There aren’t many games that feature Mexican culture, and even fewer that do so in a positive light; they tend to focus on drug cartels and gang members (see Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel, where you basically blow up Mexico). So a game like Guacamelee!, a bright and cheery celebration of Mexican folklore, really stands out. The game stars Juan Aguacate, an ordinary agave farmer who sets out an epic quest to rescue El Presidente’s daughter after she is kidnapped by the evil charro skeleton Carlos Calaca.
It’s not really a spoiler to say that Juan as-we-know-him is pretty much destroyed right away, but he soon finds a magical luchador mask that grants him superpowers and the ability to hop between the world of the living and that of the dead, which looks like stunning dia de los muertos art come to (un)life. Guacamelee! is a love letter to 16-bit video games, with charming references to Mario, Zelda, and Metroid in particular, from which it takes its greatest inspiration but adds its own unique spin.
The game starts out simply enough with basic melee-based combat but quickly ramps up as Juan gains new wrestling moves that open up the game. Each ability is color-based and can be used to break corresponding color blocks that reveal new areas. Enemies also have color shields, so you have to fight strategically to break them down before you can do any damage. Additionally, some enemies and platforms exist only in the land of the living or the land of the dead, requiring you to switch to the appropriate dimension on the fly. This seems like a lot to manage, but the controls are so tight and perfect that you always feel in control, even as you’re using almost every button on the controller.
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