Guacamelee! 2 powerbombs back into the scene!
The first Guacmelee! from Toronto’s own Drinkbox Studios in 2013 was unexpectedly one of the greatest games in the Metroidvania genre, perfectly blending clever side-scrolling exploration, fun combat, and thrilling platforming. This all stemmed from the heroic luchador Juan’s moveset, with moves like an uppercut and body slam each being having specific uses across all three of these fields.
An uppercut would break red barriers in the environment, while also giving Juan a boost into the air, or even striking enemies into the sky to juggle them into combos. The ways in which each power-up you obtained held such diverse abilities allowed for a great blend of simple and intuitive controls paired with complex skill in knowing how to execute every move flawlessly. It was game design at its finest.
Now that I’ve properly gushed over my adoration for the first in the series, does Guacamelee! 2 live up to this achievement?
Guacamelee! 2 follows Juan’s return as he now must save the entire Mexiverse from fellow luchador Salvador’s evil plot to steal the Sacred Guacamole. It’s exactly as goofy as it sounds. The journey will take you through multiple parallel worlds and the characters that inhabit them, and you bet they’ll wring out every bit of humour they can from that premise (for better and for worse). The story actually delivers some nice emotional beats between the chuckles, and I like the direction it takes with its more sympathetic villain and high-stakes set up.
The game’s humour can be a little much sometimes, but it’s still mostly charming. The first Guacamelee! was criticized for its meme references, and these have all been replaced with old school video game homages. This can get a little grating too if you’re not into referential humour, but beating up the Street Fighter II car is at least more respectable than seeing a “lolcat” or the “O RLY?” owl (and there is admittedly a funny callback to the whole meme situation).
But it’s the gameplay where Guacamelee! 2 impresses, and once again it delivers the same addictive action and exploration. You’ll explore through several areas, platforming and finding secrets through branching paths in true Metroidvania fashion, all the while brawling it out with “Day of the Dead”-style skeleton monsters. There’s just something to the frantic and fluid pace that gets you into a rhythm you don’t want to put down.
That same utility for each of Juan’s moves also returns, meaning each new upgrade you obtain changes the way the entire game plays. Not only can you now slide punch through multiple enemies, you can break through blue walls and air dash, with just one newly acquired move.
As you get more moves and abilities to navigate the environment, platforming becomes trickier, but never unfair. The difficulty curve flawlessly ramps up in challenge and complexity, so by the last hours of the game I was executing moves and flying through the world faster than I could actually think about it. And it’s all done with just a few simple mechanics put together in some truly masterful ways.
If you can’t tell by now, Guacamelee!’s mechanics are some of my favourite in any video game. And that’s where the only true problem with Guacamelee! 2 lies. Everything I’ve said about it could also be applied to its predecessor. Much of the game has you going down the same unlocking path you follow in the first game, obtaining the same moves for the same tricks at the same pace.
Guacamelee! 2 only actually gives you maybe 3 new moves to play with, two of which are for Juan’s polo form, his own version of the Samus morph ball, which has much more play this time around. Any while these additions are fun and add some unique obstacles and challenges, it’s not quite the revelation the first game was.
Maybe there’s no need to enhance the abundant options the first game gave us, but this lack of meaningful progression does leave the sequel feeling a bit unoriginal and reiterative. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to say it feels more like a long (and still amazing) expansion of the first game than a truly fresh sequel.
Combat also remains largely the same. which isn’t necessarily a bad thing either. Juan will pound enemies with his different attacks to varying effects, sometimes needing to utilize specific ones to break an enemy shield. You can dodge certain attacks, throw enemies, and rack up combos for more gold. And like the first game, it’s both simple to understand and difficult to master, as you’ll come across greater and more numerous foes. Like the platforming, I found myself pulling off crazy maneuvers and combos in the triple digits thanks to the incredibly intuitive controls.
There are of course some new additions here too. You’ll be able to grapple enemies in a few different ways instead of just throwing them, but this doesn’t alter combat significantly. You’ll also gain access to a skill tree for all your moves, mostly resulting in modifiers and bonuses to Juan and his attacks. While in practically these don’t change much about combat, they are a strong incentive to go hunting for collectibles and perform high combos for greater gold rewards.
All of this is backed by fun Mexican-themed aesthetic and music. This style truly differentiates Gaucamelee! 2 from its contemporaries and amplifies that frenetic pace and feel of the game. Even through all the references and comedy, the world feels stylistically cohesive and it’s all very fun and charming. The ability to shift between the lands of the living and the dead returns, making for some very cool visuals.
… Oh yeah, there’s also a multiplayer mode with up to four players able to join in on the action. I have absolutely no idea how this would work with the complex platforming and frenzied combat, so it’ll either be the best or worst way to play. The drop-in option is a fun addition for anyone who wants to try it out though.
With all that said, Guacamelee! 2 takes everything that made the first game great and… does it again. All the brilliant tools and gameplay from the first game return and it’s just as engrossing this time around, but the lack of significant innovation is a bit disappointing. Maybe there is no improving upon perfection, but I would have liked to see a true evolution of the series.
Nevertheless, Guacamelee! 2 is a must-play for any fans of the first game, the Metroidvania genre in general, or just anyone who loves tight, side-scrolling action. While not drastically different, it improves upon the gameplay of the first and continues to be a standout experience. After 10 hours to 100% completion, I was only left wanting more, and hopefully there’s a Super Turbo Championship Edition 2 waiting in the future.