Replay Value: 9.1
Publisher: Drinkbox, Activision
Developer: Drinkbox Studios
Number Of Players: 1-2
What do you get when you cross the old-school Metroid structure with a flamboyant, over-the-top Mexican theme? You get Guacamelee! If you missed out on last year’s excellent entry, you can always pick up the recently released upgraded version, dubbed the Super Turbo Championship Edition. As you might expect, the improvements simply make an already great game even better, so you’ve got no excuse to miss out this time. Even if you’re not into the whole “Luchadore” theme (and I’m not, either), the gameplay remains astoundingly awesome.
These colorful, vibrant graphics keep you ensconced in a world that’s just begging to be explored. The excellent attention to detail, from the stellar and often comical combat effects to the beautifully designed environment, makes Drinkbox Studios an elite developer. The visuals aren’t drastically updated but PlayStation 4 owners will still appreciate the bold strokes of color and the top-notch animations. This is one of those ultra-stable graphical presentations that remain downright gorgeous throughout.
As you might expect, the audio is peppered with a variety of amusing effects and voices, each of which are specifically designed to bolster player immersion. You have to believe you’re running about in a Mexican-themed Metroid of sorts, and the great sound reinforces the presentation with every step. A fitting and well-implemented soundtrack completes the attractive package, and you find yourself bouncing gleefully along, reveling in the sights and sounds. If you’re the type of gamer that gravitates toward unique atmospheres, this is for you.
One of the current buzz words in the industry is “Metroidvania,” which obviously indicates a blend of Metroid and Castlevania exploration and gameplay. That’s an apt description for Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition, but Drinkbox’s production has a distinctive twist: It doesn’t get bogged down with large, tedious inventories, nor does it rely on boring fetch-and-return quests. This is a streamlined adventure that simply relies on the advancement of the main character; as the heroes – Juan and Tostada – get stronger, they can access more areas. And oh yeah, they’re Luchadores.
These extremely popular personalities represent the flashy Mexican version of American wrestling. Hence, your abilities revolve around various melee and grappling skills, which in turn requires some patience and practice. The one thing I don’t necessarily like about Guacamelee! is that it’s too similar to an old-fashioned fighting game, in that you have to memorize a lot of difficult combos as you progress. You didn’t really do this in Metroid or Castlevania (at least, not in the traditional 2D adventures), so the emphasis was more on discovery. I prefer that to the larger focus on battle.
However, this is a subjective complaint; I know there are lots of gamers out there who adore the combination of intricate combat mechanics and 2D exploration. I like games that are more about learning where to go and finding secrets, but this is definitely more about the fighting. And hey, considering the style, that makes perfect sense. What reason would Luchadores have to explore a fantastical environment, if they don’t have ample opportunity to beat the crap out of multiple hapless opponents? Besides, it’s not like the developers ignore the exploration; quite the opposite, in fact, and I greatly appreciated that fantastic map.
You just have to keep on your toes; evade and strike is a common recipe for success, but there is one glaring drawback: At times, you can lose track of your characters when things get wicked hectic. In the “faster-is-better” world in which we live, this can lead to a visibility issue that can crop up once too often. As far as the new “INTENSO” combat mode, it’s an extremely well-balanced feature that rewards the particularly strategic and skilled. Basically, once you’ve filled the INTENSO meter, you can simultaneously inflict more damage and extend your health bar. It sounds overpowered on the surface but really, you can’t abuse it as it takes plenty of time to fill up the INTENSO meter.
Other additions include teleporting enemies (which can make fighting more frustrating) and extra downloadable content. This includes online speed run leaderboards, a new “silver” currency for costume unlocks, and my personal favorite, drop-in/drop-out co-op. They’ve even tweaked the core grappling mechanic, which makes for a tighter overall experience. Overall, as I said above, the latest iteration of Guacamelee! is just better in almost every possible way, even if those improvements aren’t exactly drastic. This appears to be created specifically for those who missed out on the original title, as I’m not sure there’s enough here to warrant a second purchase and play-through.
Even so, if you’re a big fan, I can see you grabbing the Super Turbo Championship Edition. The bottom line is that Guacamelee! is one of the most entertaining, engaging, and even innovative titles we’ve seen in the past year, and all avid gamers owe it to themselves to give it a try. The “Metroidvania” structure somehow blends beautifully with the gaudiness of the Mexican Luchadore theme, and you just never want to stop playing. Visibility can be a problem at times, and there’s a bit too much emphasis on very complex combat maneuvers in my estimation, but those are my only complaints. From top to bottom, this is an immensely energetic experience that is both stimulating and rewarding.
The Good: Vibrant, colorful atmosphere that looks even better on PS4. Great sound effects and score. Top-notch control. A great combination of exploration and intricate combat. INTENSO meter is an awesome addition. Lots of cool abilities to unlock, which in turn unlock more of the game. Love that added co-op!
The Bad: Can lose track of your characters during dense fighting sequences. A little too much emphasis on complicated fighting.
The Ugly: “If you say anything about this game is ugly, I’ll send a real Luchadore to your house with orders to sit on your head.”