Title: Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition
Developer: Drinkbox Studios
Release Date: October 8, 2018
Reviewed On: Xbox One
Publisher: Drinkbox Studios
Guacamelee! has already been regarded as a love letter to the Metroidvania genre back in 2013. For this reason, I was excited to check out how this game makes its return to a modern portable console like the Nintendo Switch. It makes me happy to say that not only has Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition aged well in art direction and gameplay but feels right at home on the Switch.
Part of the Guacamelee charm is the story that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Starring Juan Aguacate as he leaves his agave farm to attend a town festival with El Presidente’s Daughter. However, she is kidnapped by an undead skeleton named Carlos Calaca. A being so powerful that Juan is killed instantly when he tried to save the Daughter. But not to be defeated, Juan emerges in the World of the Dead and acquires a mask from a legendary Luchador named Tostada, granting him super strength and agility. Juan then attempts to save El Presidente’s Daughter from Carlos Calaca before she is ritually sacrificed to unite the worlds of the living and dead.
Guacamelee’s timelessness on Switch is due to Metroidvania structure. The genre allowed me to really take my time exploring the game’s large interwoven map that splits, detours and routes toward secrets, new abilities or big brawls. This nature to the gameplay felt to me as “bookmarks” since areas are sectioned off and natural for taking breaks or moving over to TV mode.
That same notion of a well-designed game continues with its other important structures as a Metroidvania: new abilities, finding secrets and boss battles. These systems are simplified compared to a Castlevania title, with their games having weapons, armor, stats, and secondary effects. Guacamelee! breaks it down to new special attacks earned through destroying mystical statues or collecting coins to upgrade health capacity. Though the mechanics are seemingly plain, it is hard to complain when every action triggered in Guacamelee! is punchy and feels great to land a powerful body slam on a skeleton’s face.
The special attacks also serve as an addition to platforming, with every ability having a contextual advantage to clearing gaps or scaling walls. The satisfaction from using a mix of special attacks to move through the map clearly shows a care to building levels around these abilities, as evidenced from when you land on even the simplest platforms by a hair.
And upon reaching these platforms, there are plenty of items such as heart and stamina containers that boost your gauges. Effectively making most collectibles beneficial to your adventure. Finally, having bosses that are a fair challenge and make use of recently acquired abilities is a treat. These designs that solidify these new attacks in my memory had me feeling that not one feature or ability was unused if anything was continually used in new instances.
The most interesting of these instances is the dimension warping that allows Juan to switch between the world of the living and dead. This opens up opportunities to jump on platforms or going through walls that only exist in either dimension. The same is applied to enemies that have the power to attack Juan through dimensions but unaffected when attacked unless you switch to their plane of existence. Additionally, there were plenty of scenarios where I had to jump around and attack while repeatedly switching realities to defeat enemies without falling through invisible platforms. So when powering through the later section, I was kept on my toes as nearly every tool in my arsenal was used to overcome obstacles. Which could get frustrating if it weren’t for the decent amount of checkpoints scattered throughout the map.
I have always been a fan of games that change the environment on the fly and add depth to existing mechanics. Of course, the biggest example of that would be Castlevania: Symphony of the Night when players reached a teleporter to reverse or flip the entire castle upside down, not only changing the map physically but the effects to the enemies and environments. Though not as intricate, the effect still impressed me on how the game can continue to perform so quickly from frantic dimension warping without bugs or jagged reactions to platforms appearing in milliseconds.
But what impressed me more was the thoughtful way to introduce new abilities as the game progressed. For games that do a good job at adding attacks or weapons in a Metroidvania, they are obtained by defeating bosses or tracking through multiple rooms to find a hidden passage. And along the way, you can be tempted or even annoyed at the dozen closed off doors, many of which are unlocked in different ways. This can make it easy to have a feeling of impatience, knowingly spent large portions of the game looking for the correct ability or even nearly beating the game before realizing that a door is opened by a secret you have to backtrack to.
Guacamelee! continues to simplify the options and focus it into well-paced progression along with nicely spaced out abilities earned by smashing mystical statues that a form-shifting goat master yells at you for doing so. The timeliness of these statues are appreciated and never gave me a feeling of impatience or exhale the phrase “about time!” and never much longer after discovering a few blocked paths signified by large colored blocks. Leaving the platforming to be the true fun of backtracking.
But that’s not to say that the platforming is perfect. There are times when I would even call it too responsive. As Juan’s jumping height infinitely controlled by how long the jump button held down, causing falls to happen just because of letting go of the button just a hair too short. Not to mention areas surrounded by environmental hazards that kill me instantly requiring precision jumping. The same sensitivity is found in launching special attacks triggered by the direction of the analog stick. Having an analog pointed a bit too far from the intended direction causes an entirely different attack that caused my deaths on many occasions.
Those deaths came into play often as later sections of the game had increasing complex rooms to clear and filled to the brim with enemies of all types. While I can typically adjust to difficulty spikes, I had a back and forth with myself as to how hard Guacamelee can be. As I’m being pelted with endless projectiles that knock me back while fending off two towering giants and multiple dodging skeletons that are always closing the gaps I need to catch my breath, I felt the game lures innocent causal players with its cartoony charm just to beat them down. Although the next minute, I’m frantically pressing every combination of special attacks just to collect a few hundred coins but enjoying the accomplishment. While your mileage may vary in terms of challenge, just know that fully completing the game could lead to some controller chucking, I recommend not playing in the Switch’s handheld mode during the challenge room sections.
As I said before, Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship is a love letter to Metroidvanias. Developer Drinkbox Studios cared deeply enough about the genre to take the biggest aspect of from other popular titles and deliver it in intuitively designed systems wrapped in cutesy latino-inspired aesthetic. While the latter half of the campaign can feel dragged out and difficult, the funny story, satisfying combat and near perfect platforming kept me from tapping out. And even if I needed to take a cool-down break, taking out the Switch for a quick retry is a delight and in my opinion the best version to play.
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