Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition Review
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
A luchador's life
There have been a few examples, so far, of titles making their way to the Wii U as a 'definitive' version. Few have done so with a name quite as tongue-on-cheek as Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition, with the game quite literally yelling the extravagant name at you when loading it up. This version — also on PS4 and Xbox One — is keen to distinguish itself from the original; pleasingly, the bombast is every bit worthy of the final product.
Guacamelee! STCE begins with our hero Juan Aguacate being a rather normal, albeit particularly muscular, farmer in a Mexican town. In the early minutes you begin to explore the first area, chatting away to various NPCs before finding yourself in the church and being introduced to childhood friend and love interest, El Presidente's Daughter. Naturally chaos descends and, just as it seems romance will bloom, an evil skeleton called Carlos Calaca kidnaps the damsel in distress and your first attempt at rescue is both short-lived and disastrous. Briefly trapped in an undead world, a female character called Tostada begins to guide you on your way and you don a magical luchador's mask; so begins your quest to save the world from merging with the undead alternate reality and, of course, save the girl.
So far, so stereotypical, yet it becomes apparent early on that not only does the writing team at Drinkbox Studios understand the lazy stereotypes often associated with such plots, it is content to play with them using constant flashes of wit and humour. There's quite a cast here, from the devil, to a flirty seductress right down to an evil undead mariachi band that's fused together into one monstrous creature. Another key figure is a luchador master that now disguises himself as a goat; you destroy his 'Choozo' statues to obtain new abilities for combat, navigation or a bit of both.
That Choozo reference should tip you off, immediately, to a strong Nintendo vibe that runs through this experience, yet another 'Metroidvania' that seeks to do the term justice. In those terms, this does stand out as one of the strongest download-only examples in the sub-genre that we've seen, with the craft and attention to detail required to make such a structure work being fully in place. Though we finished our initial play-through in under six hours, this is a fairly sizeable world, and there's plenty of time to be spent backtracking and seeking collectibles, while additional Challenges — previously DLC content included in this addition — joins an unlockable Hard mode in tempting us back.
What's vital is that, through the strength of the mechanics in place, we're more than happy to seek out full completion and take the adventure on again. Primarily a 2D beat 'em up initially, it's not long before tricky platforming also comes into the experience. To begin with combat, basic melee moves are rapidly supplement by unlockable additions such as blazing 'Rooster' uppercuts, dash attacks and stomp moves. The strength of the design is that these various attacks not only serve to provide a rigorous combo system to obliterate enemies as stylishly as possible, but also become vital in opening up new areas and for making particularly tricky jumps. Early on you learn to use the uppercut move to add extra height to a jump, and these combat acrobatics only increase in time.
There's a pleasing flow to combat in particular, with crisp animation lending a reliable feel to what can be chaotic action. Executing a combo before throwing your enemy into half a dozen of its companions can feel terrific, and considering the fact that practically every button on the GamePad or Wii U Pro Controller is used — including both analogue stick buttons — it feels remarkably intuitive. We're sure our fingers started to resemble frantic button mashing to any uninterested observers, yet all the while we felt in control as we adjusted to the move-set; even the initial tendency for special moves to 'chain' into double attacks became an asset once we figured out what was happening.
With progress comes ever more colourful and challenging foes and environments, and after a few hours you'll be switching between dimensions — in brawls and while platforming — on the fly. Some sections are particularly tricky, prompting at least one occasion where we needed to give up in a worried state that we would never make it through, before a later attempt with a fresh mind was far more fruitful. By the end of the campaign our thumbs were working more frantically than ever, and some jumps and manoeuvres were borderline vexing; this is a game targeted at determined gamers.
That said, one key addition does make this iteration easier than plain-old original Guacamelee. The Intenso ability, activated via its own gauge and by pressing both analogue sticks, is rather like the B.A.T. mode in Batman: Arkham City Armoured Edition, in that it makes you even more powerful for a short burst of time. It proves invaluable later in the game when combined with some other upgrades, and undoubtedly takes the edge off some punishing encounters. Purists can easily pretend it isn't there, but it does boost everyone's chances of seeing the end credits roll.
Boosts to the Intenso gauge, health and stamina bars are also part of the upgrade system available at checkpoints, in which gold earned can be exchanged for buffs in those areas or indeed improvements to the power of your grapple moves. With some Metroidvania backtracking — even if not aiming for 100% — most should be able to buy the abilities they want by the close, and there's even a second currency of 'silver' that can be spent on alternative outfits. We needed to be pickier with these, and it was a pleasing coincidence that the much desired chicken suit was also useful in the buffs it offered; there's useful depth here, as some outfits boost power at the expense of your health bar, and more tweaks besides.
Those keen to see greater gender representation in protagonists, meanwhile, should be pleased to know that you can switch to a Totana 'outfit', your guide in the story, at any time in single player — she has her own variations of all other outfits, too. The second player that jumps in for local co-op is also Totana, by default. The co-op, perhaps, is one of the few mis-steps here. It's functional, undoubtedly, utilising standard mechanics such as the ability to 'bubble', and bashing foes with a friend can be fun. The issue lies in the levels, in that some large hub areas scroll while level / dungeons areas often cut between screens; it can be tricky and feel awkward when a screen transition happens suddenly. That's a fairly minor quibble, but this feels like an experience that suits single player action perfectly, and has added co-op as a functional but less satisfactory feature, just to say it's there.
The strength truly lies in solo play, then, and the Wii U version's simple but useful ace is a permanent map on the second screen. Off-TV play is included, as is the ability to use a Pro Controller and view the map as a separate screen, but in a game where knowing where to go and scoping out newly available secrets is key, the option to glance at the map without fully breaking the flow of the action is surprisingly useful. A minor touch, but worthwhile nevertheless, as is the ability to discover statues that let you jump around the world at a whim.
As we suggested earlier, the relatively short campaign is offset by plenty of extras, with the El Infierno area — previously DLC — being a key example. It's composed of challenges — some of which have to be beaten to unlock a final ability — that take the difficulty up another notch, and will be popular with the most skilled gamers.
With excellent mechanics and a well constructed Metroidvania setup, Guacemelee! STCE achieves its main goals. What truly tips it over into an elite band of must-have downloads is its presentation, however. The music is a treat throughout, but most importantly the bright, chunky visuals look absolutely terrific, another demonstration that art design is far more valuable than how may polygons can be crammed onto a screen. Some areas look stunning, and the achievement is emphasized by the attention to detail that went into producing two versions of every area through the light / dark mechanic.
Our final recommendation for this returns to a point raised earlier — the writing and humour. There are some terrific moments in this, ranging from slightly mischievous allusions, to classic game references littered throughout, and even some deliciously cutting criticisms of current trends in the games industry. We won't spoil them here, but when you throw in some clever visual gags, too, this title triumphs in providing entertainment through gameplay, presentation and sheer audacity.
Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition is another top-notch download to grace the Wii U eShop. While the initial campaign may be deemed short by some, the opportunities to explore, collect, take on challenges or simply play it again should deliver more than enough bang for your buck. Co-op isn't absolutely suited to the experience, but as a single-player adventure the mechanics — both complex yet impressively intuitive — combine with terrific attention to detail to deliver a truly polished experience. In addition to being a fun gameplay experience, it's also an example of how artistic vision and clever, light-hearted writing can enhance an experience, an example of what can be achieved when development studios devote themselves fully to delivering a high quality product.
If you're an action platformer fan with quick thumbs, this is a must-buy.