The right Juan?
Juan Aguacate is a Mexican Agave farmer who lives on and farms a small plot of land just outside of Pluebucho, the first town you visit at the start of the Juan's adventure where the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) Festival is about to take place. Juan is madly in love with El Presidente's daughter and when she is kidnapped by Carlos Calaca, an undead skeleton bandit, Juan tries to rescue her from the burning El Presidente's Mansion and ends up dying in the process. Now in the Land of The Dead, Juan is approached by The Guadian of The Mask, a Luchador named Tostada who informs Juan that he has been chosen by the mysterious mask to become the ultimate wrestler! Once donning the mask, Juan transforms into a powerful luchador and the adventure of Guacamelee begins.
Guacamelee isn't a serious story adventure, in fact it can be pretty funny. The game is filled with various throwbacks to the greats (and not so greats) of video gaming culture. Whether this is a poster for Los Super Hermanos (Super Mario Bros) in the background or a Chozo Statue containing Juan's next ability, the homage Guacamelee pays to its predecessors cannot be missed. The level design, enemies and music are all heavily inspired by Mexican lore and culture, and the bright colours throughout the tale are a great change from the usual browns and greys that dominate the majority of mainstream video games.
G!STCE falls into the Metroidvania class of games. Certain sections of the map are inaccessible until the latest item is found that grants the player new abilities enabling Juan to reach new areas. It is a linear adventure where to progress you must follow the latest map marker, however the game does reward exploration and a lot of the content won't be discovered until the last ability is mastered and the world is throughly explored post-game.
Traversing the world is when you really start to appreciate DrinkBox Studio's tight level design. As well as the genre standard double and wall jumps, each new ability Juan unlocks is not only used for combat but is also a way of movement throughout the world. These moves can be chained together and you will often have to perform a tight succession of well timed button inputs to make it across the next pitfall.
As a luchador your main moveset consists of body slams, headbutts, suplexes and uppercuts. Like the special abilities these powerful moves can also be chained together creating some hectic fun and rewarding combat. Enemies can be weakened with normal punches and when they have taken enough damage they open up to various throws and slams. Juan can direct the trajectory of a throw so aiming the grappled undead charras at their evil buddies allows for the combo counter to go way up into triple figures.
Often the level will lock you down into a smallish arena where the game will throw a set number of fiends at you to beat down. Sometimes there are also enviromental hazards in the arenas allowing you to either mix up the way you dispatch the enemies, or take more care of where and how you are fighting so as to not take more damage or die yourself. When successfully clearing these arenas, you are rewarded with a huge pinata filled with gold coins, the new silver coins or a health, Intenso or stamina upgrade piece. Collecting 3 of each of these items gives Juan a longer health bar, an extra stamina block as well as adding to the overall completion percentage for that area.
It's just a phase!
What sets Guacamelee! apart from other Metroidvanias is Juan's abilty to phase-shift. Once learned, the abilty allows Juan to shift between the normal every day living world and the Land of The Dead instantly at the click of a button. This leads to some very interesting level design that is sometimes puzzling but is ultimately a very satisfying and fresh take on the platforming genre. A wall that blocks your path in the normal world may not be there when you switch to the Land of The Dead, or a platform needed to advance will only appear when you phase-shift. Some of these phase-shifting sections can be very frustrating until you get the correct timing down, but when you finally make it past them you will feel like a platforming god! Portals also make an appearance and work the same way they do in Valve's Portal. You can't create them though, they are placed around certain areas and are usually part of an elaborate level puzzle used to get from point A to point B, possibly finding a hidden treasure chest on the way.
So if you have already played Guacamelee!, Is it this edition worth playing again? Yes and no... (I know that's not helpful!) I'm going to say yes if you have never played the game before, this is the definitive edition of the title and the new story elements, enemies and boss do not feel shoehorned into the game. It is a fine example of a Metroidvania and is a must have for any fan of the genre. I didn't care much for the first new area, it was mostly forgettable and I was hoping for more tight level design like what is found at the top of the Tule Tree. Luckily the second new map was full of sweet phase-shifting platforming challenge and is a pretty big area, probably one of the largest in the game. The addition of an Elite class of enemies is welcome, though they do not appear often enough throughout the adventure.
The Intenso guage is a new ultimate strength buff that you can activate when you have built up enough meter from damaging enemies. It's a nice addition that can get you out of some tough spots, especially when playing through the game's hard mode. Unfortunately hard mode is still locked by default and requires the player to complete the game's normal mode first. Hard mode actually feels way better to play through and may be the best way to experience G!STCE. Check out the first screen shot below, it looks like the developers feel the same way!
Shadow Swap is another new feature exclusive to this edition of the game. Instead of phase-shifting worlds, you can phase-shift just Juan himself, very useful for fighting enemies on the other plane without actually shifting the world.
If you already bought the Costume and El Diablo's Domain DLC for the original game, then this update may not feel that special and the new areas probably add about an hour or so of game time if you know what you are doing. If you have only played the vanilla Guacamelee! then definitley pick this version up. El Diablo's Domain adds a load of challenge rooms that are extremely tough to get a gold medal in and the new costumes all change Juan's properties, allowing him to gain more gold when defeating enemies or add more stamina at the cost of regenerating health.
Back in 2013, Guacamelee! took me around 7 hours to get 100% completion. This version adds an hour or 2 to that so you are looking at around 8-9 hours to get that 100% map. Online leaderboards for speed runs and 100% completion add replayabilty as well as 2 player co-op gameplay.
The DrinkBox team mailed to inform me that you can actually unlock hard mode right from the start using the following variation of the Konami code:
Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, Square, Triangle, then click the Dualshock 4 front touch pad.
I highly recommend doing this for your first run through the game as it can be a little too easy otherwise!
Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition Trailer
Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition will be available on PS4, WiiU, Xbox One and Xbox 360 by the time you have read this review.