“Guacaaameleeeeee! Super Turbo Championship Editiooonnn!” yells the narrator as I boot up the (enhanced edition of the) game. Woah. Even the title screen immediately makes it clear: this game is lighthearted and doesn’t take itself too seriously, the complete opposite of other metroidvanias like Hollow Knight. I’ve seen Guacamelee appear in countless of “top metroidvania games” lists and never really thought about it, until last week a Switch sale allowed me to pick up this now almost nine year old game for just
€2.60. Even if it turns out to be not my thing (which it kind of did), this seemed to be a harmless way to try it out.
First Impressions: meh
In Guacamelee, you’re Juan, a poor and heart-broken agave farmer that gets killed just five minutes in. Luckily, you find a way back to the world of the living (and dead) by becoming a “Luchador”, a Mexican-inspired wrestler, thanks to a blue mask that somehow grants immense powers. The scenery and music are filled to the brim with puns and references to both other games and Mexican culture, a very welcoming break from bland and uninspired fantasy themes.
As you can see from the screenshots below, Guacamelee is very vibrant and colorful, to the point that it sometimes hurts my eyes if playing in dimly lit areas. The game is divided into different sections, which, just like other metroidvanias, you can fast-travel to using drunken (??) statues. There’s cities, toxic underground sewers, lush forests, plenty of temples, and so forth. The problem is, after a few hours of playing, they all start to look, feel, and sound the same.
Each “dungeon” (usually a temple-like area) that ends in a funny boss fight comes with the same soundtrack. Why, I wonder, while other areas do have enough musical variation? Some themes are quite catchy, but after hearing one of the less stellar ones over and over again, it’s clear to me that this ain’t no Castlevania, even though DrinkBox Studios clearly put in a lot of effort to make the player feel at home.
Talking about variation: you’ll be smashing the same six or so enemy types throughout the entire game. In the later parts, the white skeletons become black and get a few extra moves, but their assets are basically the same. Those later parts also quite quickly made me stop and pause more often. Just take a look at all that purple and you’ll immediately know why.
Second Impressions: all right
“Why is Guacamelee a metroidvania”, I kept asking myself. I rarely revisited an area, and although townsfolk have something to say, it’s never interesting, except in a few boring fetch-quests as an aside. I never did manage to find that chili, sorry granny. Most pathways are quite straightforward. Shortcuts are placed at the end of each area, after unlocking a new skills, such as a vertical belly smash that crushes green blocks. On opening your area map, encountered but untouched green (and other colored) blocks are highlighted, making it easy to pinpoint certain hidden treasures.
In that sense, yes, Guacamelee is a bit like other Metroidvanias: you can/have to upgrade Juan’s skill set, and can also boost his health/stamina/etc meters by collecting enough heart pieces—perhaps a wink to the Zelda series? There are no levels and experience points to distribute.
During the last third of the game, it dawned to me: this isn’t a Castlevania, but it’s much more like The Messenger! The unlocked skills allow you to pull of combos that make you reach high ceilings you couldn’t get to before, run on walls, and so forth. As these pieces come together, the level design starts evolving from simple platforming to intricate tiny platform placement that has you press the right button combination.
As I wrote in my The Messenger review, I’m not a fan of (too) challenging platforming parts in games like these. I didn’t expect it after buying it and hated the extremely tough Hollow Knight’s White Palace part, where nail jumping and precise timing are key. The awkward button configuration didn’t make things easier. Why is that thumbstick involved in a combo? That causes me to frequently execute the wrong move—which of course ends in death. Luckily, respawning is instant and save points are abundant. No begging for evenly placed benches here!
The humor of the game is hit and miss. They’ve done an admirable effort, but the technical setup of the game doesn’t particularly lend itself to this. Guacamelee is not a hard game, although later parts can be very challenging. I must admit that I simply skipped the optional “Tree Top” platforming challenge. No thanks. That said, if you’re into this kind of thing, there are plenty of hidden chests and secrets to unlock, and the hell area is completely devoted to time and fight challenges (which I also skipped).
It took me eight hours to beat the game. Add three more for collecting and unlocking everything. But perhaps the best part of Guacamelee is the ability to play co-op with friends! That might be a valid reason to run through the agave fields once more. As a metroidvania, compared to the big hitters, it doesn’t quite hold up: it’s not as deep and atmospheric, has less emphasis on exploration, and is quite short. But as a funny brawler with some intense platform sections, it can be quite enjoyable.
Guacamelee 2 is also ported to the Nintendo Switch, but for now, I’m done wrestling with skeletons as a luchador.
Verdict:/5 I liked it.
Bio and Support
Equality in Game Credits: In the metroidvania-esque 2D brawler Guacamelee, everyone is just like the protagonist Juan: a luchador. That is, everyone appearing in the ending credits is treated equal. There are, to my big surprise, no official titles displayed. Instead, everyon...