Guacamelee review: Wrestlevania

Is there anything more paltry than the video game chicken? Guacamelee lets you kick the poor featherballs, lock them in your log-like luchador arms, and pile-drive them into the ground so hard they bounce around the room. In the presence of a protagonist, the only thing worse off than a chicken is a vase.

Guacamelee doesn't have much to say about vases or any sort of pottery, but its Mexican fairytale offers some spiritual redemption for the down-trodden chicken. This overdue kindness is reflected in the game's eclucktic characters, and in the hero's typical ascent to spandex.

In Juan, you inhabit a slouching, mild-mannered man and earnest collector of wrestling paraphernalia. The villain kills him immediately. Upon his resurrection – via mystical luchador mask – a swaggering Juan learns to leap through the dual worlds of living and dead, and finds reason to punch them both.%Gallery-185263%

The power to switch instantly between parallel realms is crucial in this boldly drawn 2D adventure, and gives impetus to a gracefully executed escalation of challenge. The game's exuberant Mexican milieu is peppered with cute references to classic games (even in the music), but it summons true nostalgia in its demand for finger gymnastics and unblinking concentration. While you flit between dimensions, finding momentum and harmony in their separate sets of platforms and hazards, you may just find yourself sitting cross-legged on the floor, leaning in to decipher the designer's evil course.

I'd say Guacamelee wears its Metroid heart on its sleeve, but the bravado and crooked sense of humor conjures an image of the game tearing off its shirt, screaming like a maniac and flexing glistening muscles. The developers at DrinkBox demonstrate a good understanding of this genre and their hero, connecting high-flying wrestling moves to new methods of traversal and treasure hunting. The world map unfurls at a good pace, and each new color-coded ability, which doubles as a useful combat maneuver, makes you reconsider the surfaces and slants you once thought were unimportant or unreachable.

Guacamelee is also about fighting skeletons in ponchos, of course, and this component is surprisingly fast and easy to grasp. You can connect a simple three-hit combo with an air juggle, intersperse special attacks to gain additional height, and complete the showy battering by tossing your enemy back into the crowd of monsters. It's a satisfying, screen-shaking method of crowd control, though it becomes a symptom of the game's biggest failure.

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While Guacamelee's forests and temples seem so precisely designed to gradually impart and then challenge movement skills, the combat flatlines early. In an effort to raise the difficulty, the game just drops in a larger number of foes, making it more a test of deciphering on-screen chaos than fighting effectively. Monsters in other dimensions can harm you, but you can't touch them, an unfair twist on one of the game's crucial rules.

Thankfully, some of this anarchy is alleviated if you have a partner on the couch, playing as Tostada (the only female character in the game that is neither kidnapped nor hung up on a dude). And, since both of you can transform into chickens, there is at last justification for an annoying typo in reviews. Yes, this is ... a coop game. No hyphen necessary.

The clumsy evolution of combat aside, I'd heartily recommend Guacamelee – once for its devilish difficulty, again for its luchadorable charm, and one last time for its even-handed treatment of the lowly video game chicken. (You have to use both hands to SLAM THEM INTO THE CONCRETE).

This review is based on a PSN download of Guacamelee for PS3, provided by DrinkBox Studios. The Vita version, which is cross-save compatible, was also tested. UPDATE: The original subtitle of this article was 'Juan or two players.' Some readers suggested this could be seen as offensive if you do not learn the main character is named Juan, so we've changed it to avoid any unintended offense. The new subtitle is way better anyway.

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