Format reviewed: Wii U eShop
Other formats available: Microsoft Windows, OS X, PS3, PS4, PSV, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Developer: Drinkbox Studios
Publisher: Drinkbox Studios
Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition, further referred to as Guacamelee STCE, is a 2D action/beat ‘em up platformer with a drop in/out local 2-player mode. There are plenty of titles with this type of gameplay available on the eShop for both 3DS and Wii U, so why even bother with this? Well, the most important reason is that, this is an amazingly exhilarating romp through traditional Mexican culture! (exclamation marks galore!!).
When the evil skeleton, Carlos Calaca, kidnaps El Presidente’s daughter, Juan, her potential lover, steps up to protect the beautiful lady of his desire, but cannot live up to such high aspirations and is mercilessly slaughtered. Juan finds himself in the land of the dead, where he is given a Luchador mask that enables him to travel back to the land of the living, and start a mission that will allow him the opportunity to rescue his darling.
It is so hard to review, let alone talk about, this game without the obvious comparisons to Metroid and Castlevania, the developers even state their game falls into the Metroidvania genre. Most of its gameplay adheres more closely to the former side of that type of gameplay. The developer Drinkbox Sudios are proud of this, so proud that the amount of nudges, nods, and winks to past gaming greats is abundant. Power upgrade statues are named Choozo, posters and brickwork of gaming icons such as Mario and Mega Man are clearly visible, and too many else to name, but all this past gaming paraphernalia gives a credence to what this game is trying to, and does, achieve. A seminal 2D gameplay experience, taking the best of other games and putting them together in a vibrantly colourful world and very nearly pulling it all off flawlessly.
Anyone familiar with the 2D Metroid formula will understand Guacamelee STCE’s gameplay mechanics immediately, but the biggest change is its style of combat. The usual Analogue Stick to move left and right, B to jump (double jump and wall jumping unlock later), Y to attack (punches and kicks), work as you would imagine, even better that they are all pixel perfect.
So, imagine an enemy onscreen and run over to him. Hit him/it with a combo of Y,Y,Y, this knocks him back. Pressing Up + Y gives you an uppercut and launches the enemy slightly into the air, that will give you time to launch into an aerial triple combo. Jumping above the enemy and pressing Down + Y will let you see a downward aerial smash. So far so easy, plays like any 2D beat‘em up. Once an enemy is stunned, however, weaker enemies will be stunned with a single triple Y attack, and an icon (X) will flash next to its health bar.
Pressing X activates some awesome grapple attacks, you are a wrestler/luchador afterall. Whilst in a grapple an arrow appears that can be directed via the Analogue Stick, so select a direction, press X again and the enemy will be thrown in that predetermined path. If another enemy happens to be in the way of its fellow’s flight path, they will take damage also. This happens to be an effective way of controlling a huge onslaught of enemies. Press Y in a grapple, and depending on how you got into the grapple, a slam down wrestling move occurs, such as a Pile Driver, Suplex, etc. Big slams like this cause damage to nearby enemies. All moves are upgradeable through the game’s stores, and save points, which resemble shrines. Costumes, extra abilities, health, stamina and grapple move upgrades are all available here by collecting money dropped by defeated enemies.
Add to the ever growing complexity of the combat system, Special Power moves. These moves are obtained by smashing open the aforementioned ‘Choozo’ statues. There are 15 statues in total to find, and all, but a few, are very useful. The main Special Powers relate to colours, red, yellow, green, blue or purple. For example, achieve unlocking the red related power of the ‘Rooster Uppercut‘, and not only will you have a formidable new attack in combat (Up + A), but also access to areas that were previously hidden behind unbreakable red blocks. This deepens the combat system even further as enemies later appear with coloured shields, now invulnerable to damage until the specific colour related move is used to weaken their shield.
‘Pollo Power’ is the name of your Morph Ball upgrade in Guacamelee STCE, but you’ll not be required to contort your body into spherical yoga shapes to access small areas. Instead by pressing the L shoulder button you’ll morph into a chicken. Ahhh, the subtle hilarity of chickens in computer games is all present here, and had my son and I in fits of hilarity throughout. ‘Pollo Power’ is now a catch phrase in our house.
The last Special Power of mention is the ability to travel between the land of the living and the dead at will with a press of ZR. This ability shapes the majority of the puzzles that are present. You’ll be traversing a lot of varied landscapes, and it’s in the Temples that this mechanic is most often used. Some platforms are only present in one of the realms and not the other. This allows for some complex jumping between platforms whilst flipping into the other realm to land on a platform that would not be there otherwise. And, the game, using this mechanic ramps up the complexity in a lovely curve that teaches you new moves, giving you plenty of practice to use it, before throwing frustratingly difficult versions of the same type at you. In combat situations the enemies can appear in either realm, and if in a different realm to you, you’ll see them as a black silhouette and be unable to deal them damage. The same does not apply to them though, as they can damage you just as readily regardless of which realm they appear in. It adds a degree of puzzle elements to an already deep combat system. In 2-player mode it’s possible for each player to traverse any realm they want independently of each other with a press of R. This can lead to some confusion and is my only big sticking point with the whole game. Not only is this evident in the combat sections, but also with some of the more difficult platforming areas. If the second player is not so adept as the first then you’ll come across many areas where the main player, on the GamePad, is put into a position where they can’t see the next platform as the game tries to accommodate vision for both players.
The graphics are brilliantly vibrant. The colours flow off the screen with little regard to your eyeballs sucking in all that vibrancy. It looks splendidly drool worthy. Of all the hours that I put into the game, mostly in local 2-player mode, with 15 enemies on-screen, throwing them around, colliding into each other, flipping between realms as fast as you can, huge screen-filling enemies, there was not even the slightest moment where the game dropped its silky smooth frame rate. The whole thing throws a cell shaded, cartoon world at you with no slowdown, and even the cut scenes are beautiful to look at. Don’t just take my word for it, look at those delicious screenshots.
Guacamelee STCE allows off-TV play via a simple touch of an icon located on the top right-hand corner of the GamePad. The game looks excellent on the smaller screen, but does suffer a little when certain platforming sections pull out the camera, and your character is reduced to a very small pixelated man. The other downside is that when using the GamePad the map is then only accessible through the menus (or by pressing -). The beauty of having the map displayed on the GamePad at all times, is lost. The map is such a useful addition to the gameplay, and to have that at a glance at any time is invaluable. It clearly shows areas that need further investigation in the future, via backtracking to areas previously traversed, and allows you quick travel via the power of touch. The lack of an ever present map on off-TV play made me only want to play this game using the TV and GamePad combination.
Miiverse integration is just as you would expect. This type of game doesn’t need high score tables, or the like, and so accessing Miiverse allows you the usual of posting messages, screen shots, etc., mostly about how good this game is.
I’ll end as I started, Guacamelee STCE is an amazingly exhilarating romp through traditional Mexican culture! The deep combat system, difficult, but fair, platforming and puzzle challenges, the wonderful upgrade system borrowed from games of yesteryear, and its flawless frame rate regardless of how much is happening on-screen, reveal a timeless classic. Little problems of simultaneous 2-player platforming and a seemingly short play time do little to lessen the delight of this game. One of my favourite games of the year, and heartily recommended.
Review by Lee Davies – first appeared on Nintendo: Review