Guacamelee! 2 (Playstation 4 Review)
Five years on from the original release, Drinkbox Studios’ 2D action platformer and universally praised Guacamelee! has finally returned with a sequel. In a multi-dimensional world filled with Mexican culture stereotypes and video game references galore, the Mexiverse (yes, that’s what it’s called in the game) is having it’s fabric of existence torn apart by a Luchador named Salvador.
Having defeated the villain Calaca from the first Guacamelee, but in a different timeline, Salvador seeks the Sacred Guacamole in hopes of curing his terminal illness. Due to the Sacred Guacamole being imperative to holding all the timelines in place, the goat-transforming priests called the Uay Chivos seek the only alive incarnation of the hero Juan in the Mexiverse; which of course happens to be the same one from the first Guacamelee. Despite having an expanded family with his now-wife Lupita, and an even more expanded beer belly, Juan has no choice but to regain his Luchador skills and powers in order to stop Salvador and save the Mexiverse. He’s not alone though, as the female Luchador Tostada returns to assist Juan once again.
Similar to Metroid in more ways than one, Juan has a limited set of abilities that are gradually (re)expanded on throughout the course of Guacamelee 2. From the outset he can punch and grab enemies and also roll to dodge enemy attacks and certain obstacles. As you progress, Juan will gain special attacks like the Dash Punch or the Rooster Uppercut, which can be used for breaking colour-coded enemy armour and blocks, as well as extending combos and your air time for large jumps. These abilities in particular will cost some of your special ability meter, which will replenish over time shortly after use. The Dimension Swap makes a return, which can cause some platforms that were unusable to reappear, make once invincible enemies vulnerable and a host of other gimmick alterations. Of course, Juan’s equivalent of Samus Aran’s morph ball returns; the Chicken Transformation. Asides from the obvious benefit of being small enough to go through smaller passageways, the chicken form can also run faster and with more upgrades is often the the preferred choice for tackling long jumps or descents. The main downside is despite having combat abilities of it’s own, the chicken form doesn’t hit as heavy as the default Luchador form.
While the core abilities are generally gained by breaking Choozo statues (yes, they really like Metroid at Drinkbox), as a new feature to Guacamelee, Juan can also strengthen himself by purchasing abilities with the Skill Trainers. Each trainer specialises in a particular aspect, like the the former villain Flame Face focusing on combo extensions or Rooster Ramirez buffing your chicken form abilities. Once certain conditions are met and you have enough gold, you can purchase said abilities. It’s far from breaking the mould as far as skill trees in video games go, but it’s a welcome addition nonetheless. Health upgrades, meter upgrades and other playable characters are generally found in treasure chests, usually found in rooms with a challenging obstacle course waiting to test your abilities. Another new feature in Guacamelee is now being able to play with up to four people. Two player gameplay in the original was a blast, being able to throw grabbed enemies to your compadre like a game of hot potato, so one can only imagine doing that with even more players and enemies to smack and toss around.
With all these abilities and potential upgrades, you can be forgiven for thinking that Guacamelee 2 could be a bit of a pushover, but make no mistake, you will die more times than you can count throughout your playtime. Not unlike Super Meat Boy, Guacamelee has numerous checkpoints and re-spawn spots that make both the platforming and combat segments challenging without being overly punishing for making mistakes. New platforming gimmicks and enemy types are thrown in at a frequent basis to keep you on your toes. There are optional rooms in all of the different individual areas that offer even more challenge to win another treasure chest, although sometimes they are too challenging for their prize is, such as a slightly larger than usual amount of gold.
Although there are some new additions to the sequel, it’s not enough to shake the feeling of Guacamelee 2 feeling overly similar to it’s predecessor, from five years ago no less. This isn’t really an issue in terms of it’s visuals. The heavily shaded “paper cut-out” style has a timeless look that is complemented by some of the most vivid usage of various colour palettes and some incredibly fluid animation. The soundtrack is still a treat as well, mixing flamenco, mariachi and latin jazz music with various synth and electronic embellishments for a unique aural experience. As a neat bonus, the accompanying music will change it’s instrument arrangement when you perform a Dimension Swap, with the darker variant of the dimension naturally having more ominous-sounding instrumentation.
The unwanted deja vu felt here mostly lies within Guacamelee’s structure; travelling from village to temple and having four bosses to beat once again. Despite that, said bosses are memorable characters like the overly theatrical magician Muneco, with very fun and engaging fights to boot. While one can understand Drinkbox’s rationale for not wanting to take a lot of risk with such a well-received predecessor and on a small budget; the first couple of hours of the sequel felt too much like a re-train of the first game. To give credit where it’s due though, the second half of Guacamelee 2‘s play through does shake things up enough with new elements to properly set it apart from the sequel. There is a surprising amount of post-game content on offer as well; including travelling to small timelines, which hilariously are formed around modern day video game tropes.
It’s uncertain how many players will stick to Guacamelee 2 past it’s rather formulaic first few hours to find a more stand-out experience from it’s predecessor in the latter half of it’s main campaign. Nonetheless, if you’re itching for some Metroid-vania style gameplay with some colourful visuals and nonsensical humour thrown in, Guacamelee 2 will still go down like a tasty chimichanga.
- Fun yet challenging combat and platforming in either single-player or multiplayer
- Unique, colourful aesthetic and soundtrack
- Skill Trainers are a welcome edition
- Feels overly similar in structure to the previous Guacamelee
- Not enough new features to feel refreshing as a sequel