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Score: 90%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: DrinkBox Studios
Developer: DrinkBox Studios
Media: Download/1
Players: 1 - 2 (Local Only)
Genre: Action/ Platformer (2D)

Graphics & Sound:
I've had my eyes on DrinkBox Studios for a while. Their Vita launch title Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack charmed me to the moon with its colorful aesthetic and simple but fun gameplay. Their latest game, Guacamelee! should put them on the map in the eyes of any gamer fortunate enough to play it. It is a Día de Muertos-themed Metroidvania-style game starring an agave-farmer-turned-undead-luchador who gains a number of incredible powers from a goat man. How could you not want that?

Guacamelee! has the same aesthetic sensibilities as the Tales from Space games. Solid colors may give the game a simple look, but the colors are vibrant and beautiful, especially on the Vita's OLED screen. Juan's lucha libre alter ego is larger than life, much like those of real luchadores. All of his moves suggest wrestling; simple melee blows look like they should, but the handful of grappling abilities really goes a long way in selling the theme of the game. Like in Tales from Space, there are a lot of nerd culture references. I won't spoil any of them, but I'll just say that the developers at DrinkBox obviously love what they do, and are not afraid to express it. One of my favorite visual touches lies in the sequence that follows the acquisition of each new ability. Juan assumes a pose with the goat man while a seizure-inducing display of garish neon backgrounds and text flickers wildly.

Sound-wise, Guacamelee! is pure Mexico. Mariachi goofiness pervades the entire game, but when the horns aren't bleating, the guitars are strumming. Switching between the Land of the Dead and the Land of the Living always results in some subtle musical difference; the same song will be playing, but under a different arrangement. All of the thwacks, bumps, and other general comic book onomatopoeia accompanies each landed hit and bodyslam (sans actual words, of course), which is appropriate for this mostly family-friendly game.

Juan Aquacave is an agave farmer in love. The object of his affection? The daughter of El Presidente, who apparently neither has nor needs a name. During the Dia de Muertos festival, the evil skeleton Carlos Calaca invades the Land of the Living, ably dispatches poor Juan, and spirits El Presidente's daughter away. But you can't keep a good tequila distiller down! Juan soon finds a magical luchador mask that basically turns him into the ultimate in lucha libre entertainment. With his new powers, Juan sets forth to save his love from Calaca and his kooky minions.

Guacamelee! is designed with the classic Metroidvania template firmly in mind. As Juan, you trek across an interconnected world while beating up bad guys, discovering new abilities, and using these new abilities to access new areas (as well as improve your combat skills). It's a winning formula that is used to great effect. The level design and gameplay mechanics harmonize brilliantly with one another, and the pacing is excellent.

Guacamelee! isn't nearly as long as most other games of its type, but it makes up for that by being quite challenging. This game always finds new ways of testing your reflexes and your mind.

Platforming in Guacamelee! is a joy for the most part. This game makes you earn every jump, and many of them can only barely be made. You'll have to use every ability at your disposal to find the game's biggest rewards. Obviously, there is a lot of trial and error involved. Luckily, each fall results in an instant respawn at the beginning of the room. Even if you die, the load times are too minimal to even be noteworthy.

Game Mechanics:
Shortly after Juan is killed by Calaca, he gets his mask, which allows him to beat the living hell out of esqueletos and other assorted demonic ne'er-do-wells. He can punch, kick, and grapple. Grappling is a great deal of fun, as it allows you to either hurl your enemies around the screen (or even into other enemies) or execute an extremely powerful slam attack. Eventually, you break a Choozo statue (get it?) and incur the wrath of the Great Uay Chivo, the self-proclaimed "lord of all man-goats." And when I say "wrath," I really just mean "annoyance," as he really treasures his statues. But that doesn't stop him from teaching you abilities such as the Rooster Uppercut, Olmec's Headbutt, and many others.

Combat variation usually comes in the form of specially-colored shields. Since each of Juan's special attacks are associated with a specific color, you should be able to figure out what you need to do. The same is true of exploration. Most new areas are blocked off by colored blocks, each of which corresponds to one of Juan's special abilities.

Platforming mechanics add yet another layer of depth and challenge. Once Juan defeats a certain boss, he is given the ability to phase between the Land of the Dead and the Land of the Living. This polarity system is not just good for a few sight gags, but it figures heavily into the gameplay during the final half of the game. Much like in 2011's Outland, certain platforms and enemies are only conquerable in one dimension. If you're in the other one, the enemies will simple consist of dangerous-yet-invincible silhouettes and the platforms will sparkle in translucence. Learning to manage all of these mechanics together is a huge part of what makes Guacamelee! such a satisfying game.

Have you been craving something along the lines of Metroid, Shadow Complex, or Castlevania? If so, Guacamelee! should be your next purchase. It's fun, colorful, and maybe a little insensitive. A winning combination in my book.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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