Wrestling has always tingled my brain a bit. Its operatic flamboyancy and macho values feel about as natural as a ballet show based on the life of Mr T. Its awful narrative set-ups when a story attempts to pry in kicks in a gut reaction for me to grab the nearest monocle and pipe and snobbishly decreed everything the sport is not about. However, without it, we probably wouldn’t have one of my favourite PSN title to grace both PS3 and the Vita; Guacamelee!
Guacamelee! follows the exploits of the recently deceased Juan in a bid to…yes…deceased. This unrelateable underdog has a bizarre twist of fate when plucked from the mortal realm in an attempt to rescue his long lost love, Il Presidente’s daughter, from the clutches of Calaca, a skeletal scaremonger attempting to merge the land of the living with the land of the dead. Given a second lease on life thanks to the powers of a magical luchador mask, the only way of preventing this afterlife anti-apartheid is to delve through both worlds and become not only the greatest wrestler of the living, but the dead.
While I lead a fairly dull life, I have been programmed with a set of ‘trigger words’ that people really should not know. Should someone mention ‘Metroidvania’, money streams out of my pockets. Guacamelee flirted such formats before I could even. Nooks and crannies consist of upgrades and money stashes, and even uber special orb…things. Guacamelee’s simplicity means that these upgrades don’t go towards an infinite arrangement of stats which may annoy those who are statistically obsessed. Initially, the graph addicted, stat obsessed cretin in me had his heart fall at the prospect of not seeing Juan rise from zero to hero in Excel format. After just a few minutes of uncovering hidden secrets though, it becomes apparent that satisfaction comes not from every tiny boost in health you get, but the journeys you take to earn them.
At regular milestones, you’re given super-moves that not only trash opponents, but help clearing out meddling blocks that dare to stand in your way. In his journey to become a supreme luchador, Juan must uncover super-charged versions of key moves such as upper cuts and body-slams, and as waves of different enemies attempt to grapple him to death, his tactics must adapt to each situation he is presented with. A game like this is in constant danger of teetering over the brink of repetitive with a limited amount of enemies thrown in every which way, but enemy waves are set-up to test Juan’s parkour abilities as well as his wrestling skills.
Despite combat being simple and fun to tear through, some of my most satisfying moments in this game came from instances where I had no enemies to face up against and still fight my way through. A steady difficulty curve pitches you up against increasingly complicated hop, skip and punch challenges. Improving combos in the midst of enemy waves is gratifying as monsters fall, but you’re constantly forced to brace yourself for demanding platforming segments by figuring out a set combo to tackle a set of floating landmasses feels so damn gratifying.
The amount of options available to you slowly and subtly evolve the game from platformer to puzzler, never punishing you for mistakes and always giving you enough leg room to crack your knuckles and try again. No matter how powerful you become with a knowledge of fancy pummelling moves stacking up in the brain, there’s never an easy option to jig from point A to point B. This merging of combat and exploration aids adds some richness to teaching yourself new combos, never trying to alienate those who can’t manipulate their thumbs at lightening speeds. Guacamelee! trains you to game like the Flash, to balance fighting moves and world switching mechanics, and the constant proof of lessons learnt through progression gives you that extra boost to pile in another few minutes…or hours.
If you have kids who pester you to switch over the telly to whatever young people watch nowadays, you might get away with hypnotising them with Guacamelee’s whims. From sun-kissed deserts to temples barren of light, every corner of this cartoon coated Mexico is as vibrant as anything you’ll find on Saturday morning. The game has a whole host of comedic cards to play and does so with great timing, nestling Easter eggs in the background that range from subtle game references to unashamed memes. Gucamelee! pulls off charm in a way that doesn’t drown your insides in sweetness, and never fails to give you a wry smile.
Problems? Too damn short. Unearthing everything took me around 6 hours, with another playthrough on hard to obtain a shiny platinum trophy. Despite its limited lifespan however, I still ended each adventure satisfied. My wallet might feel slightly duped, but I could quite happily play this over and over as much as I did any platformer in the 90s. I’m conflicted, I must admit, but hey, I’m happy.
You may be able to complete Guacamelee! in one playthrough, but that’s because it will hook you in with its smooth platforming, satisfying combat and oodles of collectables strewn from beginning to end. A satisfying morsel of goodness oozing with charm, nothing in this game can raise a grain of negativity in your mind. Full of face thwacking, treasure plucking, belly laughing fun, Guacamelee! is more than just a fun filled few hours. It’s a refreshing experience in familiar territory, with a few dashes of daft to spice things up…and the odd meme thrown in for good measure.