Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition Review
What do you get when you combine Metroid-style exploration, fluid combo-based combat, and a healthy dose of Mexican flair? A damn good game, that’s for sure. But just how fantástico is DrinkBox Studios’ Guacamelee!? Allow me to explain.
Guacamelee! tells the story of Juan Aguacate, a simple agave farmer who must rescue El President’s Daughter from the evil (and aptly-named) Carlos Calaca. After a brief and rather unfortunate encounter with Calaca during the game’s early moments, Juan stumbles upon a legendary wrestling mask that transforms him into the mighty Luchador, thus beginning his quest.
Throw this poor guy a bone, won’t you? On second thought, don’t.
First off, Guacamelee! is a refreshingly complex platformer. Maneuvering from one edge of the screen to the other often requires careful planning and perfect execution; mastering the necessary on-the-fly adjustments will test even the nimblest of fingers. As the game progresses and areas become more treacherous, you’ll unlock several new abilities by breaking a Goat Man’s Chozo statues (yes, those Chozo statues). These new abilities serve both platforming and combat purposes, and basically allow you to reach any corner of the screen at any given moment. Experimental platforming tangents often led me to places I wasn’t technically supposed to be, such as a seemingly inaccessible ledge holding treasure. Though the game would eventually lead me to the same places organically, I appreciated that my curiosity and creativity were rewarded.
Similarly, Guacamelee!’s combat system encourages players to experiment with different attacks to find their ideal combo. Want to punch a couple skeletons into the air? Go with a Rooster Uppercut. Want to immediately smash those skeletons back into the ground? Try a Frog Slam. Want to finish them off for good? Just hurl them across the room into that lurking armadillo. As you proceed, however, you can’t simply button mash your way to victory. Some enemies have shields that can only be broken by specific moves. Others require you to dodge incoming attacks in order to find an opening. Save for the last hour of the game, combat is diverse and well spaced. However, it’s not perfect. The blast radius from certain enemy attacks isn’t always clearly discernable and dodging is less consistent than the Luchador’s other moves, but these small grievances never significantly impacted my overall enjoyment of the combat system.
Look at the pretty colors! …and that giant skeleton too, I suppose…
Guacamelee! takes place in two worlds: that of the living, and that of the dead. At first, you’ll have to jump into portals to swap back and forth, but you’ll later gain the ability to shift between both worlds at will. Like your other abilities, “crossing over” serves both platforming and combat purposes. Throughout your journey, you’ll need to swap between worlds to traverse areas, fight enemies, and solve puzzles (such as retrieving a recently deceased girl’s doll from underneath the staircase of her old home). Let’s just say it adds a whole new dimension to the game, in more ways than one.
Like its Metroid-esque brethren, Guacamelee! incorporates backtracking through previously visited locales with newly discovered abilities which, per usual, provide access to formerly inaccessible areas. However, heavy backtracking is generally not a requirement to progress through the main story; rather it’s a nice touch for exploration lovers who want to fully upgrade the Luchador. A well-designed map helps you keep track of where you have and haven’t been to streamline this process.
This Mascara never runs…from a fight!
Visually, Guacamelee! is a stunner. DrinkBox uses color to inject life into every crevice of both words, using warm and cool tones to distinguish between the realms of the living and the dead, respectively. Further, the angular character models are unique and fun to watch in motion. Additionally, it helps that everything you hear perfectly complements what you see on your screen. Rom Di Prisco and Peter Chapman’s creative blend of classic and contemporary Mexican music with chiptune sound effects is both an engaging accompaniment to gameplay and an outstanding soundtrack in its own right.
Despite its excellent gameplay and style, however, my favorite part of Guacamelee! is its sense of humor. The dozens of hidden video game references and pop culture nods littered through the world kept me constantly grinning during my playthrough. Guacamelee! never takes itself seriously; rather it embraces its goofy, irreverent nature at every turn and lets its creators’ love for video games shine through. If you’re looking for an exceptional exploratory platformer to fill your time, or if your life is simply lacking the Mexican flair it deserves, play Guacamelee! enseguida (which means “immediately” according to my six years of Spanish education).
Please note that the final score is not an average