If your kids are old enough to hold a controller, they’re probably already familiar with any number of other odds and ends of European mythology Hoovered up by the video game world. But games shouldn’t be so rigid in what magical worlds and creatures they show. For your next family gaming session, I recommend the high luchador fantasy of Guacamelee.
In Guacamelee, you play Juan Aguacate, a humble agave farmer destined for great things. An evil skeleton kidnaps El Presidente’s daughter, who happens to be your one true love. Then it’s up to you to track him down and deliver some justice in the form of a flying elbow from the top rope. You’ll have help from the ghostly luchadora Tostada. Tostada is controlled by another player. He will help you put some hurt on your skeletal foes.
When you lay it out like that, Guacamelee seems a lot like Mario in a luchador’s mask. But past the old-timey plot is a nearly flawless tag-team experience a lot more complex than jumping on coins and collecting mushrooms. In combat, players chop and elbow their colorful foes until they’re disoriented enough to be thrown, suplexed, or pile-driven into the ground. Special attacks allow for devastating headbutts or uppercuts that lift opponents into the air for further punishment. The moments of perfect synchronicity with your teammate are sublime. There’s no feeling quite like ferociously uppercutting an enemy into the waiting arms of your teammate, so that they can be slammed into the ground.
The wrasslin’ is truly delightful. But I think what I most appreciated in Guacamelee was the world created by DrinkBox Studios. Rather than being an abstract casserole of color and threat, like Mario’s mushroom kingdom, Guacamelee draws inspiration from Mexican culture and mythology. All its enemies come from Mexican culture, from the legions of charreria skeletons to the titanic, fancifully colored Alebrije. Beyond art, both the mechanics and plot of the game concern the world of the dead. And the world of the dead in this game is treated with a festivity beyond the normal doom and gloom.
Sometimes, the jokes feel unpleasantly stereotypical—your partner’s name, “Tostada,” being high on the list. As a white American, these jokes made me more uncomfortable than amused. But the game is also full of humor that requires more than a passing knowledge of Mexican culture or the Spanish language. The main villain of the game, Carlos Calaca, is a reference to the decorative skeletons used during Day of the Dead celebrations. Ultimately, playing a game based on something besides the over-ridden territory of standard Western mythology was so exciting, I’ll happily take missteps along the way.