Friday, July 11, 2014

Game Review - Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition (Xbox 360, 2014)

Originally released for Playstation devices last year, Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition is an exceptional action platformer.  It manages to combine entertaining fighting mechanics with challenging platforming and exploration, all with an occasional chuckle. It's a fantastic experience.  Here's what you can expect:

Guacamelee puts you in the role of Juan, a farmer in a world that idolizes luchadores. Juan's effort to prevent the abduction of his romantic interest, El Presidente's daughter, leads to his death in the opening scenes of the game.  A mysterious luchador bestows Juan with a magical luchador's mask in the world of the dead, allowing him to chase down the evil skeleton that kidnapped his love (and, you know, return to the world of the living).

At its core, the premise is pretty standard.  The aesthetics, however, are based on Mexican folklore, with heavy emphasis on art styles from things like Dia de los Muertos and a mariachi-inspired soundtrack.  It's an overall style that's generally absent from the gaming world, and it's done very well.

The game also never takes itself too seriously, which is a lot of fun.  There are scenes with ridiculous dialogue or, even better, interesting camera action and other graphical gags, all while incorporating a number of nice references to gaming icons.  It's very entertaining all around.

That overall style is also backed up with incredible gameplay.  On the surface, Guacamelee is just a challenging platformer.  Some sections of the game require precise jumps and timing, and they're among the hardest platforming segments I've played in a long time (maybe even since old-school Mega Man games).

Successfully navigating these sequences is pretty satisfying, too, because the control scheme is nearly flawless.  Clear objectives and responsive inputs make it obvious that poor design is never the reason for your failure; it's all on you.  As such, the game never feels stacked against you.

The combat really seals the deal, though.  Fighting monsters feels like a standard side-scrolling beat 'em up: you'll punch, you'll dodge, and you'll defeat tons of mobs over the course of the game.

However, as you progress, Juan will obtain new combat skills that add complexity to the many monster encounters you'll face.  In fact, these skills will become necessary as enemies develop resistances as the game wears on.  It's a really cool system because it makes the relatively small number of enemy types feel much more diverse as you're forced to dispatch them in specific ways.

Those combat skills also aid in mobility, allowing the platforming challenges to become more complex, too.  And that's what makes Guacamelee so damn entertaining - you'll never encounter the same obstacles twice, either in platforming or combat sequences.  Every room feels new and presents a new challenge, and the difficulty ramps up consistently throughout.

Simply put, Guacamelee's gameplay is some of the best I've ever seen.  Period.

My only complaint on that front is that some of the boss fights aren't that interesting.  I found the first major boss to be significantly harder than any subsequent boss (until the final boss, who offered substantial resistance), so most of the boss fights were a bit of a letdown.  Getting to them was always tons of fun, though.

Suprisingly, there's also a good amount of content.  I finished my first playthrough in 5-6 hours, but there are tons of optional areas to explore and upgrades to find, including 17 challenge rooms and the hardest platforming challenges available.  Everything seems doable from the outset, though, and with some dedication you'll get there.  Still, it can easily take 10+ hours to reach 100% completion.

And then there's hard mode, which unlike a lot of games is a significant increase in difficulty.  Even after mastering the challenge rooms, I had trouble with several fights on hard mode.  It requires deeper strategy and is much less forgiving, so I had to rethink my approach many times.  It was a nice additional challenge.

I'm genuinely impressed that the game not only kept me interested for 15 hours but also felt fresh and exciting the whole time.  That may be more of a comment on the current state of gaming, but either way, Guacamelee is one of the most all-around enjoyable games I've played in the last few years.

My Rating: 10/10 - epic.

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