Preview: Guacamelee delivers brawling, platforming, and chickens

This year’s IndieCade was rife with memorable moments, awesome conferences, and sweet games (duh). I checked out multiple games while at the festival, and one of the titles that left a lasting impression was the upcoming Guacamelee, due out on the PlayStation 3 and Vita next year. I played through the entire demo of the game, and I found myself wanting to continue playing. Sadly, there was only one level available, but it was a fairly lengthy stage, which indicates that Guacamelee will likely offer up some nicely paced stages when it launches.

The first thing to point out about Guacamelee is that it drips with style. The game features a charming art design that’s clearly influenced by Mexican culture. Earthy tones and bright colors are mixed ever so effortlessly, decorating characters and landmarks that are stylistically polygonal. The whole thing is a site to behold, really, because it offers up a visual direction we don’t see very often in games.

Guacamelee - PS3 - 1

The Mexican influence carries over into several aspects of Guacamelee. Throughout the game’s world are skeleton enemies (because Mexican culture has this terrifying fixation on death), traditional outfits, and chickens. Yes, chickens. While some uptight folks might consider this a stereotypical portrayal of the culture, as a Mexican dude whose family owned chickens when I was just a kid, I found it hilarious. As a matter of fact, I’m friends with a lot of people who at one point owned chickens, which makes the appearance of the delicious feathered animal in Guacamelee even more comical.

Guacamelee also takes several cues from lucha libre, the Mexican form of professional wrestling. You play as Juan, a massive beast of a man who sports a luchador mask and has plenty of melee and grappling offense at his disposal. Tasked with saving his beloved, Juan sets out on an adventure that’s full of raw action, clever platforming, and massive bosses. Guacamelee is being dubbed a Metroidvania-style game, and there’s certainly some influence there. The game features a lot of emphasis on beat ‘em up gameplay, but it’s interspersed between nicely paced platforming sequences. As you play, you constantly switch between these two gameplay styles, which keeps Guacamelee from ever feeling restricted to just bashing someone’s face in or jumping around levels.

Guacamelee - PS3 - 2

Several enemy types were showcased during my demo session. The most common type I encountered were skeletons, usually traveling in groups, that sported traditional Mexican clothing. These grunt-like enemies had basic attacks at their disposal, but they were generally easy to dispose of. That said, because they were hardly ever alone, I had to watch myself as I pummeled them. There were also plants that burrowed into the ground and attacked only after popping up from beneath the dirt. These were trickier to defeat as they required me to memorize their attack patterns and strike quickly. Add to that the fact these enemies were traveling in groups of two or three and brawls certainly offered a nice level of challenge.

During my time with Guacamelee, I was glad to discover that the combat was tight and rewarding. I was even more stoked to see this level of quality carry over into the platforming parts of the game. Several areas required me to wall jump and climb vertically through the level. Controls were responsive, and Juan’s versatility made the running and jumping sections of Guacamelee a sheer joy to play.

Guacamelee - PS3 - 3

Of course, just because platforming is easy to pull off doesn’t mean you can just breeze through the game. One sequence in particular was quite challenging, tasking me with outrunning a giant dragon. This was the final area in the demo, and I was forced to wall jump like crazy, taking out pesky enemies along the way. It took a few tries for me to outrun the dragon, but when I did, I was rewarded with something I was not expecting: In order to clear the level, I needed to cross a small bridge and hit an axe, thus causing the bridge to open up beneath the dragon and sending it into the abyss. I was then greeted by a fat dude in a sombrero and poncho who told me the princess was in another castle. Absolutely hilarious.

It’s clear that Guacamelee will offer some great references to classic titles such as Mario and Metroid, and I’m certain a lot of folks are stoked to see the many parodies and references that developer Drinkbox Studios has on hand. Add to that clever humor a distinct, practically unexplored artistic influence, two-player co-op, and a healthy combination of platforming and brawling action, and you’ve got a downloadable title worth watching out for if you’re a PlayStation 3 or Vita owner.

Want to talk about indie games, Kirby, or cheap pizza? Follow me on Twitter @dr_davidsanchez.