How Metroidvania is it? Medium Fit. The brawler style combat, higher emphasis on difficult platforming and more linear design make it a different animal than the genre’s namesake games. That said, Guacamelee! is something of a standard for Metroidvania game design in the Indie scene.
Primary Challenge: Melee Combat, Tricky Platforming
Time to beat: ~6 hours
Review Info: Guacamelee! Gold Edition was played on Steam
Buy Guacamelee! Gold Edition if you like…
- Brawler Games
- Hardcore Platforming
- Tongue-in-Cheek Mexican style
- Local Co-op
- Memes and References
▼ Review continues below ▼
Epilepsy Warning – this game contains a lot of flashing screens.
If Super Metroid and Symphony of the Night are the Grandfathers of the Metroidvania genre, then Guacamelee! is the Abuelo of the Metroidvania indie scene. I have often seen it brought up in developer interviews with the creators of Metroidvania games, and in many ways I think its success was a catalyst for the great Metroidvania renaissance we’re experiencing now. While I think some aspects of this Gold Edition are holding it back from being as timeless as the classics that came before it, I believe I can report that its accolades are well deserved. Any of the gripes I have about this game are potentially resolved in the Super Turbo Championship Edition – in fact I know that a couple of my complaints are addressed. However, Gold is the version I decided to try in preparation for the release of Guacamelee! 2 three days from when this review is posted, since I think it gives me the closest experience to the original game that was released and subsequently praised in 2012.
The story of Guacamelee! is pretty typical. Shy man likes girl, shy girl likes man, they decide to meet somewhere, and then some jerk with the powers of a devil decides to kidnap the girl and brutally murder the shy man. Of course in a world where the line between the land of the living and the land of the dead grows thin, and the tools of deus ex machina are literally on display in the town square, murder just isn’t enough to keep a Luchador down.
As soon as the game gets going, it’s like a fiesta from start to finish. The brawler combat is stylish and fun, rewarding combos in a fashion similar to other titles in the brawler genre. The object of each fight is to get your enemy into a stun state so that you’re allowed to grapple and toss the poor sap in any direction you please. This gives you a projectile against the ever increasing hordes of the villain Calcuta’s goons and deliciously delivers the fantasy of being a Luchador superhero. On the normal difficulty – which is the only difficulty available before you beat the game or use a cheat code – it’s all pretty easy, only getting more challenging later as gimmicks are added – or with bosses that heavily punish being hit. Most of the time button mashing is enough, but that doesn’t stop a more skilled player from really enjoying the deep combos that are possible and racking up a high score. This is made twice as fun if you bring a friend and take advantage of the local co-op feature, because when you throw a victim, your friend can catch it and continue the combo. For the combat, I’d say the game is best played as a multiplayer game.
The game’s other challenge though isn’t as good with friends. Guacamelee! is a slightly rare example of a Metroidvania that also includes insane platforming challenges – rivaling games like Super Meat Boy – as a contemporary example. These are some of the most fun parts of the game, if you’re a challenge seeking type of person, but it’s also representative of some of the most frustrating design as well. At a certain point in the game you get a power that makes platforms appear and disappear, and unfortunately if you’re playing co-op like I was, this means that in the harder sections one player simply has to sit out. The chaos of controlling the platforms is just too much for unpracticed players to do in tandem. However, some of that chaos extends to single player as well. Guacamelee! is a game with a lot of ambition, and I think it’s mostly successful in achieving its unique combination of brawler mechanics and hardcore platforming. But it comes at a price. Some games that came later that attempt the same level of platforming goodness, like Ori and the Blind Forest and Hollow Knight, manage to keep a relatively simple control scheme and still provide a good challenge for the player. Having fewer buttons – more versatile functions – allows the player to adapt more quickly to achieve intentionality, and thus a feeling that the game is hard, but fair. Guacamelee! has you using basically every button on the standard Dualshock/Xbox 360 controller. I did eventually “git gud” at it, but it was a headache to wrap my mind around some of the Simon Says style challenges, and often the issue of my execution wasn’t timing or not knowing what to do, but rather that I simply hit the wrong button out of the 7 relevant buttons to choose from. It’s completely my fault, and I don’t consider it bad game design per se. It’s a minor complaint, because even with the complexity learning to play correctly is rewarded with some great feats to accomplish, but it’s also an obstacle players have to overcome that perhaps could have been handled with a little more finesse.
The other nitpick I have probably has more to do with the game’s age and budget when it was released, but the presentation is a bit inconsistent. Some animations are absolutely fantastic, especially when it’s an important scene in the story. The main town is beautifully detailed, even if a lot of those details are filled with dated memes. But, some of the monsters seem to have less care put into them, shifting to basic shapes when they attack, or feeling relatively stiff animation by comparison. And some areas unfortunately lose that ever important sense of place, breaking the immersion and feeling more “gamey” than if it were more detailed and polished. There is a propensity of areas that feel more like the prototype of a level – the layout of the challenges are cobbled together by rectangular tiles representing platforms rather than walls or tree branches depending on the theme of the area. I appreciate that Guacamelee! put the gameplay first, since the other extreme of this problem is that I can’t tell the platform from the background. But one of the things that makes Super Metroid so timeless is that each area feels like it could be part of the abandoned planet Zebes. I lost that feeling often in Guacamelee!.
But none of these gripes hold Guacamelee! Gold Edition back from being great. Far from it. I still think this game deserves the praise it’s been given. The “Metroidvania” aspect is more guided and linear than others in the genre, but backtracking lets you unlock some of the game’s best platforming feats – sort of like discovering a secret level in Meatboy. The story is simple, but it has soul. Most of all though, it’s fun as heck once you get the hang of it.
The Super Turbo Championship Edition is probably your better bet for the value, but if you want to turn time back just a little further and see what the hype was all about you can’t go wrong with the gold edition. If you enjoy brawlers that are all about scoring high combos, as well as difficult platforming – Guacamelee! combines the two with a respectable level of elegance.
Fun Beat-em-up style combat system that encourages combo attacks, but maybe lacks just a little bit of crunch to make it perfect
Some of the most difficulty and satisfying platforming in the genre, with enough mechanics to give you a headache
The game is heavily guided, and therefore CAN be linear, but some of the best challenges are found getting all the upgrades
Some of the platforming sections take a good bit of thinking to figure out
A tongue-in-cheek parody of a lot of familiar tropes, the story serves its purpose to provide a fun theme for the gameplay
Some excellent animations, but also others that are starting to show the game's age. Also, Epilepsy warning.
The mariachi music makes this game feel like a fiesta is happening the entire time
Has a Hard Mode that you unlock only by beating the game or entering a cheat code that will give you at least one more play
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