In a Comfort Zone With Guacamelee
By Rahul Chacko | Published: 27th August 2014 06:00 AM |
I can’t have it both ways. While I may complain about most high-profile indie games seeming to gravitate towards the platformer genre, each time I start playing one, it’s like settling down with an old friend again. That’s the general feeling I get with Guacamelee, the lucha-licious serving from DrinkBox Studios. It doesn’t bring anything to the table that I haven’t seen before, but wears its derivative colours with flair and manages to dress up pretty nice for the occasion.
The story is suitably campy, set during El Dios De La Muerte, the Mexican celebration for The Day of the Dead. That set the mood right off the bat for me, thanks to the shades of the cult classic Grim Fandango. Rather than putting you in the role of an afterlife travel agent, Guacamelee has you play a regular Juan Doe whose rustic life is turned upside down when your village is trashed and your sort-of girlfriend is kidnapped by a band of very powerful no-gooders from beyond the grave.
As the underdog script goes, you’re soundly trounced by them in the first encounter and while recovering in the space beyond the mortal realm, you’re granted possession of a mystical luchador mask, which is a rally cry to rise up and take back what’s rightfully yours.
Look, if you haven’t figured it out yet, the story’s not entirely serious. It’s mostly just an excuse for you to run around in tights and a mask, and put the beatdown on a bunch of uppity skeletons.
Well-worn conventions of the medium play out one by one. You learn special attacks along the way and those attacks clear previously blocked passages in earlier levels, so you are always backtracking over old ground, like in the Metroid games.
Also making an appearance is the oft-abused mechanic of switching between two realms to solve puzzles and proceed. As mentioned earlier, they’re all familiar tropes, but sometimes you just want a regular burrito instead of something fancy. And that’s all right.
DrinkBox made a good call using Mexican culture as influence for the setting and the colour it adds is certainly one of the high points of the experience. The art has a crisp vector look to it, and the visuals design really gets the most out of the bright palette.
My only complaint is that when there’s a lot happening onscreen, it’s easy to lose Juan in the muddle. The animation isn’t some lush affair like the kind seen in fare such as Ghost Trick, but it sells the speed of the game flow and lends some good weight to the meatier attacks as well.
Rounding off the presentation is the writing, which is thankfully pretty sharp for the most part. It has its tongue in cheek a lot of the time, but plays it straight on a few occasions and delivers both styles effectively.
As for the difficulty, it doesn’t seem as excessively masochistic as some of the other entries in the genre, except maybe during some of the boss battles. Most of the time, it gets a decent balance putting progress within the reach of the player, but it’s ready to slap you on the wrist for screw-ups nonetheless.
While the market may be flooded with similar games, there’s something to be said for Guacamelee’s zestful approach to the formula. It does feel a little shorter than I’d like, but that also means it never gets a chance to wear out its welcome.