Even if you haven’t played Guacamelee or seen it in action, chances are you’re at least aware of its existence. Released as a timed exclusive for PlayStation consoles back in April of last year, this Metroidvania-style action platformer was met with a knockout of a reception, and since then has been heralded by many as one of the best games the sub-genre has produced. Now that developer DrinkBox Studios has unleashed a souped-up version of their smash hit on pretty much every console under the sun, Guacamelee is finally within arm’s reach of just about anyone interested, in the form of Super Turbo Championship Edition. Since we’ve spent the last week grappling with everything the game has to offer, we’re ready to tell you why you should absolutely play STCE, even if you’ve already enjoyed this acclaimed Mexican-themed adventure once before.
Guacamelee puts players in the shoes of a simple agave farmer named Juan Aguacate. When Juan attempts to stop the evil skeleton lord, Carlos Calaca, from abducting his love interest, he gets killed and awakens in the Land of the Dead. It’s here that he is bestowed with the powers of a magical luchador mask, which grants his passage back to the living world – eventually Juan will be able to bounce between the two dimensions at the tap of a button. With his newfound abilities and a taste for revenge, Juan begins a quest to rescue his maiden and put a stop to Calaca’s diabolical plans. Even though this tale might sound dark on paper, this is a fun, mostly family-friendly game that occasionally reminded us of Disney flicks from the '90s, but with slightly edgier humor.
As the title suggests, Guacamelee is all about putting the hurt on enemies with a diverse repertoire of melee moves. While Juan will be limited to basic punches and kicks when starting out, there are many special attacks to learn along the way. Combat is all about stringing together these attacks to rack up combos, which ultimately keeps opponents from landing hits on you. There’s even a grapple move that allows Juan to latch onto weakened enemies to throw them around or pile drive their heads into the ground. It might sound like an exercise in button mashing, but that’s not the case at all. While the actions are effortless to execute on their own, it's all about how they're linked together. You’ll really need to know what’s what to overcome the bosses and survive the intense battle royales later in the game.
Special attacks will be obtained by locating Choozo Statues throughout the environments – a blatant and acknowledged reference to Metroid, of course. These handy moves all come with flashy animations and ridiculous names, such as Rooster Uppercut, Dashing Derpderp, and Frog Slam. Any time one is performed, a box of stamina is used, and with only a few boxes available in the early-goings, it’s easy to exhaust the supply. Thankfully, the boxes replenish automatically, and the wait isn’t too lengthy. As you collect coins from fallen enemies and locate hidden treasure chests, there are plenty of upgrades available to increase the number of stamina boxes and speed up the rate at which they refill. What makes this limitation work so well overall is that it teaches you to intelligently mix special attacks into combos instead of senselessly spamming them.
Structurally, Guacamelee is a Metroidvania through and through, but what's particularly impressive is how no one element feels directly ripped off from any specific game. It's one of those rare pieces of entertainment that knows how to be inspired by genre classics without plagiarizing them. Sure, the goal is to acquire new abilities to advance through routes that were previously inaccessible, but it's not as simple as shooting a door and walking through it. Instead, the player will need to mix their special attacks with precision platforming to make it to just-out-of-reach ledges and navigate ultra-dangerous gauntlets. Using the combat mechanics as both a weapon and a method of traversal is a defining characteristic of Guacamelee, and it’s a big part of what makes the game so undeniably awesome — Juan's ability to transform into a chicken to squeeze into tight spaces is pretty cool, too.
To keep you from venturing into areas that you’re not ready for, certain corridors and pathways will be blocked by large bricks. These bricks will come in various colors, which will be indicative of the special attack needed to break them down. Backtracking doesn’t have to be part of the standard quest but, if you want to make things easier on yourself in the long run, it’s something you should do. Searching high and low, and revisiting areas with new abilities, will result in the unearthing of money, upgrades, and possibly even orbs that, depending on how many you’ve collected, will determine which ending you receive at the story’s culmination. Thanks to well-placed fast-travel stations, frequent rewards, and non-stop action, exploration never feels like a chore.
What's surprising is how rare it is to get lost or turned around in the sprawling tunnels and corridors when focused on getting from one objective to the next. The level designers did a remarkable job of naturally leading the player through rooms with multiple entries/exits without literally spelling things out. Even if you do get confused by a fork in the road, accessing the map will usually give a clear impression of which direction you should be headed and which is unnecessary for progression. And there really isn’t a wrong path anyway, because there’s always something worthwhile to discover beyond each screen.
As we previously mentioned, not too long into the adventure Juan will be taught the ability to switch between the living and dead worlds with a pull of the right trigger or a tap of the right bumper. This is an instantaneous transition that will not only alter the cosmetics of each area, but it will also create platforms and clear any obstructions that give off a suspicious sparkle. This mechanic is used in exciting ways and lends to the most complex and demanding challenges in the game. Just wait until you’re transforming the ground from dangerous lava to harmless ash while lunging through the landscape. Between doing this, and seamlessly integrating combos to reach higher areas, is where the game might get too challenging for those that aren’t used to managing various play mechanics simultaneously. In our case, we found it extremely satisfying and thrilling, but it’s easy to see how others might struggle to master it.
As a whole, Guacamelee performs with very few faults. The controls are so tight and responsive that combat can be as frenetic and reactionary as a traditional fighting game — successfully dodging through attacks while leading in and out of combos is a total rush. Because it requires that you momentarily refrain from directional prompts in the heat of battle, we did find the headbutt to be slightly unreliable, and Juan can, at times, be a bit too sticky when it comes to clinging to walls, but these quirks aren't hard to adapt to once you understand them. Plus, as far as the wall hanging goes, there's a point where Juan will learn to run up walls and propel himself from them horizontally, so it's easy to understand why the developers thought it best to give him a spider's grip. Other than those small gripes and a couple minor difficulty spikes, this fiesta goes off without a hitch.
We’ve already established that Guacamelee is an excellent game, but what helps to make it truly special is the fantastic presentation. Simply put, everything looks and sounds great. With hypnotic colors and exotic/surreal scenery, the visuals really pop. The memorable cast of characters is expressive, and the comical dialog is often matched by exuberant imagery sure to amuse. The soundtrack is so outstanding that it deserves a special mention. Fusing mariachi with electronic/hip-hop, the songs are so infectious and absorbing that they really do work to close the gap between you and your TV screen. When switching from the land of the living to that of the dead, the effects and changes present in the music are instrumental in making the transition feel like a dynamic one. Songs that were prominent and boisterous will sound like they’re seeping in from a distant place and buried in a bit of sorrow. When we say that this is a top-notch production in every regard, we mean it.
So what distinguishes Super Turbo Championship Edition from Guacameleee’s original PlayStation release? There are many things, actually. For one, the adventure has been beefed up with two new areas and a new boss battle. Because these are worked into the framework so organically, and because they expand upon existing play mechanics, we think they honestly serve to better the overall experience. The previously-released DLC, El Diablo’s Domain, has also been seamlessly integrated into the game world, and with it comes a slew of challenge stages and a wardrobe's worth of new costumes. If things ever get too tough for your liking, there's always the power of the new INTENSO feature, which, when activated, allows Juan to deal more damage in combat. This functions as a balancing tool to assist less-experienced players under pressure, and it serves to freshen up the entire game for returning champs. And if you need more newness, you’ll be happy to know that original locations have even undergone subtle changes to accommodate a brand new ability — meaning there are new rooms and secrets to uncover throughout the length of the game. So long story short, if you’re wondering whether or not STCE has added enough substance to justify another purchase or playthrough, the answer is absolutely.
Not only does Guacamelee humorously pay tribute to its inspirations, but there are so many references to other games hidden throughout the world that we found ourselves frequently hunting them down. It shouldn't take long to see that the amount of passion DrinkBox has put into cooking up this adventure is in abundance, and the final product utterly shines because of it. A first playthrough should last anywhere between 6-12 hours depending on how thorough you're being, and while some may see that run-time as a bit short for a Metroidvania, the fact that there's rarely a missed beat means you'll hardly care. Guacamelee is the kind of game that begs for replays, and thanks largely to the kinetic gameplay and speed-run leaderboards, we know we'll be revisiting this one regularly throughout the years.
Oh, and did we mention that the entire game can be played with a buddy? That's right, local co-op comes standard and, even though certain design choices don't always accommodate it ideally, it's a blast to play with a partner who will let you take the lead when need be. If you intend to tackle hard mode at any point, trust us when we say that you just may need that extra set of fists by your side.
Guacamelee is a fusion of intense platforming and beat-em-up combat, framed in Metroidvania conventions and topped off with a memorable cast, distinct setting, a stellar soundtrack, and zesty humor. These ingredients combine to make for a flavor that’s genuinely fresh and incredibly satisfying. If you’ve had a taste of this delicious entre before and are wondering whether Super Turbo Charged Edition spices things up enough to warrant seconds, the answer is yes. Take a bite of Guacamelee. Chances are you’ll be more than pleased with the sensation that follows.