I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by Drinkbox Studios’ little indie title. When I first saw it in its original release, I was put off by the style, and to me it looked like it was just a generic platformer. Boy, was I wrong. Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition is a colorful love letter to the gaming industry. This is clearly a game made by gamers, for gamers. It may have clear inspiration from games like Metroid and Castlevania, but it still has enough going for it to make it seem like a unique experience. Now originally, this title was released on PlayStation 3, Vita, and PC, sans the subtitle. Aside from being released on other platforms (PlayStation 4, Wii U, Xbox 360, and Xbox One), there have been a lot of improvements to the core game, as well as bonus content, not to mention all of the original game’s DLC being included. The downloadable costumes from the original are now unlockable with a new silver coin currency, and the Devil’s domain, El Infierno, has been added to the main game.
Guacamelee has a fairly simple, yet imaginative story that involves combining Mexican culture, Lucha libre, the land of the dead, and a lot of humor inspired by pop-culture integrated within. Protagonist Juan Aguacate starts out as just your average guy. He had aspired to be big and strong, looking up to luchador heroes, but unfortunately for him, he didn’t quite make the cut as a kid and instead became a farmer in the fields. During the preparation for an upcoming festival, El Presidente’s unnamed daughter, Juan’s love interest, is kidnapped by the evil Carlos Calaca, an undead spirit that took over the world of the dead, and also wishes to claim the world of the living for himself. After trying to rescue her, Juan is killed by Calaca, only to find his true destiny as he is granted a special luchador mask by another character named Tostada (who the second player would take control of during co-op). This mask turns Juan into a powerful luchador with abilities that far surpass his own, and returns him to the land of the living. The remaining plot follows Juan on an epic quest to save the love of his life, battling skeletons, chupacabras, cacti, and other undead foes through forests, deserts, and even volcanoes.
As I mentioned earlier, this game has a lot of pop-culture references. Some are in the dialogue, like when the villain Flame Face exits on an epic “Trollolololol!”, but there are many references to video games, movies, and comics. I actually spent a lot of my time looking for little references, some of them more obvious than others. The game being heavily inspired by Metroid, the new abilities that Juan collects are granted from “Choozo” statues, which look almost identical to the infamous Chozo statues of Metroid fame. Some of my favorites include the “Bust-it Bill” signboard, a temple drawing of a man defeating a winged demon with a whip, and even hidden 8-bit sprites in the bricks of buildings. There is definitely a lot of Nintendo love in the game, as you’ll see notable references to Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, as well as Donkey Kong, but there are other references to games like Minecraft, Mega Man, and even a little Commander Video sprite from the Bit.Trip series. Playing on the PlayStation 4, I often found myself snapping a screenshot of whatever references I came across just to share on Facebook or save for my own reference. Many will be difficult to find, but I feel that gamers of all ages can have a feeling of great joy when coming across something they love in different context.
Now the game can’t be all about story and references to Metroid. One of the things that really draws this title from other games like it is the combat, which is actually very deep, despite the fairly simple input. New abilities are gained gradually throughout the game in a way that makes it easy to learn, and for those that may forget, there is a nice move list in the pause menu for reference. Juan attacks with mostly punches and throws, with uppercuts, slams, and piledrivers galore. The game encourages building up your combos and gives quite a lot of options for fighting enemies of various types. Collecting coins from fallen enemies gives you the ability to upgrade your attacks and abilities, making them stronger, or even just to increase your vitality or stamina. Eventually, you get the ability to go into “Intenso” mode, a new ability added to the game that increases your strength, speed, and various other benefits temporarily, which will build up from getting big combos, and can even be maintained as long as you continue your combo-string with enemies. Also new is the life bars added to the enemies, as you can see how much vitality your enemies have left.
As you gain new abilities from breaking Choozo statues (Yes, I said breaking), the combat gets quite a bit deeper, but this also opens up new areas of the large overworld, which has been expanded upon with the new content of the game. The rooster uppercut makes it possible to break red blocks from below, and the frog slam breaks green blocks with ease as you destroy them from above. Many other abilities allow you to gain access to new areas, similar to the Metroid games that Guacamelee gains inspiration from. There is even a “morph ball” like ability in the game that allows you to move through small tunnel areas. What some may see as a potential rip-off, really it’s more of an homage, with nothing but love and respect for the many games referenced. You’ll also eventually gain the ability to traverse back and forth between the world of the living and the world of the dead, which will lead to challenging platforming, entertaining puzzles, as well as occasionally frustrating battles. The game keeps a lot of variation throughout and never feels repetitive, as the game is constantly throwing new ideas at players, keeping them on their toes and making it so that they must use all of their abilities to move forward.
As I mentioned before, I wasn’t a fan of the style upon first glance. It looks like a generic Flash animated game with a bit more polish, and honestly I couldn’t be any more wrong. The game has a very consistent style, filled with colorful environments that vary from all types, with an impressive amount of detail that works so well with the level design. The little details in the foreground and background fill this game with life, and it’s really a spectacle to behold. At one moment, I was on a snowy mountain in the land of the living as flakes of snow fell towards the ground. When I shifted to the land of the dead, the snow that was once falling to the ground was now rising upwards at half the speed, the colors of the background changed and the eerie sounds of the land of the dead shining through the charming mariachi music. I was awestruck, and it really showed me just how beautiful this game is. The visuals are clean and the style maintains itself all throughout, and even the few cinematics in the game look warm and colorful.
Getting back on the subject of sound, the game uses varied mariachi-style music throughout the game. String instruments and trumpets with slight shakes of maracas keep the game lively and uplifting, rarely making a moment dull. Each area has a slightly different feel because of the variation and it definitely helps set the tone. The game uses minimal voice acting, very much like a Legend of Zelda game, as Juan himself is a silent protagonist. Most of the voices come from the main characters that use grunting and laughter as their primary means for their voices being heard. It’s mostly only an issue when watching some of the cinematics, as you’ll read the subtitles to explain the plot, giving them a little less life despite the colorful images on display. It’s a minor complaint but it is something that would’ve been better with the slight voice work to give it that extra energy.
There really aren’t a lot of other complaints I can make about Guacamelee, as it’s a very polished game that really knows what it is. A lot of different tools are provided to you, like a very simple to follow map that gives you the breakdown on how much you’ve completed in an area, as well as the Olmec statues for fast travel between areas. Co-op is local only but I honestly prefer having the immediacy and team work of someone physically in the room with you. There are many side missions throughout the game, some easier than others to finish, but notably no way to track your progress with them. One of the side missions involves you collecting ingredients for the perfect enchilada, but the only way to know what’s left to gather is to ask the person that granted you the mission to begin with. Like I said, mostly minor complaints that really don’t depreciate the experience of the game, but little tweaks and adjustments that could be made to improve the game or potentially make a sequel or spiritual successor. With a lot to do and plenty of replay value, the game has a very ideal length to it, as well as leaderboards for speedrun players. Overall, Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition, the definitive version of last year’s game, is a solid title with a fun story, a plethora of references, and colorful visuals.
Final Score: 9 out of 10