Reviews

Guacamelee

Charm is the first thing to go once a game gets frustrating. After a particularly grueling battle, you’ll be in such a foul mood that the jokes won’t be funny, the memes and references will seem dumb instead of clever, and the charm of the game will just seem forced.


Guacemelee

Publisher: Drinkbox Studios
Price: $15.00
Players: 1-2 players
Developer: Drinkbox Studios
Platform: PSN, PS Vita
Release Date: 2013-04-09
URL

Guacamelee is a standard “Metroidvania” game, which is to say it’s an open-ended 2D beat-em-up side-scrolller in which you gain new abilities over time that allow you to explore previously inaccessible places. It’s formulaic as hell, but it’s a proven formula that is executed here well.

The art is its biggest strength. Vibrant, well-animated characters that manage to look both minimalistic and expressive. The world itself feels like a distillation of a greater Internet geekdom filtered through a Mexican lens. Every poster in the game references another indie game, a gaming website, or an Internet meme, all of which is turned into a cartoonish Mexican commercial, and once you get the power to switch between the Land of the Living and the Land of the Dead, you’ll realize that every geeky poster has its Dia de Muertos counterpart. It’s all pretty clever and constantly makes you smile.

Unfortunately, combat is major part of this formula, and the combat in Guacamelee doesn’t quite work. You’re not very maneuverable, and all your attacks are followed by a slight pause that makes you feel slow despite the wonderfully fluid animation. This feels awkward at first, but eventually the combat demands more precision than the controls allow.

Some enemies will have shields that only break when hit with a specific attack, but you won’t be able to use that one necessary attack because you’re too busy dodging bones, scythes, and hammers from all directions. You might risk a punch every now and then, but you’re not doing any actual damage. Then a demon hedgehog will roll at you with an un-dogeable attack and knock you on the ground. Since you’re not invincible after getting hit, you’ll get hit yet again as you go through the “standing up” animation. Even though you have a sizable heath bar, the combination of enemies and animations encourages you to give up and restart after getting hit just once.

Charm is the first thing to go once a game gets frustrating. After a particularly grueling battle, you’ll be in such a foul mood that the jokes won’t be funny, the memes and references will seem dumb instead of clever, and the charm of the game will just seem forced.

The platforming sections are similarly demanding, requiring you to switch between dimensions and perform special moves with such pixel precision that the jumps become an exercise in obsessive repetition until you know what you have to do before you have to do it. And it’s awesome. The platforming is devoid of any real stakes. If you run into too many spikes and die, you respawn at the nearest shop (of which there are many), and if you fall into water or a bottomless pit, you’re immediately transported to the last piece of land that you were standing on. You’re never punished for failing a jump, and since most of these difficult jumps are optional, leading to hidden treasures, you literally have nothing to lose but everything to gain.

The platforming embodies a very different design philosophy than the combat. Both ramp up quite a bit in difficulty, but whereas the combat motivates you to try by threatening you with death, the platforming motivates you to try by tempting you with powerups. It’s positive versus negative reinforcement, and by the end of the game, it becomes clear which one is more effective. I stopped playing at the final boss, but I found a vast majority of those optional powerups.

Guacamelee is entertaining but slight. It sets out to do one thing well and it does that one thing well, but all the good will earned through the early part of game gets used up once the combat ramps up in difficulty. Asa result, you’ll either quit before the end or keep at it over and over again until the game’s charm wears off completely.

On the plus side, the $15 price tag includes both the PSN version and the PS Vita version of the game. Guacamelee also supports cross-play, meaning you can save your game on the Playstation 3 and continue playing on the Vita.

5

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.