Finally, after having been released on nearly every other platform, the 2D platform-action-adventure title, Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition (Xbox One) has hit the Xbox One. Developer Drinkbox studios promises that this will not be just a simple port, but will actually be the most complete version of the title to date including all previously released DLC. With such a bold claim there seemed little option other than to don the best Mexican wrestling gear and jump in to the ring.
The player takes on the role of Juan Aguacate, a simple farmer in Mexico, who falls in love with the president's daughter. Unfortunately, the game's antagonist, the evil and already very dead, Carlos Calaca has also taken a fancy to the president's daughter but for a whole different reason as he plans to sacrifice her in an ancient ritual. In a noble attempt to thwart Carlos, Juan is killed, which would make for a very short game. However, it's not that simple, and whilst in the land of the dead, a mysterious Luchador presents Juan with a magic wrestling mask which turns him into a super powered wrestler and allows him to travel back to the living world to again attempt to save his true love from her ritualistic fate. Thus begins a weird and wacky wrestling adventure alternating between the two realms.
The gameplay is essentially a 2D platformer with the player traversing areas scrolling both horizontally and vertically across a large scale map reminiscent of the early Castlevania titles. What stands out immediately is how bright and colourful each of the levels are, even in the realm of the dead (which is naturally a shade darker) the world remains vividly coloured. The cartoon animation and styling of the game also works very well and the overall presentation of the game is as colourful as the spandex wrestling outfits that luchadors wear.
The player is tasked with working their way through the different areas in the map in pursuit of Juan's true love. The areas can be platforming challenges with various obstacles or they can suddenly become a locked arena in which the player then has to defeat enemies of varying sizes, shapes and difficulties before being allowed to go further. In the early stages of the game merely mashing the melee button will be enough to get you through. As the stakes are raised, however, the enemies become increasingly tougher and the game unleashes some enemies that can only be beaten using specific powers and attacks. An enemy with a red shield can only be beaten by an uppercut, an enemy in green with a frog stomp, and an enemy with a blue shield with the dashing derpderp (and yes, you read that correctly). Fortunately, all of these powers are gradually unlocked by the player by breaking the choozo statues located at specific points in the game world.
To make things even more difficult, the player may also find themselves trying to fight enemies in the two different realms simultaneously, with enemies in the alternative realm being shown as shadows. Traversal between realms is initially done using portals, but later the player is granted the ability to manually switch between realms arbitrarily which becomes necessary not only in combat, but also in solving the platform elements in the game which can become extremely challenging. All of the special powers granted become essential in navigating through the levels, and whilst button mashing might get you through combat areas, only skillful well-timed button-juggling will get you through the platform sections that require a specific combination of moves to get you through the seemingly impassable sections. These powers can be further enhanced by purchasing power-ups from the altars in the levels, with coins being earned by defeating enemies and locating specific treasure chests.
As with many games of this type, some areas are initially closed off requiring one of the special powers to unlock them. Different coloured blocks seal off parts of the map, indicating which of the moves are required to open them up. This mechanism encourages the player to go back to certain areas of the world, explore further and try to find all of the collectibles that are dotted about the map. It also enables the player to complete the side-quests given by the inhabitants of the various villages encountered during the travels. To encourage this further, and to speed it up just a little, a fast travel mechanism can be unlocked by the player once they've passed the relevant talking stone head, think Easter Island except with a voice.
Throughout the game, the title manages to maintain a great sense of fun and humour, making passing references to other popular titles, the inclusion of easter eggs, unlockable costumes, and quirky dialog. Even the special powers are granted by a goat that turns into an old man before turning into a goat again. At one point you'll find yourself turned into a chicken, which opens even more areas of the world, and becomes another essential power in solving some of the puzzles that the game presents. Essentially, the game never takes itself too seriously and is all the better for it. That said, don't be fooled; whilst the gameplay can be simple in theory, it can be devilishly hard in practice, and some of the platform areas, combat arenas, and various boss fights may require a number of attempts before you get through. Fortunately, death is not punished too severely and the checkpoints are always close by, and it is generally possible to backtrack if you can't find a solution to an immediate area.
The sound in the game remains as equally bright and loud as the visuals, featuring a loud and cheerful Mexican style soundtrack, a perfect accompaniment to the imagery in the game. Whilst there may not be any spoken dialog, the sound effects and utterances from the many adversaries will still make you smile.
The achievements may cause a number of players to despair a little. A simple playthrough featuring just the essential storyline may take between six to eight hours, but exploring all of the areas and finding all of the collectibles (for which there is a completion achievement) may take a good deal longer. This is also true for the achievement linked to completing all of the side quests. There are of course, progress achievements, a number of combat achievements, achievements for performing specific takedowns on certain enemies, and some rather simpler ones, starting a new game with a new save slot for example.
Overall, the game is great fun and although I'm not a particular fan of this style/genre, I had a blast whilst playing through it. Even during the most difficult sections (which prompted a few curses), the game kept a grin on my face. The whole sense of fun remains throughout the title and encourages the player to continue. Further encouragement for replayability comes from the inclusion of two player local co-op and leaderboards for the various sections.
Guacamelee! STCE is a superb example of a relatively simple game done exceptionally well. Difficulty spikes aside, there is very little to fault with the title. Unless you really dislike the old style Castlevania type of games, there is a great deal of fun to be had with Guacamelee. Gamers of all levels, be it casual or hardcore, will find the title incredibly enjoyable to play. In its simplest form, it is a blast that will appeal to the casual gamers. However, attempting to find and retrieve all of the collectibles will tax even the most hardcore and dexterous of players. With a budget price tag, there's simply no reason for not adding this game to your collection. Easily one of most enjoyable and fun games this year.
The review code was provided by the publisher for the Xbox One. The reviewer spent almost six hours in mask and tights attempting to rescue the president's daughter, unlocked six from the 30 achievements available, and no chickens were harmed in the making of this review.