Every once in a while a game comes around that takes an ages-old formula and turns it on its head. Drinkbox studio’s most recent downloadable game, Guacamelee, does just that.

Game historians will argue about the specific origin of the genre, but the idea of a game where players explore a 2-dimensional maze that forces them to backtrack constantly once new abilities are learned has been around for a while. The two franchises that contributed the most to the genre’s development are Nintendo’s Metroid series and several of Konami’s gothic Castlevania games. As a result, games in this new sub genre are often referred to as “Metroidvania” games.

Put simply, Guacamelee is brilliant. It takes everything that you can love from the genre and infuses it with charming humor, feverish melee combat, and a beautiful art style.

The story is straight forward. You play as an agave farmer named Juan who dons a powerful luchador mask that grants him magical powers. The masked hero goes on a quest to save el Presidente’s daughter (the woman he dreams of being with despite his low class) from the evil Carlos Calaca.

The story involves the exploration of a small farming town in Mexico. The game also includes an interesting dimensional shift mechanic that lets players travel though the same area in both the land of the living and the land of the dead. This presents numerous interesting game play scenarios.

The combat is where this game sets itself apart from its predecessors. The vast majority of games in this genre involve ranged weapons. Samus has a blaster built into her suit and the members of the Belmont clan each fight with a long chain whip and a variety of ranged weapons. Juan doesn’t have the luxury of attacking from range. He has to close in on his opponents and fight at melee range. The game even includes a grappling system that allows you to perform wrestling maneuvers that either deal significant damage or send your opponents flying across the room (possibly even damaging other targets). This adds a level of excitement to the combat that is absent in games where players can hang back at range and shoot.

The vast majority of the game, however, does not involve combat as much as it involves traversal across the game’s map. This is done by jumping across platforms and bouncing back and forth between walls. This becomes more and more complex as the game goes on as the various challenges force you to move in between dimensions in order to traverse the levels. For example, you will need to jump back and forth from wall to wall to climb up the inside of a cavern, but the two sides of the wall will only exist in one dimension or the other. This constant shifting is very challenging. With that said, the challenges were very rewarding. Some of the greatest joys this game brought me were the fleeting moments of triumph after failing to do a section for a while.

One of the game’s greatest triumphs for family gamers is the drop-in/drop-out co-op game play. Your kids can pick up a second controller at any time and hop into the action. Being defeated is hardly of consequence as they are able to join back in after a brief timeout. There are even power ups that can be acquired in the game to reduce the time between lives. (Hint: Get these ASAP.) They can skip the complex platforming segments by pressing a button and hopping into a bubble that they can fly around the screen or by simple dropping out of the game for a moment. I played through several segments like this with my 7 year old and we had a blast. He was able to participate in the fun cartoon combat without having to put up with the hard stuff.

Guacamelee is rated E10+ by the ESRB. This is due in large part to the animated combat. There is no blood or gore. Instead, the colorful enemies simply pop backwards upon defeat and blink out of existence. Even further, none of the enemies are real people. They are all monsters or skeletons in ponchos. There just isn’t a lot to worry about with the combat here.

There is no foul language to speak of, but some of the dialogue includes some sexual innuendo. But, it is limited to one scene, and I would expect it to go over the heads of most kids.

The game in animated in a whimsical art style that is very reminiscent of Mexican folk art. I felt like I was watching a Saturday morning cartoon for most of my time with the game.

This game is a prime example where the rating does not give a real picture of the difficulty of the game. The bottom line here is that Guacamelee is hard. The platforming challenges are very difficult. The combat can be hard to manage. The bosses are incredibly hard. I cannot recommend this game for solo play to young kids who are new to video games. This one is definitely more advanced than a lot of other platform games out there and, as a result, can be very frustrating to children (and adults).

A lot of the challenge comes from the complexity of the controls. Most platform games focus their controls on the face buttons of the controller (which can be a challenge to inexperienced players to begin with). Guacamelee adds the trigger buttons on the top edge of the controller to the mix.

A lot of the challenge comes from the complexity of the controls. Most platform games focus their controls on the face buttons of the controller (which can be a challenge to inexperienced players to begin with). Guacamelee adds the trigger buttons on the top edge of the controller to the mix.

I enjoyed every minute that I played Guacamelee, and my kids were along for the ride during most of it. As long as they don’t mind watching during the difficult traversal segments this will be an excellent game to share with them.

It is currently Available for download on the Playstation Network and on Xbox Live Arcade.







By Stephen Duetzmann

Editor in Chief Founder/EiC EngagedFamilyGaming.com Blogger, Podcaster, Video Host RE: games that families can play together. Editor@engagedfamilygaming.com

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