Guacamelee!, the new action-packed platformer from Drinkbox Studios, is a beat-'em-up brawler caught between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Pre-release Guacamelee! was nominated for an Indiecade in 2012 and a 2013 Independent Games Festival award for Excellence in Visual Art, and now the fans are raving. While the game is everything many had hoped, it does have one crucial flaw.
But first the good stuff. Guacamelee! is a rich, beautiful game that draws not only its visual style from Mexican culture, but also its storyline, characters and motifs from Mexican folklore. The world is littered with colorful detail, Day of the Dead-style paintings, luchador paraphernalia, Mexico's dwindling jaguars, textured desert environments and even those all-important cans of "Holy Frijoles." The myriad settings and the dynamic color keep every frame of this admittedly short game a joy to experience.
The combat and traversal build on the classic platformer model, focused on timing and precision. The game weaves in brawler elements, successfully mixing combos and special attacks, making platforming moves necessary for combat and vice versa, resulting in a unique and fantastically fun style of game play. "Pollo Power," a mode that allows players to swap identities and become a chicken, is worth the price of admission alone.
Set in and around one small Mexican village, the main character, Juan Aguacate, can't catch a break in his normal life, but when El Presidente's daughter (Juan's true love) is kidnapped, he sets off to save the girl and the world from an evil charro skeleton. This is where my only substantial criticism pops up. Yet another rehashing of a tired trope, a helpless women is carted off to her doom so that the man, the player, has something to fight for. It's just lazy storytelling, so lazy in fact they didn't even give this damsel in distress a name.
Why is it not enough that an underworld badass is coming back to conquer the world with his evil armies? That seems like a good reason to fight without the gratuitous lady-napping. But this problem is systemic to all games, and it would be unfair to judge this otherwise wonderful and imaginative game entirely based on an industry-wide preference. If you are interested in just how pervasive this trope is, Feminist Frequency will walk you through the facts and history of gender in games.
Dispite its flaws, Guacamelee's glowing reception is well deserved; and the makers have been inundated with fan art including this poster by Neomonki:
Guacamelee! is beautiful, with great gameplay, and a unique point of view. It is absolutely worth a play and hopefully, as the creators gain more experience, they will break with traditional tropes and make their stories just as stellar as their art and action already are.
For more information, visit guacamelee.com.