’ve got a Vita then you can play it on there using the cross-buy option too, letting you get your daily dose of Mexican fun on the train to work then pick up where you left off at home. The combination of colourful locations, fun fighting and the non-linear gameplay all add up to a pretty enjoyable package, and spotting the various game and Internet meme references is an interesting sideline as you play through. The only gripe I had was that after the first couple of hours had been and gone it didn’t feel quite as entertaining. Maybe the novelty of the surroundings had worn off, or maybe the special moves dried up and became less interesting as I progressed, but I definitely found the first half more fascinating than the second. That’s not to say it’s bad, far from it, but novelty is certainly a key to enjoyment.
But for some pick up and play fun, and for just under a tenner (for both versions if you have both PS3 and Vita) it’s a worthy title and one that platforming fans should definitely take a look at.
Reviewed on PS3