What even is Mexico these days? Don’t look at me: I’m not sure the place actually exists beyond the cloud of maracas, mass-produced candy skulls and Tex-Mex reflux.
Keeping up the longstanding tradition of goating the living cuacha out of Mexico is Guacamelee!, a chunk of metroidvania I’ve been wanting to play since its outing on the PS3 back in the mists of April this year – and a game whose trailing exclamation mark I shall henceforth refuse to type because sometimes you just have to take a stand.
To be fair, this har-har mole of mock-Mexicano jaws its lighthearted fun at all of it, merrily referencing its way through everything from Super Mario to Grumpy Cat – though it must be said that its visual gags are more entertaining than its writing, whose chintzy cheese fitzes frequently.
The story? Think of it as a bottle of cheap tequila: fun and mindless. You’re looking at a wink-wink mapping of the damsel-in-distress lark onto the the waxed moustache of Mexican whimsy: El Presidente’s daughter has been kidnapped on the Day of the Dead by an “evil charro” skeleton bent on merging the world’s living and dead, and it’s up to home-grown agave farmer Juan Aguacarte to un-kidnap her and, yeah, save said living world. Y entonces, y entonces.
Most importantly, you’ll find some solid metroidvanic antics underneath the set-dressing, spiced with a good dose of brawler. Guacamelee doesn’t do very much new with its raw materials, but it does treat them with respect. New skills – unlocked with a cheeky nod to Metroid’s statues – stick largely to the genre’s staples, and lend themselves well to the game’s remarkably versatile combo system. Fighting the undead hordes can get a tad too frenetic for thoughtful play at times, but combat is generally gleeful, kinetic, and smashingly over the brim.
Aside from the lucha libre fisticuffs, progression is checked by acrobatic puzzles that, later on, involve switching between the land of the living and the land of the dead to alter level layout; it’s been done before, but Guacamelee handles its inheritance excellently. It’s fun, is what I mean – and there’s a lot to come back to, what with all the secrets and side quests and unlockables (augmented by El Infierno, the expansion pack that comes as part of the Gold Edition deal). Have I mentioned that it’s also pretty as hell? I don’t believe I have, but there you go.
The two-player co-op is, of course, tremendous – and thankfully spared the grit of having to do the more difficult leap-about sections twice; either player can tap out by turning into an orb of ectoplasm (or whatever) while the other takes on the platform-pirouetting. This really is clever, because it means people who don’t have the knack or the patience for fatal ballet can still tag along. Tag along – see what I did there? Oh never mind.
With all that out the way, let’s be honest: when you saw Guacamelee you knew you wanted it. It’s just that kind of game.