Guacamelee Super Turbo Championship Edition – Game Review and Analysis
By Dan Maurer
Developer: Drinkbox Studios
Publishers: Drinkbox Studios, Activision
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Release Date: July 2, 2014
Genre: 2D platformer, beat ’em up
Modes: Single-player, co-op
Guacamelee! tells the story of Juan, a farmer whose love interest, El Presidente’s daughter, is almost instantly placed in terrible danger by the undead Calaca, a man more evil than Satan himself. Juan’s ill-fated attempts at chivalry end in a flash when Calaca instantaneously strikes him down, sending him to the mysterious realm of the dead. After meeting Tostada, a hilariously-named female luchador, and receiving a powerful wrestling mask, he sets out to stop Calaca, save the love of his life, and ultimately save the world. Though Guacamelee! tells your standard “Save the Princess” story, its hysterical, euphemism-heavy dialogue and ridiculous cast of characters make the narrative a pleasure from start to finish.
The game’s story is silly but it’s the gorgeous artwork and soundtrack that provides the real character. The visuals are clearly influenced by traditional Mexican art, as well as the DC animated shows, but the bold angular style still has a personality all of its own and some of the larger enemies in particular look stunning. In terms of gameplay, Guacamelee describes itself as a ‘Metroidvania brawler’ which is perfectly accurate. Just like Super Metroid, the 2D game world is entirely open ended and stuffed full of secrets and areas that are inaccessible until have the right abilities and equipment. One of Guacamelee’s more interesting takes on the formula though is that instead of ice beams and grappling hooks it’s learning new fighting moves which expands Juan’s horizons. Although these obviously come in handy while scrapping with enemies the same moves are also used to explore the game world. The initially bland set of punches and kicks you start out with eventually give way to more specialized moves like ground pounds and throws. These can be mixed together for some impressively complex combos, although many enemies can only be beaten with a specific color-coded attack. These same attacks are also associated with similarly-colored barriers when out exploring, making it clear which areas you must first learn an uppercut or headbutt before you can enter. Although there are some more extreme abilities that also come in handy, such as being able to turn into a chicken.
Guacamelee draws as much inspiration from frenetic fighting games as it does from more leisurely exploratory 2D action games, and it combines the feel of one with the structure of the other to overwhelming successful effect. However like a fighting game, it does demand a certain level of commitment on the player’s part. The combat sequences in particular won’t let your reflexes coast along on casual mode; enemies appear in huge numbers with powerful attacks, and while you can power through them at times with combo skills or hulking out into berserker mode, those abilities come with innate limitations. Core skills and brisk evasion are just as essential to survival as button-mashing. The biggest shortcoming in combat comes from how easily you can lose track of your characters.The other element Guacamelee’s Mexican setting brings to the table takes the form of its overarching Dia de los Muertos theme. This proves to be more than a stylistic gimmick, though. You’re fighting skeletons and other undead, but the Dead World itself plays an instrumental role in the action. Protagonist Juan dies against the main antagonist right at the start of the game and is sent back into the world of the living in short order to put right Carlos Calaca’s misdeeds. Being technically deceased, though, Juan can shift between the worlds of the living and the dead, a bit like Raziel in Soul Reaver.
There’s a lot to keep track of in Guacamelee. It’s very much an expert mode take on the metroidvania style. Perhaps more impressively, it manages to pose a challenge both as a brawler and as a puzzle platformer. That’s a rare combination, and even rarer to see done right. While Guacamelee may sound like a dozen other small studio productions from the past few years at the high-level description, in practice it stands as something unique and more to the point, quite masterfully done.
PunchDrunkGamer.com Final Score: 9 out of 10
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