Metroidvanias are perhaps my favorite genre as a whole. Furthermore, indie developers have made some of the greatest games in this genre as Ori and the Blind Forest as well as Hollow Knight. In fact, it was after completing Hollow Knight that I was inspired to delve deeper into the genre, and that is how I happened upon Guacamelee (Super Turbo Championship Edition). Guacamelee is an indie metroidvania heavily inspired by Mexican culture. It draws its inspirations from luchadores and the day of the day.
I quite enjoyed this Mexican themed adventure and all its uniqueness. You play as Juan, an agave farmer turned luchador who aims to rescue his love from evil. The antagonist aims to usher in a permanent day of the dead in which everybody is turned into spirits. You frequently swap between the real world and the spirit world to find new paths and progress along in this journey. Visually, Guacamelee is incredibly colorful and vibrant, filled with bright lights and flashing decorations. Additionally, Guacamelee not only draws inspiration from Mexican culture, but also from video-game culture. Constant references to Metroid, Super Mario Brothers, and other classic titles are scattered throughout Guacamelee. Furthermore, Guacamelee is a light-hearted and humorous adventure. The player is bombarded with jokes and merry dialogue. This is a well appreciated change of pace as opposed to the doom and gloom of games in the same genre.
At the heart of Guacamelee is its combat. The player is handed an arsenal of tools to string together combos. The addition of a combo counter does wonders at keeping the player engaged in combat. Dodging enemies and keeping that combo going keeps combat invigorating. The issue I have is that most of the player’s combat tools are locked away from the player at the start of the game. Many metroidvanias follow this philosophy, you start bare-boned and unlock combat and exploration abilities throughout the course of the game. The issue in Guacamelee is that the combat and exploration abilities are one in the same, you use your new combat moves to unlock new areas. Most game quickly give the player new tools in combat early on to keep it exciting and fresh but Guacamelee can’t do that. If they give you all the combat powers that means they’ve given you everything you need to explore the whole map, so they have to do it piecemeal. The developers cannot give the player all the combat tools until the very end of the game. The player does not get to experience the full grace of the Guacamelee’s combat until the final area in the game. It is a shame because there is a huge focus on combos and beating down enemies, but that system is neutered at the beginning and only slowly progresses and becomes interesting.
Since Guacamelee is a metroidvania it is expected to have a heavy emphasis on exploration. I like to think of metroidvanias as labyrinths that you must navigate and subconsciously memorize its layout as you become acquainted with the maze. When you acquire a new ability, you remember where it would come in handy in the web of hallways. Guacamelee does not really fit that description very well. It is extraordinarily more linear than games in the same genre. Most areas are very straightforward, it does not invoke the feeling of being in a labyrinth. This is exacerbated further because there is fast-travel in Guacamelee. You can teleport between areas, meaning you rarely backtrack or revisit areas, which is a pillar of the metroidvania design philosophy. Fast-travel can work in the genre and is certainly welcome if used scarcely and if the world map is incredibly large. A perfect example of this is Hollow Knight. The map in Hollow Knight is humongous and only has a few fast-travel locations, so the player still has to intelligently navigate the map and its diverse areas. Guacamelee on the other hand is short and as such has a small map. Combine this with the numerous fast-travel points and it felt like I was never revisiting or exploring previous areas.
As a whole Guacamelee feels like a metroidvania who are not familiar with the genre. It has a gratifying combat system that does not get to shine until the end of the game. The vibrant atmosphere and Mexican themes certainly make Guacamelee a unique experience. If you are looking for a short and light-hearted game, Guacamelee might just be what you are looking for. It is not a traditional metroidvania and it certainly has some flaws, but it is still a fun and quirky little game.