Last week the Xbox One received a barrage of no less than four downloadable ID@Xbox releases: Another World, Contrast, R.B.I. Baseball 14, and Zombie Driver. The ID@Xbox program allows indie game developers to publish their games directly to the Xbox One marketplace without most of the interference they would face on the Xbox 360. This week seems to have only one indie title in store for Xbox One gamers, but it's a good one: Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition from Drinkbox Studios.
The availability of Guacamelee, a Metroidvania-style action platformer with 2-player local co-op would be good enough news on its own, but getting the Xbox One version for free is even better. Guacamelee! is this July's Games with Gold title, so all Xbox Live Gold members can get it for free this month. Read on for impressions, hands on video, and details about how the Games with Gold program works for Xbox One users.
Indie games often feature unique concepts and settings. Guacamelee! certainly runs with that concept thematically, as the game draws inspiration from Mexican folklore and lucha libre (masked wrestling) culture.
The story begins with Juan Aguacate, a farmer bumping into his childhood friend the president's daughter at a humble pueblo church. No sooner do the two arrange to attend a local festival together than Juan's lady love is kidnapped by Carlos Calaca, an evil skeleton who has escaped from the underworld. Juan must don a magical mask in order to become a luchador and rescue his beloved.
Awesomely different story aside, Guacamelee! draws its gameplay inspiration from classic games like Super Metroid and Zelda II. Juan and his partner Tostada explore beautiful Mexican locales and villages in a nonlinear 2D platforming setting. The heroes will gain new abilities like double jumping and new wrestling moves from "Choozo" statues (inspired by the Metroid series) they find along the way. These skills allow players to return to previous locations in order to reach new areas and secrets. A helpful map screen keeps the navigation and quest tracking manageable.
Being a game about super-powered wrestlers, Guacamelee! naturally features a strong close-quarters combat system. Besides standard punches and kicks, our heroes can grapple weakened opponents and perform dramatic wrestling moves. Pounding enemies into the ground gets the point across, but tossing them in any direction you like can knock over other enemies or simply clear a path to safety.
Flicking the right analog stick performs a dodge roll. Dodging is important to avoid damage, and some enemies can only be damaged by dodging. The timing takes some getting used to, but adds a nice degree of skill to the combat.
Luchadores often wrestle in tag teams, so it only makes sense for Juan to do the same. Guacamelee! offers local 2-player co-op, an unusual feature for the genre. But first one player has to complete the introductory sequence alone. After Juan acquires the luchador mask, a second player can join in or drop out at any time.
The second player takes on the role of Tostada, the mysterious lady wrestler who guides Juan on his journey. The two can brutalize opponents together, throwing them back and forth and performing devastating combos. As long as one player remains in the fight, the other will eventually respawn and join back in. Either player can also turn into a bubble and float towards the other fighter's location, preventing a partner from getting stuck during difficult platforming sections.
Online co-op would have been a great feature for Guacamelee!, but this is an indie game without a AAA budget, after all. This style of game works perfectly as a single-player experience, so think of local co-op as a bonus instead of a missed opportunity.
Guacamelee! features 30 Achievements worth a total of 1,000 GamerScore. In addition to the standard completion based stuff, some of the Achievements are fun and creative. For instance, you'll unlock one for performing a Frog Stomp move on the desert-roaming Chupacabra.
Drinkbox Studios really want players to complete the game multiple times. Unlocked costumes even transfer between save files. And so the game has a nice and easy Achievement for starting a second save file. There's also an Achievement for beating it on hard difficulty, so you might combine those into one step.
Besides beating Hard mode, the most challenging Achievements involve fully exploring all areas and attaining Gold ranks on all Inferno challenges (tough challenge levels). You'll also have to complete an extremely punishing and difficult treetop area in order to get the true ending and another Achievement.
Prepare to wrestle!
Fans of explorative platformers like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Dust: an Elysian Tale will love Guacamelee's unique take on the Metroidvania formula. The previous Playstation 3 version's DLC included in this new and improved version, making an already fine game even better. Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition has the chops to become a true champion of the genre. It tastes pretty good on chips, too.
Guacamelee costs $14.99 on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Vita, and Steam.
How Games with Gold works
As the first new release title to be given away for free by Microsoft, nobody owns the Xbox One version of Guacamelee! yet. The game represents a significant advancement for the Games with Gold program and brings it one step closer to the Sony's similar Playstation Plus program.
I still see people asking about the Xbox One's Games with Gold program, so let's explain what the program means for gamers. Xbox Live Gold members can "buy" current Xbox One Games with Gold titles for free either through the Xbox website or their consoles. You don't even have to own an Xbox One to add the game to your account. So you might as well grab it now and have it ready for if and when you do get the One.
Xbox One Games with Gold titles work like Playstation Plus free titles on Sony consoles. That means that they are tied to your account forever as free games. But you can only play games acquired this way while you have an active Xbox Live Gold membership. An internet connection is required to play these free games as well.
If you bought a one month Gold membership, you'd be able to play Guacamelee! for that month. After your subscription expired, the game would no longer be playable. But! Should you ever renew the Gold membership; any Xbox One Games with Gold titles that have been tied to your account will become playable again.
One really cool thing for non-Gold members is that activating an Xbox Live Gold trial will actually allow you to tie Xbox One Games with Gold titles to your account and play them! So if you're not keen to pay for Gold at the moment, you can still use a trial to grab the game and have it ready for the next time you subscribe. Or just play the heck out of it until the trial expires.
Even if you're dead set on never subscribing to Xbox Live Gold or you just don't have reliable access to an internet connection for your console, Guacamelee! is well worth a purchase on its own.
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