GET YOUR GAME ON: Platforming through Mexican culture

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First Posted: 4/16/2013 9:01:00 AM

“Guacamelee!” doesn’t just have an unusual name – it is also a pretty unusual mash-up of platforming, fighting game, and RPG that oozes with Mexican culture.

I was interested in “Guacamelee!” because I enjoyed Drinkbox Studios’ last project, “Tales from Space,” and some of their other titles, like “About a Blob” and “Mutant Blobs Attack.” Drinkbox is good at creating quirky games with interesting visual aesthetics, and “Guacamelee!” is definitely quite striking.

I don’t know a whole lot about Mexican culture, but from what I do know, it looks like they are pretty accurate. They have bright colors, festive music, and tons of examples of the culture, such as Juan’s luchador outfit. In the beginning, Juan is a pretty average guy out to save his love, the Presidente’s daughter. During this mission, he is sent to the land of the dead by a evil skeleton guy dressed like a mariachi named Carlos Calaca. In the land of the dead, he is given another chance to save his girl and a magic luchador mask that grants him special powers, such as super strength, wall jumping, and even the ability to travel back and forth from the land of the living to the land of the dead.

The artistic style of this game is really bright and cartoony with fluid animation. Each of the characters and enemies are straight out of Mexican culture – there are Day of the Dead skeletons and even Chupacabras, and the Mariachi music is very charming and upbeat.

One of the coolest things the game has going for it is the map; aside from the culture, the game draws even more influence from 2D platforming games in the vain of “Metroid” and “Castlevania.” Just like these games, there is a huge map that inspires exploration. There are colored bricks that block certain paths; these can only be opened with specific abilities you get throughout the game, so this makes you want to backtrack and open up these new areas when you can. These secret areas contain treasure chests that give you money to buy upgrades, skills, new powers, and they increase your completion percentage. This really adds length to the game and replay value.

For me, the most interesting thing is the fighting system; it is just like a fighting game, with combos to learn. It feels incredibly varied and satisfying, especially when you pull off a massive 80-hit combo made up of air juggles, throws, and wrestling slams. What makes it truly interesting is the dimension shifts; there are little black holes swirling around as you go, and when you touch them, you are shifted to an alternate dimension that changes the map and the enemies, letting you figure out how to pass through sections that might look impassable. Early in the game, it isn’t used as much as it should be, but later, it can be used a lot. It makes the levels feel much more dynamic and interesting and can open up many secret paths to explore. Traversing the game is a lot like “Super Meat Boy” – there are plenty of pits and spike traps, and even though it can be difficult, don’t let it deter you because the frustration is worth it to see all of the locations’ interesting boss battles.

If you like to play with a friend, you are in luck – there is drop in, drop out co-op gameplay. The second player gets to play a lady luchador name Tostada, and the two-player is similar to “New Super Mario Bros.” When a player dies, they get the bubble that takes them to a safe place on the board. It can be a lot of fun, but it does get hard to tell what is going on when it zooms out as a player lags behind. Solo was a better experience for me.

If you pick this up, not only do you get the PS3 game for $15, but you also get the PS Vita version for free. “Guacamelee!” is gaming heaven for fans of 8-bit and 16-bit era platformers, “Ay de mi,” you will love this game. It has the right amount of nostalgic feel and new innovation to keep you playing all the way through, and with the incredible value, you need to pick this up, especially if you need a great on-the-go game to play on the Vita.

-Robbie Vanderveken is the digital operations specialist at The Times Leader. E-mail him at rvanderveken