By William Haderlie / April 26th, 2016
|Release Date||April 26, 2016|
|Genre||First Person Dungeon Crawler RPG|
|Age Rating||ESRB M for Mature|
For Drinkbox Studios it must have been a daunting task to follow up their widely praised previous game. They could have just made Guacamelee 2, but they chose to express their creative efforts in a totally new direction instead of burning themselves out on their previous series. It has been two years since the release of Guacamelee Super Turbo Championship Edition, and the time has finally arrived to see the fruits of their labor. It is quite a bit different than their last game in almost every way, other than the Mayan/Mexican art aesthetic. But other than that, this has nothing to do with 2D platforming or Metroidvania mechanics, this is a fairly straight up first person dungeon crawling RPG. And a change that’s possibly even more drastic than that is the tone of the story. Guacamelee was quite a humorous adventure, this one however is entirely different.
You are dropped into the world suddenly after some very grim events have taken place. You are a teenage girl and you are dragging yourself back to your house. When you look in the mirror you see that you are pretty beat up and lack a right arm. The stump is still bleeding so it has apparently just occurred. You quickly also find out that your family has been taken by powers nefarious. A mysterious figure that is obviously not human shows up and hands you an enchanted sword. After bidding you to rescue your family, he vanishes. Through a series of flashbacks that also teach you how to fight you discover that she will be searching for three family members, her father, younger brother, and her warrior mother (who is the one that taught her how to fight in the past). But she has nothing to her name but this new enchanted sword. But that is not enough to stop a determined teenage girl who is determined to get her family back.
What’s a girl to do, but slice off various creature parts to fashion weapons and armor? Not only does she use monster parts for those major upgrades, but all your statistics that would normally be gained by levels and experience are instead gained by applying monster parts that you chop off. There is a good side to this and a somewhat frustrating side as well. If you end up becoming good at severing off parts from enemies, you can build up your strength fairly quickly. However, if you struggle with that, you are going to find yourself behind. Especially because (other than a couple very specific instances), enemies do not respawn. So if you missed those monster parts the first time, you are not getting them back. That can make this title a little difficult, but not overwhelmingly so. And realistically, dungeon crawling RPGs are notorious for being much more difficult and hardcore in general than that. But it is still something you should be aware of. Do not take for granted the times that you will be able to chop limbs. Another interesting aspect of this is that you will find gory little giblets in vases that you can break in the world. You can use these as a crafting material to transform into other upgrade items. However, the more rare that upgrade item is, the more giblets it takes to craft into them. For instance, to transform a giblet into a hand, it is a 1:1 ratio, but to craft them into a jawbone it is a 33:1 ratio.
But that is not the most innovative thing that this title does. The most innovative thing is the touch controls. Believe me, I understand the general distrust engendered by those two words placed next to each other. I was myself very concerned about the inclusion of touch controls in this title as well. But for me, Drinkbox Studios had earned the benefit of the doubt with their last title. Well, and I’m also a huge fan of dungeon crawlers, but more on that next. And they did not convert me to touch controls as a method for other games, but they certainly did make me a convert for their own game. The only other game I’ve played that had touch controls implemented at such a great level was the Chair/Epic Games iphone/ipad series, Infinity Blade. Only this title has many more traditional RPG mechanics and has controller movement. And, if anything, the touch combat in this title is even more dynamic. You will need to learn to counter and delay the enemies by properly angling your swipes, and charge shot and other upgrades will add new elements, but that is not even the big innovation (other than how accurate your swipes are read by the PS Vita screen, which is indeed fantastic). The big innovation is that you will be attacked by groups of monsters at the same time, as you see in the above picture, and you will have to juggle going between each of them so that you can block and counter and delay them before they can hurt you. Your health is intentionally very low, even at full upgrades. Ideally in most fights you should not be hit at all. There becomes a rhythm that you will have to learn through practice on which enemies to focus on and when, and to definitely keep an eye on their cast bars at the bottom of the screen. But it all works out quite well, and if you do end up failing enough times to die, the punishment is not severe at all compared to other dungeon crawlers. You respawn right before the lost fight, you don’t even lose any part upgrades that you picked up.
However that is about the extent of their innovation. I really only have two issues with this title, but those quibbles were only enough to knock it down my enjoyment to a great game, from an all time classic. The first complaint isn’t that major, and that’s the fact that this title is only about 8-10 hours long. Now, for a normal title that is pretty average in length. However, for a dungeon crawler RPG that is extremely short, on average I usually spend around 100 hours on them. But the good side of that complaint is that the game was good enough that I wanted to spend more time in the world, so that’s not entirely a negative. My other issue, the one that is a little more major, is that this title is really only innovative in its art style, story, upgrades, and touch mechanics. One major part of the game is missing from that list, and that’s innovation in the dungeon mechanics themselves. I think the heart of that issue is indicative more of a split in the gaming world that has widened over the past decade. When I was watching a preview video that the developers had with some YouTube personalities, they all commented about how no one ever makes games like this anymore, other than The Legend of Grimrock. And for a certain group of gamers, it does seem that there was a long spell between Eye of the Beholder and that game. However, those of us who love Japanese games know that not only is this genre alive and well, but many (in my opinion almost all) of the best first person dungeon crawler RPGs have come out in the last 10 years. And they have been made by Japanese companies making games for the 3DS/DS (Etrian Odyssey, Persona Q) and for the PS Vita/PSP (Demon Gaze, Dungeon Travelers 2). So for a part of the gaming public, some of the dungeon elements may seem innovative. But for those of us who are really into the genre and not xenophobic towards Japanese games, there is nothing new or innovative in that part of this game. In fact, there are many better examples of this genre out now, and several coming very soon.
But I do want to stress that none of the dungeon crawling is bad, there are just better ones out there. So I will definitely not knock down my score much or not recommend this title. Short it may be, but it is also only MSRP $14.99. And more than likely it will be one that you will want to go back to just for it’s fun and it’s atmosphere. And what a great atmosphere it has. Not only is the art design very cool, but the story stays interesting and the music is even better than Guacamelee‘s was. The music does have a similar feel to it, but its tone is quite different, much more atmospheric and, at times, tender. There are a few moments of humor in the story and world, though, so it’s not all doom and gloom. I won’t spoil those moments, because part of the fun is that you are surprised when they happen. To me, you get your value for this short title, and it does innovate in some interesting ways. So I would definitely say Drinkbox Studios succeeded again with another title, one that is totally different from their previous milieu. I’m likely going to go back for the Platinum trophy (only one very difficult fight is blocking me from the last item I need for it), and then I will be anxiously hoping for a Severed Hyper Grinding Slash Version that adds even more content to a great game and great world.
Review Copy Provided By Developer
DrinkBox StudiosFirst Person Dungeon CrawlerGuacamelee!PS VitaSeveredSony