Dip your chip into this tasty treat.
With Guacamelee: Super Turbo Championship Edition, Toronto-based indie developer DrinkBox Studios mashes up 2D Metroid-inspired exploration and platforming with brawler-style combat, then seasons it all with heavy doses of Mexican culture, video game nostalgia, and lively humor. The 2013 original skipped Nintendo hardware, but luckily Wii U owners get to experience this expanded, definitive take on the game with new areas, abilities, and enemies.
Guacamelee: STCE stars Juan, a lowly agave farmer bestowed with a super-powered luchador mask after a brave--but failed--attempt to rescue El Presidente’s daughter. Juan’s ensuing journey is presented in a cartoony manner that rarely wavers from a peppy, humorous bent, though I found the narrative’s handful of serious notes surprisingly compelling, as well. That being said, the story is never really intrusive. It doesn’t overpower the gameplay, but flavors it well, combining with a Mexican setting and vibe rarely explored in video games to form a vivid, refreshing personality that’s a tremendous asset to the experience.
Juan’s adventure takes him across a series of gorgeously rendered locales, and the Metroid-inspired progression in regards to new abilities yielding newly accessible areas is pervasive throughout. The game does a good enough job with this structure, and its world is fun to explore. There’s always another hidden health or stamina upgrade to be found or perhaps an amusing easter egg referencing video games or pop culture lurking somewhere around. The ability progression makes it so that things really open up over time in terms of combat and navigating the game world.
However, Guacamelee is admittedly a bit lacking when it comes to the pacing and environmental intricacy that are so key to the best titles in the “Metroidvania” genre. For instance, the map is segmented in such a way that environments feel set apart from each other, and there are loading screens separating the individual areas. The maps can be quite well interwoven within these discrete zones, but they don’t overlap with each other in significant ways. Also, the color-coded barriers that gate off areas until the acquisition of the proper abilities seem a bit paint-by-numbers and inorganic. All these elements dissolve a much-desired sense of seamlessness.
Fortunately, other aspects make up for these small deficiencies. Combat in particular improves significantly once more moves are unlocked. In the beginning, battles feel stilted, samey, and very chore-like. In the late game, when enemy types are more varied and the player has a wider array of super-powered moves available, combos become far more creative and stylish. The design structure still tends to rely too much on kill rooms, but the surprisingly deep and fun combat system that emerges over the course of the game mostly mitigates this flaw.
The way new attack moves also increase mobility (e.g., a Dragon Punch-style uppercut allows one to make it to previously out-of-reach platforms) is a nice touch that makes gaining new abilities feel more meaningful and adds extra texture to the game’s solidly-designed gauntlet of platforming challenges.
The only issues with Guacamelee are simply minor quibbles that keep it from true masterpiece status. It’s hard to worry too much about these slight imperfections when the game hits so many right notes, ranging from the lavish presentation to the deep combat and platforming. On the whole, it’s a brisk and refreshing joy to play, with a lively personality that's eminently endearing. Guacamelee is a fantastic Metroid-inspired platformer that shouldn’t be missed.