Guacamelee 2 wears its Metroidvania genre proudly on its sleeve, doing its very best to respect and honor the inspiration that led to the creation of this crazy game. From the music and art right down to the gameplay, everything is absolute perfection and makes the world as beautiful to behold as it is enjoyable to play around in.
The first Guacamelee introduced the world to a Mexican-themed, platforming brawler with witty humor and an epic story to tell. Juan Aguacate, a humble agave farmer, takes off to rescue his love interest ‘El Presidente’s Daughter’ from the evil Carlos Calaca, but is killed in the fight. A mysterious luchador named Tostada gives Juan a mask that transforms him into a luchador with many unique and helpful powers — and makes him living once more. He vows to defeat Calaca once and for all, to prevent him trying to unite the worlds of living and dead as their leader.
Guacamelee 2 starts by reestablishing the story of the first game’s ending. It’s quite a convenient way to begin the game, since the original Guacamelee came out in 2013. It’s also a great tutorial, as it showcases a bunch of powers you couldn’t access until the end of the original game while showing new players what they might have missed of the plot. The flashback sequence finally ends with Juan at his home with his wife Lupita and their two kids.
Lupita asks Juan to get some avocados from the market, and thus you begin your journey. It turns out you’re not the only one looking for ‘más hass‘ (avocados), as the church’s Fray Ayayay supposedly bought the last ones. You meet up with him and he offers to give you some of his stash if you destroy an empty barrel for him. Several punches later, just as Fray is about to give you the avocados you so desperately crave, a huge ruckus draws your attention outside.
A goat appears from a portal, spouts some action tropes such as ‘there’s no time to explain’ and beckons you to enter after him. The ‘Mexiverse’ is in danger (a nice nod to Marvel’s ‘spider-verse’ there) and after approval from your wife, you go through the portal to save it. After a few video-game nods offered by accidentally landing in other ‘timelines’ you finally make it through to the ‘Darkest Timeline’, where the goat explains the rest of the story to you.
You meet up with Tostada again — who gives you your mask — and you set off to explore this world full of skeletons and danger. The rockin’ soundtrack ramps up and immediately brings to mind the song Bloody Tears from Castlevania II, with a mariachi flair and some chiptunes for good measure. I continued humming the theme as I followed the path (as indicated on the convenient map) that leads you through basic gameplay moves such as jumping, dodge rolls and directional body slams. You learn most of these techniques within ‘gated’ fighting arenas (where walls drop to block off both sides of the screen) which quickly teach you how to use your powers or die trying.
As you make your way to the various temples and such, you find yourself coming across ‘Choozo statues’ (a nod to the Chozo statues from Metroid) which hold new powers and abilities. These discoveries are always coupled with a room that teaches you how the mechanic works or simply blocks off your path until you discover which technique you must use. It works great as teaching through play and doesn’t distract much from the overall experience. There are various areas off the beaten path, too, where you can test your skills to earn coins and pieces of skull (for stamina) or heart (for health) as the rewards. These challenges require precise button presses and fully use the range of your abilities so far, which make for tough but thankfully optional diversions.
Some of the greatest humor in Guacamelee 2 is simply from the fact that you can play the entire game as a chicken. You may achieve this form with a simple button press, granting access to short pathways that you wouldn’t be able to squeeze into otherwise. Some moves are exclusive to the chicken, such as the Pollo Bumpers, which let your chicken bounce like a pinball to otherwise unreachable areas. The fighting system is fully intact in your chicken form as well — in fact, I found it more enjoyable, as your hitbox is significantly smaller. It adds to Guacamelee 2′s overall enjoyment and versatility.
Boss fights in Guacamelee 2 are always a treat, as each character you fight has their own subplot and they are quite mouthy when it comes to delivering monologues. You, as seen in most games of this genre, typically use the most recently acquired power-up or move to defeat them.
The first boss, El Muñeco, uses his singing and dancing troupe of chickens as projectiles and has spiked platforms that rise up into the air as you get near them, but turn into a regular platform after the spikes retreat. You have to use these platforms to wall jump, getting close enough to hit the floating boss and knock him down to the ground where you can continue to pummel him. You also use your recently acquired ‘Eagle Boost’ — an ability that allows you to dash towards and through indicated ‘eagle markers’ — to reach him and punch him in his face. It’s refreshing to have multiple options and techniques at your disposal instead of a singular method, making the frantic fighting so much more fun as a result.
I’m just going to come out with it: Guacamelee 2 is absolutely gorgeous. From the backgrounds of its cities and temples to the nuance and splashes of humor shown in billboards and signs that parody other games, each piece has a ‘Día de Muertos’ colorful flair to it and is a sight to behold. Juan and the colorful cast of characters are beautifully rendered in a crisp, vector-art style with fluid animations. Enemies are well defined by color types (which help define what enemy they are) and stand out from the background easily, even in a sprawling landscape full of them. My favorite artistic touch is a piñata — earned after every closed-off fight with waves of skeletons — that explodes with coins and a confetti flourish from a punch of your fist.
I love what Drinkbox Studios did with this sequel. Its combat and abilities surpass the original in every way. The diverse cast tell a (humorous) story that is lovingly crafted, weaves effortlessly through the combat and boss fights and helps punctuate the progression through Juan’s journey. It’s a visually breathtaking journey, too, with color and life to be found in every screen, and it always feels varied and fresh. The music is some of the best I’ve heard in a video game in ages and has that quality and catchiness to it that reminds you of the game hours or days after you turn it off. Having enjoyed Guacamelee 2 a great deal, I give it my highest recommendation to someone who is fond of the genre or even someone new to the series and the stylings of a Metroidvania.
While Guacamelee 2 offers drop-in, four-player gameplay, I did not try any of these features and played the game solo.