Guacamelee! Gold Edition is a terrific version of an already terrific game.
In terms of gameplay, Metroid and Castlevania have made one of the most meaningful contributions to our beloved medium and years after the release of the first Metroid and Castlevania titles, their structure remains remarkably fresh. Guacamelee is one of the latest titles to have been influenced by the aforementioned classics and while Drinkbox Studios’ 2D side-scrolling platformer follows the same classic structure, its Mexican-inspired audiovisual aspect makes Guacamelee a game that stands out among its peers.
In Guacamelee, the story revolves around Juan, a humble farmer resident of Pueblucho. The small Mexican town is getting ready to celebrate el Dia de los Muertos, a holiday where people gather to remember friends and family who have died, when suddenly, the ruler of the dark world known as Carlos Calaca kidnaps El Presidente’s daughter (who also happens to be Juan’s love interest.) Luckily, guardian of the mask Tostada, gives our Juan a luchador mask which transforms our hero into a fearless wrestler.
With the mask, Juan can defeat enemies using different attacks, explore the sprawling map, locate collectible items and so on. Guacamelee follows a traditional Metroidvania style of gameplay, so as you make progress, you unlock new abilities that let you visit areas that were previously inaccessible. Exploring the expansive environments is a delight, mainly because there’s no penalty for dying. Should you fall into pool of lava, for instance, the game immediately transports you to the nearest platform, so at no point investigating your surroundings becomes a frustrating endeavor.
Like in most Metroidvania games, making progress means unlocking abilities and special moves. Not only are these useful to face some of the enemies you encounter during your journey, but also to explore the many areas around you. A special ability allows you to alternate between the world of the dead and the world of the living. Although similar, each of these worlds has unique enemies, doors and blocks. Enemies might be in the dead world, but even if you’re in the world of the living, they can still hurt you (but you can’t hurt them.) There are also instances where a series of a platforms are on both worlds, so you need to change worlds mid-jump.
There are save points scattered around the environments and apart from letting you save your progress, these special shrines let you purchase new costumes and upgrades, such as health, stamina and items that increase the rate at which you recover stamina, an item that determines how fast a friend revives in coop mode and so on.
But while the structure might seem traditional, the combat is one of Guacamelee’s best aspect. Stringing attacks is absolutely amusing, mainly because you don’t have to memorize a complex control scheme. Controls are intuitive, so performing some of the flashiest combos is an effortless and eminently satisfying process.
Another element that truly stands out is the Mexican-inspired audiovisual aspect. The game makes reference to elements from the Mexican culture with humorous results and never offensive. In other words, the fact that the game doesn’t take itself too seriously definitely works in its favor. Also, there are references to popular games, including Metroid, Super Mario Bros. and Castle Crashers to name but a few.
The fluid animations deserve a paragraph of their own. Movements are smooth even when you perform combo after combo and that sort of painstaking attention to detail is reflected in every aspect of Guacamelee: levels are colorful and beautifully designed, signs parody popular games, the soundtrack is reminiscent of rancheras and mariachi music and the list goes on and on.
There are two characters to choose from: Juan and Tostada and each of these characters have a couple of unlockable items with unique abilities. Additionally, the single-player campaign can be played locally with a friend in a drop-in and drop-out manner, but unfortunately, there are no online capabilities for the multiplayer portion of the game.
As you can see on the title, Guacamelee is followed by the “Gold Edition” subtitle which suggests there are some extras. New features include leaderboards, achievements, full controller support, Steam Workshop, trading cards, Steam cloud and Big Picture Mode. On top of that, Gold Edition comes with El Infierno expansion. El Infierno consists of a series of special challenges that you can complete in the order you prefer. These challenges involve defeating waves of enemies in a limited time, dodging spikes, performing 200-hit combos, reaching the goal before time runs out and so on.
But despite the extra content, Guacamelee is still a short game, since you can finish the main campaign in 5 hours of less. Part of the fun is exploring all the secret rooms, finding all the hidden references and discovering collectibles, but the game’s still too short and by the end, I still wanted more Guacamelee.
Guacamelee! Gold Edition is a terrific version of an already terrific game. The electrifying combat, gripping exploration, delightful audiovisual design, expertly design levels, hilarious story and solid extra content makes this version of Guacamelee! the best one available as of this writing and that’s an impressive achievement indeed.