Try saying that name five times fast. Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition (from here on out referred to as STCE) is not the first time this lucha inspired metroidvania style game has seen the light of day. If any of those terms made you tilt your head in utter confusion, don’t worry, I’ll be explain everything momentarily. What we have here though is the penultimate version of an indie darling that received high praise from the critics when it first released.
What about me though? Did I play it when it first came out? Actually, no, not really. The Lucha Libre vibe mixed with undead skeleton enemies wasn’t really doing it for me. Nevertheless, I gave the game a shot on PC and liked it okay, but I didn't touch it again after that. Now, the game is back on PS4 with a bunch of new features and all DLC included. It’s free with PlayStation Plus for the month of May 2015 so I decided to give it a play-through.
Free, or paid, is this game worth the space on your hard drive or does it fail to capture the magic of the games it was inspired by? Let’s find out!
The Briefest Hints of Story
If Guacamelee! STCE does anything perfectly, story is not one of those things. That’s not to say that you don’t receive ANY explanation as to what is going on, but you don’t exactly get a deep and rich backstory either. As I mentioned in the opening of the review, this is what’s known as a “metroidvania” style game. That term comes from combining Metroid and Castlevania, two of the most well-known series in gaming.
It refers more to their design than those actual games. Those games were 2D side scrollers that still managed to have an open-world to explore. You could go up, down, left, and right, and there were branching paths in each direction. These paths could take you to new areas, or they could lead to a dead end where you would need a new ability to progress.
This process of discovery and using new abilities to unlock new paths and collectibles is the stable of the “metroidvania” subgenre. Many great games have taken this formula and applied it to great effect. None of them from what I recall have really had a focus on story, so I can’t really knock Guacamelee! for the the story it has. I just feel like this genre could benefit from a little more story, that’s all.
What’s here is interesting though. Your character starts out as an average joe is a small town that is soon besieged by forces of the dead, including a mysterious skeleton in a bullfighter’s outfit that kidnaps El Presidente’s daughter. You soon find yourself in the world of the dead and a mysterious lucha mask appears to you. Upon donning it, you become a super-powered combo generating machine.
As the game goes on, more story is fed to us in cutscene that are few and far between. Our character is developed more, as is the main villain and a few others. It’s fine, but it’s very sparse. It does have a great sense of humor though and enough wit to keep you chuckling when a story moment does occur. As a man who loves a good story, I was disappointed with this aspect of the game, but I do applaud what story is has because it’s more than most of these types of games will offer beyond a basic premise. These game have, and always will, thrive on their gameplay.
Now we reach the true purpose of Guacamelee! which is of course the gameplay. I’ve played plenty of platforming games in my day and more than a few of these metroidvania style games and I will say that this one has some of the tightest and most responsive controls I’ve ever seen. This is hugely important too because the game also features plenty of white-knuckle jumping, dashing, sliding, and rolling scenarios.
The difficulty starts out at a manageable level, but you’ll find yourself face-to-face with some incredibly daunting platforming challenges soon enough. Oddly enough though, they aren’t frustrating. In fact, I usually found myself grinning from ear to ear when I finally figured out the exact combination of moves and powers needed to traverse an area.
Where the game both frustrated and captivated me was the fighting system. On the one hand, it’s an incredibly simple-to-learn/hard-to-master combo setup that pulls you in and starts piling on the powers to make it even more frantic and fun. Seriously, you’ll be grappling, uppercutting, leaping, slamming, and punching like the best of them. It’s fast, responsive, and most of all, fun.
As you progress through the game, new enemies slowly trickle in with additional wild card abilities and eventually you’ll find elite versions of them that can teleport at will. Your powers slowly continue to grow and evolve though at a good pace, which makes you feel like you can take on the challenges before you.
Here’s where I get frustrated though. The game likes to corral you into small areas blocked off by walls on either side. In this tiny arenas you’ll face off against multitudes of enemies both big and small. It was these forced combat encounters that really broke the pacing for me. I’d be fresh off a platforming puzzle, running through a hall, and then I get stopped dead in my tracks only to have to spend ten minutes fighting more enemies than I could count.
It’s not always frustrating but when you have three giant enemies taking up 90% of your screen in addition to flying armadillos zig-zagging in all directions around you, it’s hard to keep up with what’s going on. I found myself losing track of my character more than a few times in the fray. With all of the bright colors and the flailing enemies obscuring my view, I had to throw strategy to the wind and just hope for the best.
I really wish the developer had found a better way to force combat scenarios than this. These moments always made me roll my eyes, whereas the organic encounters I had in the open-world felt dynamic and manageable, these just felt claustrophobic and quite literally forced. There’s just too much going on in these moments at times and the game suffers for it. Not in performance mind you, but just in terms of pacing and playability.
The developer rekindles the excitement though with their boss battles. These fights rely heavily on pattern recognition, but the fast-paced battles are set in perfectly crafted arenas that allow for movement and strategy, unlike the forced encounters of the open world map.
It’s worth mentioning that the game can be played co-op up to four players which again is a nice addition, but in some of the cramped arenas it can be even more cumbersome. Still, I’m always a supporter of couch co-op.
The whole experience runs on the short side for games in this sub-genre. It only lasts between 6 and 8 hours depending on how long you spend doing some of the side missions and looking for collectibles.
The Additions of The Super Turbo Championship Edition
So that’s the gist of the Guacamelee! experience. In terms of performance and graphics on the PS4, everything looks colorful and crisp. This isn’t some kind of photo-realistic title so don’t go into it expecting the best graphics since The Order: 1886, but know that it looks nice and it plays like a dream in terms of performance.
In terms of the STCE version of the game we’re getting here, there are some major additions to this iteration of the game compared to the original. Here are the add-ons in a nutshell:
Clearly more than a touch-up job on this one, which is a testament to the developer’s dedication to this game.
Guacamelee! STCE is a tough game to review. As I’ve said before I am fully aware that my reviews don’t exist in a vacuum so I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t aware of what other people said about this game. They loved it, and most lauded it as one of the best games in a long time. When it comes down to it, I liked Guacamelee! a lot more than I thought I would, especially as a free PS+ download.
If you’re a fan of the genre, or you just want something fun and challenging to sink your teeth into, you could do a lot worse. If you’re looking for a rich and deep story or a full-length RPG though, this isn’t going to do it for you. In the end, it’s a fun game. It’s not a masterpiece or a game changer, but it’s fun. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Final Score: 8.0/10