“Guacamelee” was a slow burn for me.
At first I didn’t much care for it. I saw it as just another beat-em-up, Metroid-Vania kind of game with a new skin. But as I progressed through the game and unlocked more abilities, I found myself having a blast! Combat became a whirlwind of color-laced blows that required well-timed dodges and lunges to avoid attacks and close the gap on more powerful enemies. After a certain point, exploration wasn’t merely running around from point A to point B – very tedious and time consuming. Traveling became a test of skill – even a puzzle to solve at points – which meant that the simple task of “get to the place” became itself enjoyable and rewarding to accomplish.
As I garnered new special moves, my list of available combos and maneuvers expanded well past “hit the thing” and then “throw the thing after you’ve hit it enough”, allowing for some variety and flair in my button mashing. On top of that, once shielded enemies got introduced it added another layer of engagement to the combat – I was no longer able to simply cheese my way through hordes of skeletons with a single repeated move. I had to think and plan my attack pattern. And while forcing me to change up my fighting style to match certain opponents could have easily become frustrating, it was instead refreshing because it forced me to do something outside of my usual routine of tactics.
I can’t think of too many platforming woes that I ran into. The jumps, rolls, and uses of special moves all integrated quite intuitively when I was faced with how to overcome a certain obstacle. One thing that was frustrating but I think was necessary overall was that once I jumped into the air I could only use each special move once until I landed back on the ground (and no, hanging out on a wall doesn’t count for a reset). It seems limiting, but many of the more intricate gauntlets of thorny vines and spiked walls would’ve been a breeze if I could’ve simply chained uppercuts to get from place to place. Putting that limitation on being allowed to only double jump, dash, and uppercut once per jump meant that the super-involved platforming bits needed to be calculated and well-executed in order to work properly. There were, of course, a few places here and there that ushered forth some of my growling wrath and red-faced, white-knuckled, controller-bending rage, but as I said earlier – once I realized what the necessary timing or pattern or whatever was, it became less about “what should I do?” or “how do you do that?” and more about “why can’t I do this?” or “this game is a lying piece of s**t and I will print out its source code and consume it in an effort to display the fullness of my displeasure!”
Fairly typical behavior, I would say.
It took me a long time to get a handle on the flow and feel of the combat. All the various attacks and maneuvers give encounters a definite rhythm when placed together in a chain. I think the main reason it took me so long to get in the zone, as it were, is because I started this game fresh on the heels of completing a similarly styled game called “Dust: An Elysian Tail”. (Which, by the way, is abso-f*****g-lutely incredible! Enjoyable gameplay, great voice work, engaging story, beautiful art and sound design – y’all should really check this game out.) “Dust” is also a side-scrolling Metroid-Vania beat-em-up, but it incorporates RPG elements as well (buying and selling items, leveling up, etc.), and its combat moves much more quickly than “Guacamelee” – not just in actual speed, but in responsiveness. And that response discrepancy – the difference between one action finishing and another action being allowed to start – is very noticeable. I was so used to being able to chain massive combos together as quickly as I pressed the buttons that when I changed to the combat system in “Guacamelee” it felt sluggish and laggy. But all there is is a slight necessary pause between moves. After throwing a punch there’s this little beat that happens on the follow-through that you have to wait out before jumping into the next step in your barrage of fists. It wasn’t gamebreaking, just a little frustrating when I was so used to the feel of a similar combat system. I was eventually able to get into this game’s groove and whoop some serious ass, but those first couple of hours felt like a chore to get through.
The story itself has some humorous lines and interesting characters in it, as well as some jokes and asides concerning other video games. Oh man – this game is brimming with references to other games! Some of them are integrated into the gameplay and story itself (like the Choozo statues that grant you special abilities looking like the Chozo statues from “Metroid”), but many simply exist in the background as a sort of “Hey! Remember this game! Crazy, right?” kind of referential humor or something. I dunno, I guess it’s not really bad or doing any sort of disservice to the game. The references don’t really take anything away from the game since it’s already pretty self-aware of its “gameness”, and it’s not like the story has a gigantic, dramatic heft to it that doesn’t have a place for a light sprinkling of humor. I suppose it’s rather innocuous – more of an outlet for the game’s designers to plaster up some of their favorite games and possible inspirations almost as an homage.
I only have one particular thing to bitch about, so… let’s get into that little rant. There are seven orbs in the game to collect that allow you to get the “good” ending. The last orb is awarded after defeating Calaca (BBEG / final boss), but the first six are scattered throughout various areas in the game. These orbs are obtained by completing some sort of trial –fighting through waves of tough enemies, or successfully navigating a maze, or leaping and dodging through some intense platforming, etc. One orb in particular is picked up in Inferno (i.e. Hell). The devil has been turned into a chicken (because reasons) and needs your help letting him into his office to catch up on paper work (you know how the devil is). In order to unlock his office you have to receive a gold medal in ten of the seventeen trials located in the building. Once again, these trials are either combat or platforming focused, and usually have some sort of parameter or secondary objective to achieve (such as not taking a single hit during a combat, or maneuvering an obstacle course without using any special moves – things like that). Once you get the ten gold medals, the devil’s office unlocks and there’s a portal in there to one of the orbs. “But wait,” you say now, as I said to myself at that moment, “what happens when you get a gold medal in all seventeen trials?! I bet you get something super cool!”
And so I pushed onward through the remaining stages.
The last seven arenas did ramp up the difficulty quite a bit, and I found myself repeating and replaying most of these levels over and over again, either not being able to achieve a gold status or simply realizing that I’d f****d up way too hard to get a good enough ranking, thereby forcing a retry.
But I did it – I succeeded. I got a gold in all seventeen trials. And what did I get for all of my hard work and impressive feats of parkour and combat?
No actual in-game reward. No health chunk, no costume, no money – nope…
… just an achievement.
Which – I mean – isn’t the worst thing in the world. At least I got some sort of acknowledgment for all that hard work and effort and time and all that. I would’ve been livid if I had forced myself do to all that and didn’t even get a pat on the back for it. (Mind you, back in the day, before achievements and trophies and leaderboards and whatnot, doing near-impossible things in video games gave the player none of these things – merely the satisfaction of doing it and possible bragging rights to those who gave a s**t about these sort of things.)
Oh well… I honestly can’t even get myself that worked up about it. There was so much about this game to enjoy and so very little about it that I disliked that this one little scuff mark isn’t nearly enough to make me write off the game all by itself.
And now for stats:
I initially finished the game in a little under eleven hours, but I hadn’t collected all of the orbs and therefore didn’t get the “real” ending to the game. So I decided to jump back in and grab the leftover three orbs that I hadn’t already gathered, and then proceeded to defeat the final boss one more time in order to get a real sense of completion in the whole thing.
I rolled out of this game with the good ending with a total play time of 11:25:08, having unlocked 26 of the 30 achievements – I’m still missing:
- “start a new game on slot #2” (easy – I’ll probably do that for the sake of doing it right after uploading this review)
- “defeat 20 enemies in a single INTENSO sequence” (the trick to this will be finding a cluster of enemies to do that with, but it seems possible)
- “beat the game on hard mode” (we’ll see if I revisit this game later)
- “get 100% completion in all areas” (nah f**k that)
Even though it took a bit of doing for me to really hunker down and really get into the game, I still enjoyed my play through “Guacamelee”, and I’d recommend it to those of you who are fans of the Metroid-Vania style of games. It’s got strong gameplay, a well-thought-out system of moves and level designs, and a bit of humor thrown into the mix. Go check it out.