Tag Archives: Juan Aguacate

That evil charro skeleton Carlos Calaca is no more

2173898-guac_screen_b

A problem of late is that I’m not getting to write about games immediately after finishing them up, and you can blame this on my dream goal of drawing a comic for every game I finish this year. See, in prior years, I’d write a haiku of said finished game and then, if warranted, I’d write some further and final thoughts about the experience, and I’d do both of these things relatively fast, with everything still fresh in my mind. For 2014, I beat a game, add its name to my ever-growing list, and sigh in sadness at just how far behind I am in these comics. Then, instead of writing about it, I either wallow in my own frustration or start sketching a comic for a game I beat months ago.

Now, the last few posts on Grinding Down have shown promise, as I got to cover the Puzzle Agent games quickly, am still currently playing Doki-Doki Universe, and only tapped into Charlie Murder a week ago, meaning I’m relatively caught up, but there’s a bunch of in-progress blogs on my dashboard that are beginning to grow mold. Seriously, green-and-purple fuzzy grass hairdoFor example, I still haven’t talked about my time with Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions, Spyro the Dragon, or even Transistor, one of this year’s big AAA releases. Hopefully soon.

All of those two paragraphs are there to say this: I beat Guacamelee! the other night. It’s a game I started playing in April, walked away from due to a difficult boss fight, picked up again in May, walked away due to a difficult platforming puzzle section, skipped playing it entirely in June due to life falling apart, and then returned to it last night to polish off the final chunk of the game in one glorious go that nearly saw me twisting my Xbox 360 controller into plastic bits. Don’t let the cartoony graphics and bouncy tunes fool you…this is one of the toughest platforming games I’ve played since VVVVVV and not getting very far in Super Meat Boy.

If you’ll recall, humble agave farmer Juan Aguacate lives in a small village in Mexico and is in love with El Presidente’s daughter. Alas, an evil charro skeleton named Carlos Calaca attacks the village and kidnaps her, forcing Juan to go after them. The story never really gets in the way and is only told moments before and after boss fights. This grandiose journey will see Juan jumping between the realms of the living and the dead, jumping between ground and air-borne enemies to punch, kick, and throw, and jumping from platform to platform to reach new areas. Basically, there’s a lot of jumping. Thankfully, the jumping controls are really good, generally leaving any missed landings as your fault, and be prepared to feel the blame constantly, especially the parts where you have to both move and switch between realms in split-second decisions. They are grueling, but then at the same time, really rewarding to complete.

I’m still not 100% completely sold on Guacamelee!‘s combat. And maybe it’s because I was still using the same tactics and combats that I rocked at the beginning of the game at the very end of it, too. After a while, Juan will have some special color-coded attacks, like uppercutting or headbutting, but I found just mashing the punch button until a button prompt appeared over the enemy’s head, which means they can now be thrown, worked well enough. Even in locked-in kill rooms. So long as you can get a good thrown enemy to bounce around and knock down other beasts, you can pretty much keep everything under control. Thankfully, you also restore health at every save point, which are frequently scattered across the Metroidvania map.

Before the final boss fight, you get the option to warp back to previous locations to finish up any side quests or find more health/stamina upgrades. I decided against this as I was cemented in my goal to finish the game, afraid I’d just end up putting it down again for another month. Thankfully, after you take down Carlos Calaca and his second form, which, for me, took at least ten attempts, you can reload into the game right before the boss fight. So I can potentially go back and look for more stuff, if I’m interested. Honestly, I’m kind of interested, and it’s all thanks to a handy-dandy map that is constantly updating where hidden areas are, as well as your completion percentage. Good on you for that, Guacamelee! because really, I can’t be bothered to remember this stuff. However, I don’t think I’ll be attempting every jumping/warp portal puzzle left because…um, my hands just can’t take it, but it is fun finding the secret areas.

I played Guacamelee! on Steam with a Xbox 360 controller, and I really can’t imagine someone using mouse and keyboard here. I mean, maybe. Um, maybe. But my tiny, one-sided controller-loving brain just can’t picture it. There are so many moments where you have to respond in less than an eye blink, and I’d say the controller is the way to go. Just my two cents. One day, it’d be fun to experience it co-op, but then that would mean co-op jumping puzzles, and my heart is all adiós a mis amigos.

Guacamelee! follows Juan Aguacate’s luchador-focused plight from one world to the other

guac early impressions 028

I like a good Metroidvania just as much as the next person, but it needs to contain the right mix of visual and gameplay activity to keep me moving, searching for that next item that will unlock all those previously blocked paths I encountered earlier on in the journey. If that doesn’t happen quick enough, I kind of just lose interest and never go back, like in Celestial Mechanica and Lyle in Cube Sector. Thankfully, Guacamelee! is really hitting that sweet spot, and if I worked harder than I do at this amateurish swing at videogames journalism, I’d come up with some witty piñata metaphor here. Oh well, moving on.

Story stuff. Juan Aguacate is but a humble agave farmer living in a small village in Mexico. Oh, and he happens to be in love with El Presidente’s daughter, and no, I don’t recall if they ever said her name or not. An evil charro skeleton named Carlos Calaca attacks the village and kidnaps her, forcing Juan to go after them. Alas, he is killed–not a spoiler–and finds himself in the land of the dead. There, a mysterious luchador named Tostada grants him the power of luchador-ism via a glowing mask, as well as brings him back to the world of sunshine and rainbows. If you don’t know what happens next, well…it should be pretty obvious. Juan Aguacate goes on to film Nacho Libre II: Hay Mucho Diversión. No, no. He’s off to stop Carlos Calaca from sacrificing El Presidente’s daughter in a ritual that could potentially combine both the living and dead worlds.

It’s a pretty stereotypical “damsel in distress” story that we really need to get away from, but the world just oozes with flavor and fun that I have to ignore the game’s shortcomings. From the music to the cartoony, somewhat cel-shaded-like graphics, Guacamelee! makes up for its trite story and story progression–don’t be surprised when you have to take on all of the main villain’s sub-bosses one after the other before getting to the main event–with stunning visuals, Disney-of-yesteryear-like animation, and a sense of place and time. I’ve never been to Mexico. I think, at one time, I was in New Mexico while visiting my sister in Arizona, but that’s not the same. Still, this all feels right. Sounds right as well, given that the soundtrack is deeply rooted in Latin music and mariachi.

Gameplay is the standard mix of exploration and combat, except instead of blasting away undead critters with fancy guns, Juan puts his newfound wrestling powers to use, punching and grappling and doing pile-drivers from upon high. If you’re quick and careful enough, you can string together some length combos from one enemy to another. Perhaps my favorite part of combat is that, after landing a good number of punches on an enemy, you can then grab them and doing a special finishing move or throw them into other enemies. When there’s a bunch of enemies to deal with at once, tossing them into one other is the best tactic. Also, extremely gratifying, like bowling a strike and watching the pins fly off the ground.

For exploration purposes, well, it’s pretty linear in the beginning. Only so many places Juan can get to, but all those blocked paths are color-coded, with each color related to a specific ability to open then. Thankfully, the map also highlights the color coding, which will make it very easy to revisit some areas and finish up that map-clearing business. There’s a good amount of platforming to be done, too, with many jumps relying on quickly using your abilities to reach that platform just a centimeter too high or off to the right to get to normally. Some of these jumping puzzles are quite difficult, almost to the point of Super Meat Boy levels of frustration. It’s a good thing the game is constantly auto-saving your progress.

Evidently, Guacamelee! is littered with Internet memes and other kinds of meta jokes. Thankfully, I’m blind to most of them, though the really obvious references to Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise and Super Metroid with the ability-giving stone statues are…really obvious. Oh, and instead of rolling into a ball to reach hidden areas, Juan gains the power to morph into a teeny chicken that can peck enemies slowly to death. It’s amusing, if not very effective.

According to the map screen, I’ve completed about 25% of Guacamelee!, just finishing up the boss fight with…well, maybe I shouldn’t ixnay on the boss-say. Psst: that’s a clue. Anyways, I still have plenty of new abilities to earn for Juan and more sub-bosses to deal with before Carlos Calaca gets his just desserts, and I’m really looking forward to popping back into Drinkbox Studios’ colorfully cartoony world–both of them–to see what happens next. Until then.