When I was a kid, games were different. Entire genres and game types have since evolved and are seen differently today. Strange as it sounds however, some of these game types are retuning under a genre named for their original counterparts. In 1994 Nintendo released a game for the SNES that had been made by a team of only 15 people and would change the gaming landscape forever. I speak of course about Super Metroid (Metroid 3). A few years later in 1997, Konami took this template and evolved it further into what became the PS1 classic Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. These two games have become the foundation for what is now know as the 'Metroidvania' genre and it is firmly within this genre that we find Drinkbox Studios latest PS3/PSVita offering, Guacamelee.
Our story begins in a remote Mexican village, where you take control of Juan Aguacate, a seemingly retired luchadore wrestler who is working in a refinery. However when El Presedente's daughter is kidnapped by a force of evil it is up to Juan to rescue her. Throughout the eight hour campaign, this tale unfolds with plenty of charm and humour. The story is not going to win any awards, but it is there to make you laugh and keep you playing not to make you plumb the depths of human endeavour, and it therefore more than achieves what it sets out to do.
One of the first things that you will undoubtedly notice about Guacamelee is its art style. This vibrant 2D world is filled with great characters and animations that all run incredibly smooth. The character designs and areas are well realised and few complaints can be had with how Guacamelee looks or runs. It is also worth noting that this is a Cross Play title, meaning Vita owners will also be able to play on the go. This is made better by the fact that the Vita version runs just as well as the console version in every way. In fact most of my time was spent playing the portable version of Guacamelee and I would recommend it as the Vita is in desperate need of good software. But for those who wish to switch between, the cross save function is present and extremely easy to use. As well as all this, the PS3 version can be controlled using the Vita with an interactive map to boot.
One problem with releasing a game in the Metroidvania genre is that you are automatically going to be compared to two of the best games in history before you even start. After all, it’s in the name. Luckily Guacamelee's gameplay is where it really shines brightest, especially with regards to its extremely well designed combat system. Although a little tough to get used to, the combat rivals many fighting games and should be commended for its depth and flow. As more moves are unlocked, combos become greater and greater but harder and harder to perform. This is all tied together with some incredibly challenging sections later in the game, especially if you are on the unlockable HARD MODE.
The other stand out element of this game is the platforming. The array of abilities gained throughout the game are just well balanced enough to be challenging but not impossible to handle, and the level design is perfectly in tune with how this element of the game flows. This is all compounded further by Juan's ability to change between the living and dead world at will. Once this ability is unlocked, entire areas will change and flipping between them becomes a satisfying (albeit challenging) necessity as you progress.
Another strength here is the game’s soundtrack and sound editing. Guacamelee boasts one of the most immersive worlds this genre has seen for a while and that is in no small part due to the game’s great music and sound effects. The only way this could have been improved is possibly with the inclusion of voice acting. This is especially noticeable on the PS3 version as the vast amounts of dialogue feel a little off beat without the inclusion of a voice when not playing a portable device. This however is an extremely minor criticism and all the dialogue itself is incredibly well written, making for a fantastic read.
If I have one gripe with Guacamelee it is with its difficulty curve, especially for those going for the 100%. Much like Castlevania, finding all collectables and uncovering the substantially sized map should be a challenge, however some sections of Guacamelee optional content simply served as a war of attrition and gamer-rage. It would have been nice to see more of a gradual learning curve rather than a steep climb in difficulty here, but this criticism should mainly be heeded by those who want the games coveted Platinum Trophy. On the plus side this does add lifespan as I must have clocked at least over fifteen hours over the two playthoughs to achieve the Platinum and 100%.
All in all Guacamelee is one of the best investments for both PS3 and PSVita owners on the PSN. At £9.99 for both versions, anyone who is a fan of the Metroidvania genre or is just looking for a great experience would be crazy to pass it up. Regardless of if you are looking for something to pass the time, something portable or something more hardcore, Guacamelee delivers on all these fronts and more. It's fun, challenging and above all else a joy to play.