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Guacamelee! Gold (PC) review

 
guacamelee logo
guacamelee logo
guacamelee logo

 
At a Glance...
 

Formats: PC (Steam) (reviewed), PS3, PS Vita
 
Genre: , ,
 
Year:
 
Publisher:
 
Developer:
 
Final Score
9.0
9/ 10


User Rating
no ratings yet

 

We liked?


  • Distinctive cel-shaded graphics and atmospheric music
  • Platforming puzzles can be challenging but enable quick retries
  • Open gameworld, well balanced to reward exploring early areas with late-acquired skills
  • Just the right side of frustration - driven onwards rather than driven away
  • Never a sense of being lost - there is always a clear sense of what needs doing, and where
  • PC version is a 'Gold' edition - the DLC from the PS3 version included for extra length
  • Key controls are well worked out (but only if a pad is unavailable)

Not so much?


  • Combat can often descend into button mashing and blind hope
  • Be prepared for frustration and failures before successes - this is a game that rewards perseverence


Final Fiendish Findings?

Even on the new platform, even playing with a less-than-ideal control method, Guacamelee! stands out as being a very good game. The platforming side of the game is magnificent, balancing some real difficulty with encouragement via close respawns to try again; and while the brawling side of things is good, it is not to the same strength with combos often becoming button-mashing. Control via keys is surprisingly good for a game adapting joypad controls – but it still pales compared to using an actual pad. However, regardless of control method be prepared to bring some twitch reflexes with you, as this is a game that does require some very fast inputs… but wants to reward you for succeeding in both short and long terms.

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Posted August 18, 2013 by

 
Full Fiendish Findings...
 
 

Guacamelee! received very good reviews when it was released earlier this year for PS3 and PS Vita – including a very respectable 8/10 from Zeth. Now the PC version has been released for Steam, as Gold edition which includes the DLC from the console version – but does it maintain the original’s standard?

For starters…

Juan Aguacate is an honest farmer (albeit with terrible posture) with a dreams of being a luchadore wrester and an unspoken – but reciprocated – crush for El Presidenté’s daughter. But when she is kidnapped by the skeletal Calaca, poor Juan is killed… and resurrected as the masked brawler he’s always wanted to be (and with far more confident body language). Following in the footsteps of masked wrestlers moonlighting as superheroes, Juan must pursue the villain, save his love and prevent collision between the worlds of the living and the dead… this probably isn’t the day he was expecting to have when he woke up.
Guacamelee! screen
The world itself is a brightly coloured, cel-shaded 2D environment, replete with references to Mexican culture (albeit a pop-culture version of it) and other games. The word Zeth had to fight his pride to use when reviewing, ‘MetroidVania’, is an unwieldy-but-accurate one. Completion of the game could be managed fairly quickly if following a linear path from point-to-point, with the game constantly pushing you ahead to points that will leave you stuck, just in time to learn a new skill allowing your escape and progression. However, in doing so you would also miss a lot of extra content – right from the start of the game are locations which can only be accessed with skills gained nearer the end, usually (but not always) behind colour-coded blocks that can only be broken when specific moves are used on them.

The “but not always” is perhaps the most important part of this description, and possibly one of the games biggest successes in terms of design. While presented as a brawler, the platforming aspect is far, far stronger, and combat moves can have utility in movement too – the dashing punch can be performed to gain extra distance on a jump, the Rooster Uppercut provides that extra height which may get you onto a ledge above, and so on. These moves, and the added element of switching between the living and dead worlds (early in the game via portals, and at will thanks to a skill later) mean that many seemingly impossible rooms actually need just a little lateral thinking… as well as perseverance and timing.

Guacamelee! screen

This room… beating it felt like a great victory. The transparent columns exist in the other world, where the central column doesn’t. Thus, to make it from bottom left to middle right involved combining double jumps, two dimension switches, as well as combat moves for extra distance. It is an optional side area, mind. Time taken was in the region of 10minutes, and a few dozen failed goes – this is a game that rewards perseverance.

Up to the challenge

Let’s be clear – Guacamelee! is quite hard, regardless of control method (which we’ll come back to shortly). During play I discovered several new combinations of swear words to match the combinations of moves. Further into the game, dimension swapping becomes far more common a mechanic, and scaling tall areas by jumping towards walls and platforms that don’t exist will almost become passé (the location of which are marked by ghost shapes; or sparkles if they will disappear when you swap over). It’s not uncommon for one mistimed jump or dimension switch to undo a lot of work… But for all that, the game does not feel impossible. When you find the basic timing to do most jumps and moves, you will likely feel able cope with even the more complicated areas. It also doesn’t press its luck – near most of the hardest areas you will have passed a save point; and when falling off the world or into water you are immediately returned to the last platform you stood on with no health penalty.

This ability to try again with a minimum of delay is essential – the game is frustrating at points, but it helps to focus that frustration into a desire to try again rather than give up. Plus, most (though not all) of the really awkward places to navigate are side areas, places to return to later or ignore. Advancing through the game’s story is relatively more forgiving.

Born (and died) to fight

Combat is another matter, however. Occasional enemies will be lurking throughout the game, waiting to be punched, kicked and thrown around, before releasing on defeat health motes (to restore you) and cash (which can be spent on improving abilities and buying new costumes). However, some areas require groups of enemies to be defeated, with barriers blocking progress until you are the only one standing.
Guacamelee! screen
Juan does have a wide range of fighting moves, even from the start, which can often be comboed into each other – juggling enemies in the air, throwing them into each other, even just dodging attacks and coming up punching to counter. However, when you have a room filled with enemies and limited space to move (and later in the game, the need to handle mixed groups where some enemies are in one world and the rest another – but both can harm you – while also needing to use specific special moves to remove shields protecting them all first)… the difference between performing a masterful combo handing the situation perfectly, and button-mashing in the hope of winning becomes a very fine one indeed.

The one occasion I needed to step away from the game for a calm-down breather was after failing a particular boss fight for the nth time.

Keeping it under control

This is all brought into sharper focus by control methods. On starting the game a splash screen recommends playing with a joypad, and I have to agree with this – although for the sake of the review did also spend much of the time using keys. This is not as bad as it could be; unlike Deadlight, where the attempt at recreating a joypad’s controls did more harm than good, Guacamelee! is far more forgiving – right hand on cursors, left hand on QWE and ASD.

However, ‘forgiving’ and ‘ideal’ are not the same things, with some of the quicker switches between jumps, moves and dimensions requiring extremely precise finger movements, sometimes several times in a second. As someone who has been playing games on keyboard for more than two decades and can touch-type, this was still hard… although as with the game overall, not impossible. It’s also something worth keeping in mind if you have problems with coordination, as this is probably not the game for you.

Guacamelee! screen

Honestly, if you can handle all of the combos on keyboard this game throws at you, you should qualify for a secretarial degree, or something… If you have a joypad – and the game’s preferred joypad is a 360 one, for the record – you’re definitely better off using that.

In conclusion

Even on the new platform, even playing with a less-than-ideal control method, Guacamelee! stands out as being a very good game. The world is filled with colour and sound, with plenty of areas to go exploring; there are also touches of humour, enough to give you a smile without trying too hard to be comedy. The platforming side of the game is magnificent, balancing some real difficulty with encouragement via close respawns to try again; and while the brawling side of things is good, it is not to the same strength with combos often becoming button-mashing. Control via keys is surprisingly good for a game adapting joypad controls – but it still pales compared to using an actual pad. However, regardless of control method be prepared to bring some twitch reflexes with you, as this is a game that does require some very fast inputs… but wants to reward you for succeeding in both short and long terms.

Guacamelee! Gold is available now for PC via Steam


Peter

 
Peter can be described as an old, hairy gamer, a survivor of the console wars of the 1990s, and a part-time MMO addict. He has an especial fondness for retro gaming and observing the progressions in long running gaming series. When scandalously not caught gaming, he can also be found reading comics and fantasy fiction, or practising terrible photography.