Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), PS4, PS3, Vita, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Wii U, Mac, Linux
Developer/Publisher: DrinkBox Studios
Guacamelee is a metroidvania action platformer centered around Juan, a young man who, on his way to reunite with his childhood friend and potential love interest. But just as their reuinion is underway, she is kidnapped by a skeleton man by the name of Calaca, who in turn sends Juan to the land of the dead, where he gains the power of a luchador, and the strength to embark on a fairly standard damsel in distress story that neither takes itself too seriously, or does much noteworthy. Yes, there are a few interesting elements, such as the backstory of Cabala and the personalities of some of his cronies, but they are minor details in the story of what is already not a story driven game.
Although, there is one aspect I do want to highlight. Despite the game giving players the option to either play as Juan or a female character who bestows Juan with his powers as a luchador, Tostada, that distinction is never reflected in the game’s dialog. Instead, it continuously uses male pronouns for the protagonist in a move that honestly strikes me as an oversight. One that is especially pronounced due to how this game was expanded, updated, and re-released over the years, and this seems like the sort of thing some extra effort should have been afforded to, especially given how little dialog there ultimately is in the game.
Moving onto the gameplay itself, it is all fairly familiar stuff to someone versed in the metroidvania genre. Throughout the game, the player is tasked to travel through somewhat expensive yet insular areas with numerous obstacles in the form of environmental hazards, small puzzles, and naturally enemies. Gaining powers by destroying “choozo” statues, because direct references were considered funnier back in 2013, in order to progress and unlock new paths in prior areas. And in general hunt for various secret upgrades, or deposits of money that may be used to purchase certain upgrades.
Combat functions more akin to a brawler than anything else, with the player characters’ movesets being limited to melee strikes in the form of a basic combo, stamina depleting special moves, and most notably grapples that can either be turned into suplexes and pile drivers. However, most of the combat in my experience devolved into a dodge heavy affair in order to avoid the projectiles shot by enemies, broken up by punching enemies a few times, grabbing them, and tossing them back at other enemies to turn things into a giant throw fest.
It is a rather simple combat system in that sense, and one that loses much of its bite as things go on and the health pool grows larger, but also contains a lot of, how should I put it, frustrating elements. Such as the often very cramped and small arenas where most combat takes place. The positioning of certain projectile-based enemies that can easily damage, daze, and generally inconvenience the player character, and disrupts the flow of combat, which can be quite enjoyable in some of the simpler encounters.
It all makes for a decent, if fairly unremarkable adventure, with many things feeling as if they were abiding closely by a metaphorical guidebook on how to make a metroidvania. With the ability to shift forms, Shadow Complex-esque colored objects that block one’s way, and even a dual world dimension swapping ability thrown in for good measure. All of which makes for an occasionally enjoyable, if seldom remarkable, adventure… at least until my final rotation through the map in an effort to accumulate every missing item. It was then that I recalled why I found this game to be so frustrating during my initial playthrough of Guacamelee back in 2013.
In order to get the items needed to facilitate a good ending, and a 100% completion rate, the player must gain a degree of mechanical mastery that I simply am not cut out for. You see, while I typically can play most games that catch my fancy, I have difficulties with memorizing multiple functions if they do similar things, and making time sensitive inputs that require the use of multiple face buttons in conjunction with shoulder buttons.
Something about managing jumps with A, vertical and horizontal wall-based dashes with Y, and other dashes only be used once in the air with B and a directional input, while shifting between the light and dark dimension with RT, just does not click for me. I personally have hand eye coordination issues, and while they normally do not impair my ability to enjoy games, they very much do here, and they prevented me from completing this game as I would have liked to. Which is just an upsetting feeling, and one that makes it difficult for me to appreciate the game as a while.
As for the presentation, I am quite fond of the general art style featured in Guacamelee. With the vibrant and angular designs of its cast of characters, the detailed backdrops that make up the environments, and an expansive color palette that is used to great effect with its dimension swapping gameplay. Considering the budget for this game, I would actually go so far as to say that it looks excellent, striking a balance between something that is economical to produce at a large scale, while still keeping things detailed and the animations fluid.
However, the game at times struggles with visual clarity, namely when numerous enemies are on screen, which can result in certain sections feeling unfair or cheap, and certain background details, or the placement of character shadows, can make platforming more strenuous than it ought to be. Furthermore, a lot of the game’s presentation strikes me as very barren and devoid of small features that I would have expected from this game, especially after it received a significant re-release with new content. The menu design is strangely barren in spots, without a proper stat screen or quest log to speak of. Dialog is presented in a very flat and often uninteresting manner. While the HUD is designed in such a way that the player is constantly reminded that up to three other players may join with a press of a button, regardless of whether or not the player intends to go about things solo.
Seeing as how often this game comes up when people are praising modern metroidvanias, I have always felt as if I did not appreciate Guacamelee as much as I ought to have, or that I missed something about the game’s appeal. However, much of the gameplay and story strike me as unremarkable or average, and the latter portions required for 100% completion fail to click with me on a fundamental level, and go a long way to, more or less, ruin the experience for me. While I truly want to be positive towards just about everything that comes my way, especially if they are loved by many others, I… I just couldn’t do that here.
Also, I should note that I played through the majority of this game using a character skin mod created by the developers, which allowed me to play as X’Tabay, an antagonist in the game. Why I chose this mod over others is because I… I have a preferred type of character that I like to play as when the option is available…