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By Joseph K. Saulnier

DrinkBox Studios brings us Guacamelee. While I have not played any previous entries from this indie studio (which include the Tales from Space series), I am told that Guacamelee is really strengthening their library, and understandably so. Guacamelee Is a 2D style side-scrolling adventure game (much like the classic Super Metroid and Castlevania games) featuring a luchador. The game is a strange, yet amazingly thoughtful mesh of beat-‘em-up mechanics, elaborate and challenging level design, and a cartoon-stylized mix of Mexican cultural themes. But basically, it’s a great deal of fun from start to finish.

Guacamelee stars Juan, an agave farmer, who is quickly murdered by an evil skeleton known as Carlos Calaca. But never fear, Juan is quickly revived and gifted with a luchador mask. Gift is the optimum word here as the mask also grants him incredible powers. And so, our agave farmer-turned-luchador pursues Carlos and his gang of misfits to rescue his childhood love, who also happens to be El Presidente’s Daughter.

With a story delivered entirely in text, and includes a few laugh-out-loud moments, you will find that it is not that important. Instead, the real gem in Guacamelee is its graphical beauty. It has a very old-school design (hence the Metroid/Castlevania reference earlier), yet has new-school, well-crafted character models and brilliantly realized environments to explore. Adding to the charm is a Mexican-themed soundtrack that really shines at times.

At its core, Guacamelee is a brawler. You run around kicking, punching and grappling various sombrero’s skeletons, spike-laden armadillos and wildly colorful dragons (amongst other enemies). There isn’t a huge array of enemies, but the game does well in introducing them in a methodical manner so as not to reveal them all at once. As you fight through the world, you’ll find giant statues, which you destroy to learn new abilities including a flying uppercut. You may also find treasure chests littered throughout the game that contain coins to buy new skills, hearts for more health and gold for more special meter. These chest definitely give the game an RPG-like feel.

The story-line progression doesn’t take more than maybe five or six hours total, though nearly all of that time is very well spent. However, one of the most interesting (and underused) features of Guacamelee is its living/dead polarity. Juan has the ability to move between two different versions of the same world is something that is really emphasized near the beginning of the game, but you can’t take full advantage of this until somewhere around the mid-point. When you do finally get full use of this, it adds an extra dynamic to puzzles and increases the difficulty of the action. It’s just too bad it was not used more.

After all of this, Guacamelee is definitely too short, but also stylized, unique and downright fun to play. It can be blasted through in a single day, which is unfortunate, but it also gives you reasons to go back for more. When your biggest complaint about a game is that you wish it was longer, that’s usually a good thing. While I did finish the game in 4 and half hours (I am an overachiever), I did not achieve 100% completion as there are many bonus areas littered throughout the game. An unlockable hard difficulty mode and co-op are available as well.

Guacamelee is available on the PSN for about $15. This price will net you both the PS3 and the PS Vita versions of the game. And, what’s really awesome, is that you can send saves between the two. So if you are playing on the PS3 but you find it’s time to head out, you can pick up the fun right where you left off on the Vita. Unfortunately, the co-op is local only and solely on the PS3 version.

Guacamelee is stunning to look at and great entertainment. Its MetroidVania inspiration is very strong, and yet it stands on its own with unique features and a deceivingly deep combat system. Is it short? Yes, but this complaint is really just a tribute to its quality. I want more, and really hope to see more in this strange little world from DrinkBox Studios.

4.5 stars out of 5