A game by DrinkBox Studios for PC, PS4, PS3, Vita, Xbox One, Xbox 360, and Wii U, originally released in 2013.
Guacamelee gets its start in a tequila bar situated on the edge of an agave field. This is where our lowly soon-to-be hero, Juan, works and lives. In the basement of Casa de Juan, he awakes from a hammock that is attached to the boiler and heads upstairs. On his wall are pictures of various luchadores, and there are pieces of exercise equipment here and there, offering a hint as to Juan’s unrealized hopes of becoming a luchador himself.
Today is Dia de los Muertos, and the village is getting ready for a celebration. The village clearly holds luchadores in high regard, as the city has numerous luchador posters on the walls, and there is a huge luchador statue in the center of town. Even the church has luchador-themed stained glass windows. As Juan speaks to NPC’s and helps out around town, we learn that he had once known the daughter of El Presidente and that he may be seeing her again at the Dia de los Mertos festival.
But things quickly go wrong, as El Presidente’s daughter is kidnapped by the Carlos Calaca, the ruler of the World of the Dead. Juan tries to fight back, but he is no match for the villain, and he is killed. And so the story truly begins, with Juan waking up in the World of the Dead and discovering a mask that turns him into a luchador and allows him to return to the World of the Living. He must defeat Calaca and his minions, rescue the damsel in distress, and prevent the merging of the living and dead worlds.
Juan has a variable 1.5x jump and can perform a 3-hit combo on the ground or in the air, which he can string together with uppercuts and downwards slams, and eventually several other special attacks. Fighting enemies and wearing them down will then allow you grab and toss them in any direction, slamming them against walls, the floor, or even into other enemies for crowd control. You have the ability to dodge as well, although few enemies require its use. The ability to hit multiple enemies at once and to stun enemies with repeated attacks allows you to clear out most foes with liberal use of your offensive moveset.
As you play, you earn a new abilities and a number of new fighting moves, the most important of which are your special attacks. Guacamelee is a Metroidvania title, and earning new abilities allows you to reach previously inaccessible areas. Some of these explorative paths are opened organically as you learn how to do things like double jump, wall jump, and switch between the living and dead worlds (more on this in a bit). Many areas are made inaccessible by colored blocks which can only be opened with the use of a specific special move.
These special attacks also allow for environmental traversal, such as stringing together an uppercut and a horizontal punch to reach a high distant platform, although each may only be used once in midair. Of course, these attacks also open up more combat options, giving you more ways to dispatch your enemies.
Not long after earning your first special attack – an uppercut that allows you to break red blocks – you are placed into situations where you must make use of advanced moves such as dropping down from platforms and then using an uppercut to rise back up onto another platform, or dodging through a row of thorns and then uppercutting before you fall into the slime below. Additional attacks include a horizontal punch, a ground slam, and a stationary headbutt.
Special moves are powered by a stamina meter, the length of which may be upgraded by finding pieces of luchador masks hidden throughout the game world, allowing you to string more special attacks together before waiting to recharge. Much of the motivation to explore comes in discovering hidden chests that offer stamina increases, health increases, and money that can be spent in the shop. Money is also dropped from killed enemies, with bonus coinage received for racking up a nice combo, and many enemies drop a bit of health as well… although there is little penalty for death.
Falling into slime or off the edge of the screen will return you to the most recent solid ground, and having your life bar drained will return you to the most recent checkpoint, which are frequent. You may also return to a checkpoint at almost any time to get a full health recharge and quicksave, and these checkpoints also act as the shop system. Here, you may purchase a few supplemental moves, greater health restoration when grabbing pickups, the ability to recharge your stamina meter more quickly and with less wait time, and the ability to stun opponents more quickly.
You will generally have a clear destination when working to complete the game’s main quest, although you are free to explore and return to previous areas at will. There are also a number of NPC’s who offer side quests, such as finding the missing member of a mariachi band or locating the ingredients for a special Mexican dish, with money or a stat boost offered as rewards. There is also a cave that offers additional challenges for players who wish to take on a series of fights with no checkpoints, with 3 towers to challenge your skills.
Exploring the world will also reveal a number of humorous video game references. For instance, there is a poster for a tag team wrestling duo called Los Super Hermanos Luchadores. One wears a green mask and the other a red mask, and both have large black mustaches, referencing Super Mario Bros. Sharp-eyed players will find references to numerous classic video games, pop culture, and even some popular contemporaries like Super Meat Boy (el Niño de Carne) and VVVVVV. There’s also a rather brilliant (but slightly spoilery) reference to Journey.
While many of these references are featured as background elements, there is one very prominent reference that directly impacts gameplay. Throughout the world are a number of Mexican-themed Chozo statues holding orbs that offer you new abilities when you break them. A rather cantankerous old man/goat explains that they are called “Choozo Statues”, and he’s none too happy that you keep breaking them.
The game’s overall tone is a humorous one, and understanding a touch of Spanish will help you to understand some of the jokes (but it’s not required by any means). Throughout the game, you’ll meet a cast of strange and colorful characters, including a luchador named el Baño, an alcoholic gunslinger named Flame Face who has a burning head, and a chicken with a rather important past. Seldom does the game take itself too seriously outside of a few major scenes and the telling of character-specific backstories. And even then, it’s not long before you’re back in the world fighting skeletons, tossing armadillos, and using “chicken magic”.
An important mechanic that is introduced slowly during the course of the game is the ability to swap between dimensions. Early in the game, when you are killed and sent into the World of the Dead, you get a mask that sends you back to the World of the Living. Later, you encounter portals that let you switch between dimensions for environmental puzzle solving purposes, the most important of which is making use of platforms and walls that only exist in one dimension (these are indicated by sparkling lights). You later earn the ability to switch dimensions at will, allowing for more complex environmental puzzles, such as wall jumping segments where you must repeatedly transition between dimensions in midair. You will even encounter enemies that are specific to one dimension – sometimes mixed in with enemies specific to another dimension – and you must switch between dimensions to fight them, while they can damage you from any dimension.
One bit of troublesome design is the way the game handles your temporary invincibility period. When you take a big blow, you will be knocked to the ground and enter a temporary invincibility period, ensuring that you receive no damage while you are down. After a few seconds, you stand back up, but your temporary invincibility ends at this moment, meaning that you cannot reposition yourself to avoid another attack. Since you have no movement control during your invincible state, you may find yourself sitting and watching your luchador lie motionless on the ground and then stand up just as a projectile reaches his position, immediately knocking him down again for another few seconds of inactivity. This can be particularly frustrating during complex combat situations and boss encounters.
The game also features same screen 2P co-op for the entire campaign, with the second player controlling a female character named Tostada, who is occasionally seen during the single player story mode as well.
The game’s visual design is, in a word, stunning. There are a variety of locales, ranging from Mexican villages to pyramids to mountains, each of which are packed with details and color, and each have their own unique feel that still fits within the overall artistic design of the world. The game is heavily influenced by traditional Mexican folklore, music, and artwork, and this shows through in every aspect of the visual and aural design.
Guacamelee (technically it’s Guacamelee! with an exclamation point) was developed by Toronto-based developer DrinkBox Studios, which was founded in 2008. Their first release was the PS3-exclusive Tales from Space: About a Blob in 2011, followed by Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack for PC and Vita in 2012.
In About a Blob, the player takes control of a blob from outer space that is captured and placed in a lab for study, but he soon escapes and begins absorbing things to grow larger and larger. The blob must squish his way through narrow passages, push blocks and other objects, and even hover through the air to solve environmental puzzles.
The game is themed after 50’s and 60’s sci-fi invasion movies. The game’s 17 levels can be tackled alone or with a friend in local 2P co-op.
Mutant Blobs Attack starts out similarly with another blob being experimented on in a laboratory, and once again you must consume everything in sight to grow larger and larger. As before, you solve environmental puzzles through a number of areas on your path to get revenge against humanity. You can rocket your way through the air, magnetize yourself to objects, and move objects remotely.
As with Guacamelee, there are numerous references to other video games and pop culture, as well as mockups of posters typical of sci-fi invasion movies. The game features more than 20 single player levels as well as some top-down bonus missions.