My favorite instances of going to Taco Bell are the ones where I’m somehow surprised by how good what it is that I’m eating. I’ve eaten hundreds of Crunchwraps in my life but every so often, one will be so perfectly made that I’m legitimately taken aback by how well constructed and good it turned out to be against all fast food odds. This strange yet apt comparison is how I would compare my time with Guacamelee! 2.
Coming into this sequel of one of the best–in my opinion–Metroidvanias of the past few years, I was excited, yet still had pretty reserved expectations. The original Guacamelee! was a fantastic game, but I felt like I knew what to expect with this follow-up. As such, I thought there wasn’t much else different that Drinkbox Studios could do this time around to surprise me in the same way that the first game did. While there may not have been any shocking revelations that I had while playing the sequel, what truly did surprise me is just how well put together it is in every way.
From the opening moments of Guacamelee! 2 that harken back to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, you know you’re in for a joyous time. Our hero Juan once again returns as the protagonist, this time finding himself as an out-of-shape father at the game’s beginning. After being dragged into a new disaster that sees the villainous Salvador trying to steal multiple relics in pursuit of the Sacred Guacamole, Juan must don his mask once again, become a luchador, and save the Mexiverse.
The story in Guacamelee! 2 is less about driving home an impactful narrative and is instead used as an excuse to use some hilarious writing. The stakes never feel too high, which leads to every encounter you have feeling light and funny, rather than being grim and serious. It’s a nice change of pace considering how so many games on the market today tend to fall into that latter category. You also meet far more new characters in your adventure with Juan in Guacamelee! 2 each of whom tends to have something witty to say or present a unique situation ripe with laughs.
Guacamelee! 2 hits its stride during instances like this. Even days after completing the game I’m still dwelling on how downright ridiculous so many of these moments were with some of my favorites involving fighting a man’s car, traveling through toilets to happen upon a chicken Illuminati, and saving a village from an impending volcanic explosion in a rather unique way. Perhaps my favorite of all involves a visit to the Cave of Dankness, which as you might be able to tell from the name, is a pretty dank place. I don’t want to spoil why I think this section of the game is so funny but it’s a nice meta-commentary on “issues” that some players had with the original Guacamelee!. I’d really love to talk more about many of these moments but they’ll serve as great surprises if you play the game yourself.
In addition to these stand out moments, many of the pop culture references you could find scattered throughout the first game are back and they’re even more prominent. I typically think that things like this can come across a bit tryhard if done poorly, but the way they are handled within Guacamelee! 2 fit the world that Drinkbox has created.
Jokes and story aside, the real reason to play Guacamelee! 2 is because of its finely crafted gameplay. If you played the first game, many of the abilities that you could unlock within that installment have returned, so don’t be expecting too much new as far as Juan’s luchador form goes. Still, combat is as fluid as ever and pulling off insane hit-combos feels just as awesome as it ever did. The way you can build each power move off of one another really feels great and when you start getting into larger fights near the game’s end, you can really get yourself into some fantastic wrestling flows.
Where things start to change drastically in Guacamelee! 2 comes with the advent of Juan’s many new chicken abilities. Being able to transform into a chicken isn’t new, but having the ability to use a variety of combat moves to defeat enemies is. Certain sections of Guacamelee! 2 force you into using your chicken skills, but they aren’t worse for it. In fact, combat as a whole becomes even deeper and more nuanced as you begin to learn to transition between your standard luchador form and that of a chicken to begin racking up kills and increasing that hit counter.
If combat is the first major pillar of what Guacamelee! 2’s gameplay has to offer, then platforming would be the second. Much like the combat, platforming has a great flow in Guacamelee! 2, especially as you start to unlock more and more abilities. Between bouncing off of walls, double jumping, and slingshotting all about, platforming is smooth and precise in Guacamelee! 2 which is the number one thing you would ask for from any game that puts an emphasis on this aspect.
Even though it feels great though, be prepared to die — a lot. I found the original Guacamelee! to have some difficult platforming sections for sure, but they’ve been turned up a notch here in the sequel. Some of the game’s hidden areas, in particular, are amongst the most frustrating I’ve seen in a platformer in quite some time. That said, these areas never felt unfair and instead just provided a legitimate challenge.
I think what I like the most about platforming in Guacamelee! 2 is how quickly you have to think about what it is that you’re doing. You have to really concentrate hard to clear some of the late-game hidden locations within Guacamelee! 2, but the satisfaction upon clearing them is unparalleled.
Speaking of some of these hidden areas, there’s also just a lot more to do in Guacamelee! 2. Not only is the game itself longer–it took me around 15 hours to 100% everything–but there’s a lot more to do off of the beaten path. In typical Metroidvania style, a lot of this will have to do with collecting new upgrades for your health or stamina meter but there are some more expansive side tangents for you to go down. One side task also eventually leads to the game’s true ending, so be sure to see that through to the end before finishing up the main path if you’d like to see Guacamelee! 2’s true conclusion.
As for other bonus pieces of content in Guacamelee! 2, there is a 4-player co-op mode that allows you to play with your friends, though I was never able to do so for the purposes of this review. If you want to switch up your look, you can also collect a handful of different outfits that are spread across the game world. It’s a nice bonus even if there aren’t very many to earn.
Sequels can sometimes miss the mark when simply iterating on what made the game before it so good. In Guacamelee! 2’s case, Drinkbox has logically improved on everything that worked from the first game but has iterated on it all in such a way that continues to raise the prominence of this series amongst Metroidvania classics. Drinkbox deserves endless praise for having such a focused vision on what they wanted this game to be and that is seen in every aspect of Guacamelee! 2 from the combat and platforming to the writing and world design.
At the end of the day though for myself, Guacamelee! 2 has reminded me of what games are supposed to be in the first place — fun. I haven’t had as thoroughly as joyful of an experience with any other game this year and I expect I’ll be hard pressed to find another like it any time soon.