Starting something is hard, I’ve written 3 different introductions to this review already. With games it’s especially hard to find that balance between introduction and teasing what’s to come. When a game is a sequel it become even more of a challenge as you need to appease both new and returning players. DrinkBox Studios with Guacamelee 2 has produced one of the greatest, mechanically and story wise, introductions to a sequel in any game series. The game opens with a ‘Previously on Guacamelee’, you’re shown the final area from the first game and the chatter before taking on Calaca, the big bad of the game. Then you’re told to go fight the boss of the first game. Taking on this monster boss from the first game is intimidating at first, but this gives you an idea of moves you’re going to pick up as you play, helps returning players like me remember how the game works and replays the key story beats from the finale. The boss is an easier version with weaker attacks and lower health than first time around and this, if nothing else, is one of the best ways to introduce someone to the game and tutorialise something that everyone needs, a reminder of what the hell you’re doing.
Guacamelee 2 joins a barrage of recent ‘metroidvania’ games that have been released in the past 6 months; Chasm, Hollow Knight and to a lesser extent Dead Cells. It would be a struggle for another Metroidvania to stand out amongst this crowd but with Guacamelee doing so well all those years ago Drinkbox Studios has earned some good will and a lineage with this genre. I personally spent a whole Christmas holiday playing Guacamelee on the Vita. With Guacamelee 2 it’s fair to say it’s the first game again, but with more.
The story starts with Juan, the luchador hero of the first game, living with his wife and 2 kids in the Mexiverse. He’s now overweight and hasn’t trained or fought in a long time, as such when evil tetronimos appear in the sky over his village he’s not ready to take on the challenge of saving not just his Mexiverse, but all the other timelines that run parallel. You quickly learn that the shapes in the sky are coming from a luchador called Salvador, the one who killed Calaco in his timeline after Juan died and failed to do the job. Salvador is after three stones that will give him the ability to create a Guacamole that will give him the power of the gods. And that’s your set up, Juan must reclaim his luchador mask and the associated powers and retrain himself after 7 years of apathy to get to a point where he can claim the stones first and defeat Salvador and his lackies.
The game is pure Metroidvania, you’ll get to a temple with one of the stones in and struggle to find your way around, filling in the map as you go. As you progress you’ll find hints that you should be able to get somewhere but physically can’t, thankfully you’ll find a Chozo statue near by that will contain a new move for you to learn. Guacamelee 2 is big, really very big, on the most part this doesn’t actually prove too troublesome as rarely will you get lost or confused, on a rare occasion where that are two paths to go you’ll find one is just a challenge room with a chest full of coins is at the end of a troublesome platforming puzzle, and the other route is the story path. But with it being so big you can easily spend a lot of time in just one temple working your way around.
A key feature of the first Guacamelee has returned in the form of the ability to jump between the living and the dead worlds. The majority of the world remains the same but you are required to leap between the two to pass certain platforming puzzles or defeat enemies who are only in one dimension and not the other. When combined with the many different platforming moves at your disposal you’ll end up having quite a lot to keep in mind. The game does a good job of every so often bringing back a concept from a few hours prior in your game time just to keep you abreast of what may be asked of you.
Fighting in Guacamelee 2 is almost exactly the same as it’s predecessor, you’ll be walking along until you find walls appear around you and a large LUCHA sign appear. Now you must use your various melee attacks to kill enemies, once weakened you can grapple them which has another chain of commands (once leveled up) that give you even more potential options in a fight. As you go you’ll find that on the most part you’ll stick with the same couple of combos to finish off enemies, for me it was punch until I could grapple and then drop kick them into other enemies and follow up with a strong punch into Piledriver. It all feels good, and that’s really a key thing about this game, something I cannot praise enough; whether it’s the combat or the flow of movement through a particularly long platforming section, everything feels right and fluid. The early game doesn’t quite have this same feeling but that’s your incentive for progressing and unlocking more moves.
Where the game does falter slightly is in the feeling of the different areas. The most obvious comparison is Super Metroid and Castlevania Symphony of the Night, two games that defined the genre, both are set in one large sprawling location yet are able to give names and feelings to these areas. The cave based jungle area of Super Metroid feels different to it’s temple like structures later in the game. The ramparts are completely different to the basement areas of Castlevania. Guacamelee 2 doesn’t have these distinctions, with the exception of a prison and pseudo hell later in the game most areas feel interchangeable and don’t have must difference in identity, the overworld stuff does feel a bit different as you run through fields or the desert but these locations are purely there for getting from point a to point b. It’s just a shame as this game has such an identity that you want it to be able to have that cliché review line of ‘the world feels like a character in its own right’.
The soundtrack yet again is a wonderful mix of intense dance/chip tune mariachi and much like the first game I’ve fallen completely in love with it. The jumping between the world of the living and the world of the dead also effects the soundtracks meaning on sections where it’s not relevant which you’re in I would gladly choose which version of the soundtrack I wanted to listen to like my own twisted little radio player. The graphics from the first game have had a slightly overhaul, frame rate on pc holds at 60fps nicely with only a couple of random blips every now and then but what’s really have a kick in the spandex butt is the lighting. Shades and shadows cover everything whereas everything in the first game very much had a vector paper cut art style, thankfully none of this overshadows the movement in the game, the platforming and combat still take priority and you’ll nearly always know where you are and what you’re doing.
One major change between the first and second game is the brazenness of the humour. The first game was played for laughs at times and the writing was incredibly clever on many occasions, the second game however has lost some of the subtlety and instead gone for a more obtuse in your face style with it’s jokes. Often it’s fine and you’ll allow a wry smile across your face but you’ll have many experiences of whispering ‘jesus’ under your breath as you endure another joke that isn’t worthy of being ‘dad joke’ status. The references are as strong as ever in Guacamelee 2, the three stones you’re hunting clearly homaging the triforce, there’s also river city ransom / double dragon dimension you end up in early in the game and a street fighter 2 bonus stage around the half way mark plus hundreds of other little points for you to notice. Some pay off well, like spotting the Skull Girls logo spray painted onto a wall, others are just a little too on the nose like the Grinding Timeline with it’s genre breaking level that goes on a little bit too long. With all my negativity here, do not worry, this is not another Matt Hazzard, this obviously all comes from a place of love and respect for these genres and games, it’s just a little heavy handed, it’s less a nod towards these references and instead more of a KO Headbutt.
Guacamelee 2 has so many mechanics going at once that you feel like it should fail in a lot of areas but in reality this game is something special. With the various unlock trees for you to spend money on, the copious amounts of both combat moves and traversal moves, and with the jumping between dimensions and between human form and chicken form it should be chaos, but in a testament to it’s perfectly tight design you can’t help but be enamored with all aspects of this game. Guacamelee 2 should be on everyone’s list to play, a wonderful package so efficiently designed and scoped to be a great experience it pays off in nearly every regard.