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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Guacamelee! game review

It's sad to admit the extent of my Lucha Libre knowledge comes from "Nacho Libre," Jack Black's stirring tale about a fat cook turned mildly less fat luchador. So I entered the world of "Guacamelee!" expecting a robust education about the world of masked men. From what I've gathered, luchadores can not only enter the world of the dead, but also transform into a squawking chicken.

The world of "Guacamelee!" is quirky and strange, but also charming, with a 2D art style channeling Mexican motifs. DrinkBox Studios’ latest effort is clearly an homage to its “Metroidvania” forefathers, but excellent execution makes it worthy of being mentioned alongside its lauded predecessors in the genre.

The game begins as Juan, a local farmer, goes to meet his childhood sweetheart, the daughter of El Presidente. But, Carlos Caraca, the king of the dead, kidnaps the daughter and strikes down Juan in cold blood. Descending to the underworld, Juan discovers that donning a wrestler's mask will return him to the world of the living to save his love.

It's a classic tale of chicken pecking, dragon slaying and damsel saving. There's nothing really inventive here. I enjoyed some of the vignette cut scenes, but would've appreciated a little more back-story for the characters. Luckily, the game doesn't lay an egg in terms of game-play and exploration.

The world isn't incredibly expansive, but has a varied number of locales peppered throughout the five to six hours players may take to finish the campaign without collecting everything. Classic Metroidvania elements such as colored blocks demonstrate the areas players can't access until they've upgraded their powers.

New powers are acquired fast and furiously as players learn moves from their goat sensei (Goatsei) that allow them to reach new areas. Yet new powers aren't interesting unless they're implemented in creative ways. DrinkBox crafts difficult platforming levels that often operate like small puzzles. Players may need to switch between the living and dead worlds to create new platforms or combine several moves to reach higher areas.

Combat is where I discovered the most about Lucha Libre. Juan's grapple abilities let him perform a devastating Suplex, or launch enemies across the battlefield like a wrestler leaving the ring. New enemy types are introduced throughout the game, with different shields as protection that require specific moves to take them down. I'm just going to assume actual luchadores face similar obstacles during bouts. The use of color provides simple, yet effective visual language and matches the colorful aesthetic.

Caraca's minions become the game's boss battles. They're a challenging change of pace, but become repetitious rather quickly. Additionally, although the platforming is solid, the dodge mechanic required to avoid some obstacles became cumbersome and unresponsive sometimes. This was particularly infuriating during the more unforgiving platforming sections.

After completing the game, players are able to return to their save before the final boss battle to find the wealth of hidden treasures throughout the game. A co-op feature also allows a local second player to jump in and play onscreen.

While an incredibly solid title, most of "Guacamelee!'s" elements aren't necessarily groundbreaking. Yet every piece works well in tandem to create a Metroidvania title with a truly charming style. Countless references to other video games are sprinkled throughout the environment. Goatsei is particularly humorous and DrinkBox created some fairly ridiculous sequences—Juan is a shape-shifting chicken after all.

"Guacamelee!" belongs with "Shadow Complex" as one of the best modern interpretations of the Metroidvania genre. Although short, there are plenty of collectibles to acquire after a first playthrough. DrinkBox expanded far beyond their "Tales from Space" series with "Guacamelee!" and hopefully their future titles are just as informative about Lucha Libre as this one.

Grade: B+

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