GUACAMELEE / Drinkbox / PC
 
 
Oh, Guacamelee. You had me with the charm, the unique setting, the great soundtrack. Then you completely lost me with the Fiddly Pixel-Perfect Meat Boy / VVVVVV Platforming out of nowhere. Going a little too heavy on the meme references and swiping lines from cartoons and movies almost non-stop really doesn't help the cause either.
 


If you're from the Old School, the first thing that will strike you upon firing the game up is that it really looks and feels a lot like the beloved old Aladdin platformers of the SNES and Genesis. But the structure is Metroidvania ... or maybe Mexivania is more appropriate.

The designers clearly had this compelling vision of a Metroidvania in a cartoony Mexican world full of luchadors and Dia De Los Muertes skeletons, and in those broad strokes they did very well. The problem is how they filled in the actual gameplay portions of that Metroidvania map. There, the game quickly starts feeling like it has an identity crisis, like it's just cribbing gameplay elements from the other Big Selling Indies in a bit of a haphazard way.
 


The game starts off focused on the fighting element. In true lucha libre style, you've only got strikes with your body parts and a variety of grapples available to you, no weapons. The system here is a bit of the popular Batman Arkham "free flow" style mixed with the combo whoresmanship of a Devil May Cry or a Shank, where most enemies are surprisingly durable and you are expected to wail on them with complicated combos for bonus style points rather than just dispatching them in the most efficient manner possible. It's established that I'm Not A Fan of combo whore games, but Guacamelee keeps each of the enemies reasonable, not taking it to the immensely tedious levels that Shank did.

So that aspect is fine, but suddenly about 1/3 of the way in, the game decides it wants to be Super Meat Boy now instead. Throughout the game you'll flip back and forth between "light" and "dark" versions of each area via portals, and as you progress there's an increasing amount of segments where you'll have to traverse a chain of these portals pulling some specific move off immediately after exiting them with absolutely perfect timing. It's the exact style of Meat Boy, just involving flipping between two different screens en route. It's also just as repetitive and tedious as Meat Boy. Initially, these Fiddly Platformer Jumping Challenges are confined to some optional treasures, like heart pieces. Eventually they become a level staple, however, totally shutting down all progress until you brute-force your way through them. And as with Meat Boy, it's almost never really a matter of skill in clearing them, just doing it again and again and again until you happen to get all the timing exactly right.

Boss battles are also sometimes problematic, increasingly so as the game wears on. It's the style of the worst of the Mega Man X/Zero games in which you hang about dodging the bosses various attacks while they're invincible until they give you a two-second or so window to do a bit of damage to them.
 


And then there's the memes. The backgrounds are absolutely slathered in internet meme references, mostly in the form of promo posters for luchador matches. Some of these -- particularly the ones that make reference to video games -- are actually pretty funny. But there's just so damn many of them, it comes off as tryhard, and also sometimes distracts from the very appealing visuals. More of a problem is that so much of the dialogue is just jokes that are outright cribbed or slightly modified from other sources. A reference like this once in a while is totally fine. Making up the bulk of your dialogue with it is unoriginal, tiresome comedy.

The Metroidvania aspect also has none of the complexity or subtlety of the greats like, well, Super Metroid. There's no subtle environmental cues shaping the experience, or even really much of a sense of exploration -- along the way you'll see literal giant colored blocks closing off certain paths, and each of them is removed with a power you find later. It's like Baby's First Metroid.
 


Guacamelee's across-the-board 90%+ ratings adds more fuel to my personal pet theory that "games journalism" disproportionately attracts masochistic personalities (or at least those are the only ones that stick around), who then get their personal/sexual/whatever predilections mixed up with ideas of objective quality. Whatever the case, Guacamelee can basically be boiled down to "If you didn't like Super Meat Boy, you won't like this either." While that's a totally personal and subjective analysis, the particular issue I take with the game is how the Fiddly Platforming is wrapped up and sold to you in the shell of a very appealing pinata (or perhaps a tasty super burrito), only being sprung on you after you've made some inroads into the game. I think it's overrated in all but charm and creative world design, but as always your mileage may vary.
 
 
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