Tag Archives: Guacamelee!

The Year in Review: GOTY 7 Through 10

The Year in Review: GOTY 7 Through 10

Okay, yeah, this is starting off with the bottom four games, number seven through ten. Why? Because I said so. Also because I didn’t plan ahead and now there are ten games to get through and only seven posting days left. Hashtag oops.

But I also think this aligns with a natural division of the list. These four games speak to me in mostly one impeccable, sizable way, but they do so in a way that trumps the breadth achieved by most others from this year. There’s something to be said for setting a goal and achieving it, and that is “hey look, you’re on this one guy’s end-of-the-year list.”

Super Mario 3D World

10. Super Mario 3D World

The Year of Luigi “ends” with a Mario game coming out on top. Yeah, Luigi is in there, but come on. This is a Mario game, and what a Mario game it is. It’s common knowledge/a commonly held conspiracy theory that there are several teams within Nintendo design games. Some act as farm leagues, building up chops on smaller titles with fundamentals while the A-team blows minds.

This is the product of the A-team, the same project group that ginned up the absolutely stellar (ha!) Super Mario Galaxy. In between, we were treated to several games that retread old ground and only marginally stepped off the path, though excellent as they were. Super Mario 3D World looks like more of the same, but it’s all about the details.

Mario has been around for so long, you distinguish new games in the franchise solely on nuance because the basics are always there; he slides when he stops, his jumps have a peculiar Bézier-shaped acceleration curve, and so on. In Super Mario 3D World, there is a host of nigh imperceptible touches that make it just a happy, scary, amazing game. Being a cat shouldn’t be so fun, and neither should be screwing over your friends, but this game does it.

Resogun

9. Resogun

Resogun doesn’t try to do a whole lot. It’s kind of like when you buy the collector’s set of The Lord of the Rings or The Matrix; you know what you’re getting (a bundle of things you like, love, and tolerate in varying amounts and intensities), but the packaging is what sells you.

And Resogun is nothing more than an amalgam of old school video game design put together with modern sensibilities on the outside. It’s Defender with a bullet hell slant and kind of makes your head spin in a very Tempest way. And it’s just fantastic.

Resogun works because it throws everything at you and you have to figure out how to deal with it. You figure out how to rescue humans, what order to pick them up, whether to throw them or fly them into the goal, boost now or boost later, save or expend your Fuck Everything laser, and so much more, all of which is roughly calculated and thrown in the wind within the span of a single millisecond. And it makes the best argument for a speaker on your controller ever.

Guacamelee!

8. Guacamelee!

Guacamelee! just gets me. Its humor could sometimes miss more than it hits and the co-op was kind of a drag, but its combat and platforming is exactly what I needed when it came out. The fighting is intricate in a way that demands to be conquered. It’s just asking for it. It is Spain, and I am Napoleon.

The move list starts out simple enough, but soon you unlock additional attacks that broaden your range of abilities and literal range of your damage potential. And then enemies start to color-coordinate themselves against certain moves, forcing you to think on your feet about who needs to be taken out first (some of those fuckers will really ruin your day if you let them), who just needs to be thrown into a corner, and who is just impossible to attack at the moment.

And then you throw in the fact that you have to deal with two realities of enemies and platforms with the world-switching mechanic. You have to keep tabs on what exists in what realm and what doesn’t, what can hurt you where. Guacamelee! is such an impressively cerebral game that it did and continues to take me by surprise.

The Stanley Parable

7. The Stanley Parable

I don’t think I’ll ever play The Stanley Parable again. I won’t have to. It gave me everything it had to give the first time because I played through it over two dozen times in one sitting. Or at least I think I did. Did I? Wait, who’s talking? WHO’S THERE?!

Honestly, I would only count it all as one playthrough. But I was thorough as hell because that’s what happens when you stumble across a diamond in the rough. You pick it up, dust it off, and hold it. You press it up to your eye and spin it around, looking through it and at all angles. It’s a curiosity, lingering in the desert, uncaring if you find it or not or whether you even give a damn once you do.

The Stanley Parable had such a specific vision in mind and it achieved it. From soup to nuts, it grabbed me by the back of my head and shoved my face into its weird, hairy, immaculately sculpted chest of non sequiturs, simultaneously hilarious and painful meta commentary, and ability to make me fall in love with a break room. (Also, this is a bit of a cheat since this is largely unchanged from its original release, but whatever.)

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Guacamelee! Review: A Luchadelight

Guacamelee!

The thesis statement (if previews of video games about supernatural luchadores can have such a thing) of last year’s PAX Prime coverage of Guacamelee! could probably be summed up in the question “why not?” In my short time with Drinkbox Studios’ third release then, it came across as an appropriate response to all the nonsense going on such as morphing into a chicken and a rather spectacular portmanteau’d title, but it had no bearing on the quality of the game. As a side-scrolling indie brawler, your expectations are exactly what you bring to it from past experiences, but at every turn, it seems Drinkbox instead asks why not make a great game?

Guacamelee! is a 2D platformer with a lot of style and sass. It’s about a fellow named Juan Aguacate who does nothing more than work in an agave field and watch as the luchadores go on to be hailed heroes of the Pueblucho community. In this world, lucha libre produce singular warriors that fight to defend the helpless and their honor, and Juan has nothing going for him expect some plebeian and reciprocal crush on El Presidente’s daughter. Then, on Dia de Muertos, Carlos Calaca, an evil charro skeleton who rules the world of the dead, kidnaps her and sets out to make her his queen as he merges the realms of the living and the dead together.

This sounds like a heavy, grave situation, but Guacamelee! takes it in stride; the game is nothing if not lighthearted. It is rife with humor, and not just throwaway jokes that you might simply sit and stare at as you acknowledge its joke-like qualities, but things that you will actually chuckle and snicker at.

Guacamelee!

And all of the references that the developers manage to tuck away into the corners and backgrounds of Guacamelee are mind-numbing. At every turn, you’ll see something that will make you go “oh, that’s from Final Fantasy!” or “oh my gosh, that makes me want to play Castle Crashers right now!” And more often than not, this is presented in the context of actual, real jokes. This is hard in any medium, but when gags and storytelling usually exist as a necessity and sometimes serve as inconveniences to actually playing the game, the fact that Guacamelee! does it right is rather impressive.

In fact, all of the surrounding accoutrement of Guacamelee! is impressive. The art style is perhaps the first thing you’ll notice as video games are a visual medium, but it won’t be the first thing you forget. It’s simple but striking. Characters are flat chunks of color assembled into ambulatory caricatures but they are set against smooth backgrounds of subtle gradients and superb use of depth-of-field. The hues of the world simply pop, for lack of a better word, and match well with the bumping club/house-style ranchera mixed with some mariachi influences. If you have a decent sound system, be sure to pump up the volume because it is some addictive aural goodness.

Both of those things are even more noteworthy when you consider that for as much as Drinkbox had to create to flesh out a full, living world, they had to double it to also create a dead one, too. Juan, you see, gains a supernaturally powered luchador mask and, as he progresses through the game, gains powers. He does it by busting up some rather familiar looking and sounding statues or by receiving them from other empowered folk, and one of them is the power to switch between the living and the dead at will.

Guacamelee!

The switching actually plays a lot into the gameplay and doesn’t just have some implications and impetus within the story. As you switch dimensions, things that exist in one world may disappear as they don’t exist in the other or vice versa. The lesson of them being absolutely parallel worlds is driven home in the solution to a few of the side quests as you are heartily made to realize that these are indeed the living and those are indeed the dead. They are actually a few of the more somber moments of the game and they hit rather hard.

But all that world switching also impacts the platforming and fighting. As you jump around, you’ll have to switch between the two realities to prevent yourself from getting impaled on some spikes or to create a ledge to stand on. One of the most grueling and devious platforming sections I’ve ever played (it’s totally optional, though) in any game exists in Guacamelee! and is qualified as such in no small part due to the dimensional interplay. And when the control is taken out of your hands, well, just be ready to have some sweaty hands.

The fighting is, for the most part, sectioned off into arenas where the game will literally stop you dead in your tracks and force you to fight a few rounds of enemies, usually topped off with a piñata full of coins you can bust open. The combat starts out simple to where you have one button to punch, another to jump, and another to dodge. Damage a bad guy enough and you can engage them in a grapple, and if you combine the stick direction with the punch, you can do uppercuts and downward slams. Simple, right?

Guacamelee!

Well, as you earn powers that also unlock additional areas of the map (this is, after all, a Metroidvania-style game), the circle button becomes dedicated to moves that drain your stamina meter. You have an air dash that can also punch the crap out of dudes, a headbutt that will launch people across the room, an uppercut that reminds me an awful lot of the up+B moves in Super Smash Bros., and a belly flop that stuns a wide area of bad guys. And then you can launch off of walls and up ledges, all of which double as great, room-clearing moves and triple as platforming necessities (hence the sweat-inducing difficulty levels in the optional stuff).

It all seems a bit disjointed until you find a gym with a chicken that will train you in some killer, amazingly intricate combos. They force you to not only input commands in a timely manner but manage you spacing and stamina. Eventually, you’ll have to put in a string of commands that spans the entire width of your television and, having just played Injustice: Gods Among Us, it is on par with most fighting games in terms of demand on the player. It is refreshing, seeing as how Guacamelee! could have just as easily turned out to be nothing more than a button-masher.

A lot of the design seems to be imbued with that sense, that it turned out a lot better than it could have been (or maybe should have been). The level designs are especially noteworthy because they are, more or less, linearly designed but feel a lot more open than they actually are. Some dungeons are entirely vertical while others are sprawling spiderwebs of offshoots and branches. And when you backtrack to finish off all of the collectibles, they still feel fairly fresh as new abilities open up new traversal options or entirely new areas.

Guacamelee!

Enemy designs are varied and their abilities are, for the most part, nuanced (you do deal with a fair amount of baddies who do nothing more than throw or smash) when combined with attack- or world-specific shields and vulnerabilities. The actual controls are responsive and feel as tight as a fitted tee on an overly confident McDonald’s addict. You have full air control that doesn’t feel neutered by the lack of ground-based traction and button inputs that utilize pre-loading. I never felt like I didn’t have a handle on Juan and thus never felt like I didn’t have a handle on the game.

The problems are few and far between: occasionally artificial-feeling backtracking shortcuts, co-op that produces more problems than fun, and an upgrade system that doesn’t seem to make any especially standout changes to Juan. The side quests can also feel a bit off-base and feel overly superfluous, as can a few of the jokes. A couple even feel dated, if only by a few months. But every instance of bad is spread out so far in this seven-hour experience that at each encounter, you can barely remember the last one. It continues at a quick and unrelenting pace that arouses a similar sense of compulsion as in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and contains no filler.

Guacamelee!

In many other online spaces, you’ll see people refer to Guacamelee! as retro or old school, but that is a disservice to the game. It merely borrows the concept of an open, two-dimensional world based on power acquisition, jumping, and fighting. It defies the temptation to be mired in tropes that don’t serve its own desires and instead responds with the same old question: why not? Why not make a Metroidvania-style game that doesn’t try to be either Metroid or Castlevania? Why not make an exceptional platformer and intricate brawler? Why not make a great 2D side-scroller full of great art, fantastic music, and mostly impeccable humor? I guess Drinkbox Studios couldn’t think of an answer, so they made Guacamelee!

+ Gorgeous art design that bleeds style that keeps your eyes occupied while your ears dance to the butt-shaking beats
+ Platforming that requires patience, skill, and a deft hand
+ Combat that focuses on mechanical interactions and not on overloading the player with needless options
+ Tight and responsive controls that feel like you’re handling a Ferrari in the form of a hulking, magic-infused luchador
– A lot of the optional stuff like the co-op and the side quests don’t feel as well designed or as organic as the rest of the game

Final Score: 9 out of 10

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Why Not Guacamelee!

“So why can you turn into a chicken?”

“Why CAN’T you turn into a chicken?”

Though the response doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, it’s very fitting of the world of Guacamelee!, an upcoming Metroidvania-style game about a luchador, alternate dimensions, and absurdity. In the time I spent playing the game and speaking with Drinkbox Studios designer Chris McQuinn (who said the chicken thing actually has some serious story implications), I gleamed two facts about Guacamelee!: it’s 100% silly, and it’s 100% worth your time.

As previously mentioned, you can turn into a chicken, but as you would expect due to the nature of luchadores and the title of the game, you also have a wide variety of melee moves at your disposal as you explore the world in search for El Presidente’s daughter. You are down-on-his-luck Mexican Juan Aguacate and you can punch, kick, dive roll, wall jump, air charge, and so much more to get around.

And as is true of Metroidvania games, not all of these abilities are unlocked right from the get-go. At one point in the demo, you are presented with two paths: upwards or through a door (opposite an entrepreneurial personal trainer, but we’ll get to him later). Upwards, however, is seemingly unreachable at this point. You can see the exit up top, but with the lack of any platforms along the way, you are left with two sheer walls and a very ornate door, so the door it is.

You eventually return to this room, but as a slightly more improved luchador than before. Taught to you by an old man that can turn into a goat (or is the other way around?), you learn the Goat Jump, which is basically a wall jump but presumably in reference to how mountain goats seemingly and effortlessly ascend near vertical cliffs. So you have an open world with progress cordoned-off by gaining additional abilities from currently accessible areas. Metroidvania? You bet. Only Metroidvania?

Not even close.

Remember those alternate dimensions I’d mentioned earlier? Well, they play a significant role in the game, too. Throughout the game, there are floating portals, black hole-ish things hanging around in the world. Whenever you touch one, the world flips into one of these alternate dimensions (such as The World of the Dead and The World of Nightmares, neither of which sound particularly pleasant to be in). These transitions will affect the existence and placement of traversal elements and environmental obstacles as well as enemy vulnerability. It happens in an instant and will require you react accordingly. If you think you can stop to catch your breath, you’re dead wrong.

You may start out by wall jumping across an open chasm, but you’ll pass through a portal, swapping in the fickle solidarity of another wall for abject emptiness and certain doom in the pit below. But then you’ll have to avoid another portal to get through to the other side that will allow you to fall through to your goal. It feels a bit like the water-freezing mechanic of Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands, which is a good thing considering that was one of my favorite parts.

They also add a nice wrinkle to the co-op play where the second player takes the place of an ostensibly female character named Tostada. If you don’t work together to time jumps together, you’ll quickly get out of sync and one of you will probably be cursing the other as you fall and die. Dying isn’t that big of an issue, though, as you’ll simply come up as a bubble à la New Super Mario Bros. Wii. You’ll float around until your partner can come around and pop you out of purgatory. I don’t know what happens if both of you get bubbled, though, as my newfound PAX buddy and I were not wanting for skill.

But the biggest thing Guacamelee! has going for it is that the game is just absolutely funny. Upon meeting a mostly ineffectual seductress, she eventually succumbs to being overt rather than subtle and even finds time to make a pun along the way. It’s hard enough to make a game entertaining but to create one that will have you outright laugh out loud is a feat in and of itself.

This is on top of, however, the fact that it is also a tight brawler. Things can get a bit hard to keep track of and you will occasionally feel overwhelmed at the fault of the game and not your skill, but the breadth of your abilities makes for some fun combat. You can punch and kick and whatnot, but you can also grapple with enemies and kick straight into the air for either additional juggling or heightened jumping capabilities. Rolling will get you out of sticky situations and past thorny walls. It feels a bit like Shank in the way that every move is short yet impactful but it is also much more about movement in combat than straight-up ravaging foes.

And either out of coincidence or homage, there is a portion of the demo that is similar to the Skulldozer level of the Mariachi-theme area of LittleBigPlanet where you are running away from a giant, stumbling, bumbling dragon-ish beast in a bit of forced scrolling platforming. You’ll beat up a few guys along the way, but by and large, the best way is to avoid them altogether and handily navigate your way to safety rather than punch your way through.

These aforementioned skills are things you can upgrade, too. That trainer in the room I mentioned before will trade skills for coins, improving your melee damage or health or whatever. It makes upgrading easy without the need to include experience points.

But Guacamelee! is also still very much under development. Just to the left of the trainer is a chest full of coins, enough, actually, to help you actually afford an upgrade. As I played, McQuinn said, “you know, it seems like it would be better for the chest to come first.” And you know what, he’s not wrong. That definitely would have helped understanding the trainer menu a bit better and removed an unnecessary instigation of trainer dialogue.

With that being the only qualm I have so far in my short 15 minutes with the game, I must say that I’m extremely looking forward to Guacamelee! It looks to be a more than capable side-scroller with the Metroidvania trappings that make me play and obsess over Metroidvania-style games; it’s genuinely funny; and it looks so incredibly charming.

Though playable since PAX East this year (and announced just the October before that), this is the first I’ve had with it and you know what? Everyone was right; Guacamelee! is pretty great. As I bring up that the only moderately recent luchador-themed games involved Saints Row 3 and that one pretty bad brawler for XBLA, McQuinn is sure to point out that they are trying to explore the lesser known parts of Mexican culture without poking fun at it, which seems that so far, they’ve done.

But still no word on that chicken. Look for Guacamelee! on PSN and PS Vita sometime next year.

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