Guacamelee! 2 Review

Guacamelee! was likely one of the most unique Metroidvania’s you could come across. Brimming with humour, full of style and bringing a fair compromise between difficulty and satisfaction in its platforming and combat, it was one of 2013’s most notable games. Five years later and we finally get its sequel: but can Guacamelee! 2 succeed where its predecessor left off, or is it not fit to lace its boots?

The story picks up where Guacamelee! left us. After a tutorial in which you beat a (easier) recreation of the last game’s boss, Calaca, we come to Juan seven years later. Our beloved, silent Luchador is now a happy husband and a dad of two, sporting a dad bod yet still wearing his sacred title belt. His peace is soon interrupted, however, as he is called upon by Uay Chivo (or more fondly remembered as the old man that can transform into a goat) to aid with a threat to the whole Mexiverse. Juan thus sets off to the Darkest Timeline, to battle an evil Luchador named Salvador whose nefarious plans puts the Mexiverse at risk.

Though delving into interdimensional travel sounds a convoluted prospect, Guacamelee! 2 handles the premise with levity, if referring to its universe of shared timelines as the Mexiverse isn’t sign enough for you. Even with its light-hearted approach to this, however, this does feel like a natural enough evolution from the first game’s realm shifting and provides some quality gags—such as finding yourself in a timeline consisting of a cave, filled to the brim with meme billboards and mocking interpretations of the first game’s humour. There seems to have been a conscious effort to escalate the humour above that of the limited billboard humour of the first, and the joke timelines coupled with some genuinely gut-busting jokes makes Drinkbox’s effort here a total success.

The gameplay is very similar to its predecessor, though with some additional bells and whistles. Juan traverses the 2D landscape initially with a jump, before his options gradually broaden with special moves and traversal abilities. Soon you’ll be grabbing onto walls, sprinting up them and launching off them, before grabbing onto the newly added Eagle Boost points and shooting yourself up onto a platform. It all comes together very fluently, and the gradual escalation in difficulty of the game’s platforming correlates well with Juan’s gradually increasing arsenal. Some more difficult platforming sections (which, to be fair, there are many) also require Juan to call upon his special moves, returning from the previous game. Their inclusion in the platforming is usually coherent enough: it’s obvious when you need to use one if a wall or Eagle Boost point is just out of reach, so a Rooster Uppercut or a Dash-Punch gets you within distance. Glowing yellow orbs also sometimes appear in these sections, and when touched, refreshes the use of these special abilities, encouraging you to use them to traverse that certain platforming section. Returning as well are the coloured blocks and shields from the first game, which require the corresponding special moves to break, providing an extra layer of difficulty to the platforming and combat.

The combat, too, is much of the same, though the addition of some abilities within the new skill trees allows for some new options. Juan has a simple three hit combo that he can perform on the ground or air, but you are very much encouraged to chain these in with his special abilities. These chains are easily picked up from combat tutorials with the returning Flame Face, the persistently insulting gunslinger who antagonised Juan in the predecessor. This is a helpful addition: it encourages you to use an ability to launch your enemy, for instance, so you can leap up in the air and connect with your 3-hit combo as well as some special moves. Of course, though, this is a game filled with Luchadors: the wrestling from the previous game appears again. Once enemies take enough of a beating they can be grabbed, and Juan can then proceed to suplex them to the ground, boot them into a stage hazard, or drive them into the ground. These can be done on the ground or the air, and there is a real sense of joy when you smash a skeleton headfirst into the terrain.

The combat segments usually appear in the same vein as before: in between platforming segments. Plenty of enemies exist whilst you’re parkouring your way through the Mexiverse’s bright landscape, but they come into focus when the walls come down and lock you into a room, and a triumphant ‘Lucha!’ blasts onto the screen. What happens from here is simple; you blast through a few waves of enemies until a piñata appears for you to break open for a reward. These are slid frequently into Guacamelee’s length (and the most notable experiences of this are the game’s excellent boss fights), but I found them to often appear at the right time, splitting up the platforming with a combat obstacle or just functioning as well-earned catharsis after a difficult series of platforming challenges. The game seems aware of this too, and after a certain few long stretches of platforming, provides a power-up for you to stomp through your enemies as a giant chicken.

Speaking of chickens, the chicken form is back again, and with some new tricks. Juan can again turn into a chicken at a single button press, to allow access to a set of new special moves, as well as his new diminutive size allowing access to routes inaccessible as a hulking Luchador. Whereas in the original game it existed almost purely for some secret routes, with it’s only combat functionality being a series of frenzied pecks, Guacamelee! 2 expands on this. Now the chicken form comes with a set of ‘Pollo Powers’ – chicken-form exclusive special moves. This makes the chicken form much more integral to gameplay, functioning more as an alternate stance rather than a caveat-ridden form. Shields and obstacle blocks can also take on the colours exclusive to this form, forcing you to delve into it so you can defeat the enemy or advance on. However, with its expanded skillset this is no issue, and instead encourages you to find a role for it in your combat. There’s something remarkably thrilling about watching a chicken piledrive a much larger adversary.

Guacamelee! 2 also arrives with the same delicious art style as before. The colours are often bright and contrasting, providing a real striking image nearly every time. Particularly with the accents of Mayan and Mexican imagery strewn throughout the Mexiverse, it makes Guacamelee! 2 just as beautiful, if not more, than the original. The changes in environment following a realm shift are back too and provide a fascinating shift in detail that almost encourages you to shift in every room just to see the next change around the corner. The music, too, is more of the delicious Mexican-flavoured rhythms the original was known for and accents your travels with a real groove.

It should be worth noting, I feel, that the difficulty of the platforming is potentially the only barrier here, if you’re otherwise fully willing to submerge yourself into this crazy Luchador universe. Though the Eagle Boost and special move combinations make most of the platforming a precise, fluent experience, the return of the realm shift does make some portions particularly difficult. Realm shifts must be executed to make certain platforms or features appear or disappear, and sometimes you need to do so just after a special move. This means sometimes your hands can end up in a bit of a bind as you end up flubbing your inputs and dropping down into the lava below as a chicken, a far cry from the Rooster Uppercut and realm shift you had in mind. I didn’t find it a barrier to my own enjoyment at all, and I do think it’s easy enough to adapt: but I feel the warning is important.

I love Guacamelee! 2. It’s precisely what I wanted from a sequel—a preservation of what made the original so good, with its vibrant art, enthralling wrestling-based combat and testing platforming all making a triumphant return. The evolution of the game’s humour and core systems like the chicken form makes Guacamelee! 2 a total improvement on the original, and I’d eagerly recommend it to anyone ready to embrace this mesmerising Mexiverse.

REVIEW CODE: A FREE Playstation 4 code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@brashgames.co.uk.

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