Developer: DrinkBox Studios
Publisher: DrinkBox Studios
Platforms: PC, PS4
Review by Jay Borenstein
Did you play and enjoy the first Guacamelee!? Well Guacamelee! 2 has even more charm and challenge than the original. If you’re new to this franchise by DrinkBox Studios, just imagine Super Metroid meets River City Ransom meets Pixar’s Coco meets Nacho Libre. You’ll be equally smiling at the very referential and insane comedic writing, and groaning over challenging but rewarding platforming.
Trials of A Luchador
Guacamelee! 2 involves a contest between Luchadors with magic masks and takes place seven years after the original game. In one corner, you have the hero of the game, Juan, now a father of two nostalgic for the good old beat ’em up days. In the other, Salvador, a man consumed by the power of his own mask.
In the ‘Darkest Timeline,’ Juan was killed in the events of the first game, and Salvador was the one who defeated the main villain. Now that his mask is consuming him, he becomes obsessed with the search for the Sacred Guacamole of the gods to cure him and give him godly strength! Too bad it exists in an alternate dimension, and the quest to find it is causing the dimensions to fall apart.
If you never played the first game, DrinkBox starts off Guacamelee! 2 by helpfully recapping events, which also doubles as a short tutorial. You don’t need to play the first game to appreciate the second.
Throughout the game you will take in the gorgeous worlds inspired by Mexican art, and all of the tongue-in-cheek humor that showcases the DrinkBox team’s appreciation for gaming and pop-culture, which clearly inspired much of the game’s aesthetic.
While I feel Guacamelee! 2 is easy to approach, be warned that the platforming is not for the faint of heart. Juan learns a lot of moves that both aid in combat and act as ways of getting around the Mexiverse, and you’re going to have to be nimble with your buttonwork. There were plenty of times I flubbed up my button combos, but that’s all a part of the journey.
Juan can execute basic attacks with the square button, power attacks with the circle button, and context moves with the triangle. Also returning from Guacamelee! is the ability to shift from the Land of the Living to the Land of the Dead using R2, dodge with the L2 button and change into a chicken using L1. With me so far? The game grants moves slowly, allowing you to get accustomed to each one before asking you to string them together in complicated ways.
The Land of the Living and The Land of the Dead overlap like the light and dark world in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, but Juan can switch between them at any time, including in the middle of movement and combat. Objects and enemies that exist in the dimension you’re not currently inhabiting appear dark and opaque, while objects that disappear when you switch dimensions have a sparkle effect. You’ll also enter areas where moving shapes change dimensions as they pass over them, forcing you to work with the shifts. The dimension shift mechanic is what made Guacamelee!‘s platforming and combat truly unique, and Guacamelee! 2 expands on that challenge, particularly in secret puzzle areas. Thankfully, messing up never sends you too far back, so you get the practice you need without agonizing over a lot of lost progress.
Combat moves also play a huge role in navigating the world. Each of the circle button moves you unlock throughout the game is associated with a colour, and you can break enemy shields of that colour using that attack. All the circle attacks use stamina orbs, displayed under your health, so you’ll need to manage how often you use them or risk being vulnerable while waiting to recharge. By stringing together attacks, you can unleash some deadly combos and juggle enemies. During battles you’ll fight groups of enemies with different colour shields, forcing you to utilize every ability you have in your arsenal. You’ll also have to take into account enemies in the opposite dimension, which conveniently can hurt you, even though you can’t hurt them without switching over in the middle of battle. There’s a lot to think about when fighting, and winning battles always feels like a triumph.
Being a chicken in this game also allows you to do more than fit into small tunnels. You’ll learn different movement powers, and also attack powers that break their own associated enemy shields, making the chicken form key to accomplishing certain platforming sections and battles. In some of the more challenging sections, you’ll even have to switch between human and chicken form in the middle of a complicated set of platforming.
Collecting money from battles and chests allows you to upgrade your abilities and unlock some new ones after finding trainers strewn throughout the game. The order in which you choose to unlock each ability gives you some flexibility in how you approach the game, but by the end I found I had more than enough money to fully unlock all of the ability trees, making me feel a little bit OP going into the finale.
All your color-specific attacks also allow you to break blocks of that colour that may block paths. In true Metroidvania fashion, if you want a perfect run you’ll have to return to previous areas to smash blocks you didn’t have the right power for at the time. There are plenty of secrets, including puzzle rooms that offer health and stamina-boosting power-ups and chests with money. It’s a fun, living world that is a treat to explore and revisit, and though I didn’t experience it in my playthrough, you can take on the game’s trials with up to three friends in single screen co-op.
Creativity to the Mex
I can’t say enough wonderful things about the creative team at DrinkBox. The universe they’ve built across the two Guacamelee! games is one I’m always happy to revisit, a world drenched in colour with an appreciable difference between the world of the living and the dead.
The music is full of the trumpets and Mexican guitar you’d expect, and kept me energized through my approximately 10-hour playthrough (in which I achieved 65% completion). The game ran smoothly on my PS4 Pro with no hiccups.
A huge part of the game’s charm are all the homages to different games and genres, which I don’t want to spoil as they were a treat to discover. It’s not hard to fall in love with all the characters, even the NPCs, as they’re given such lively and hilarious dialogue. Along with the production values and gameplay elements, it cements the Guacamelee! series as one of the most ambitious and fully-realized indie projects I’ve ever experienced.
Verdict: Buy it!
If you’re into Metroidvania / platforming / beat ’em up games and even if you didn’t play the original Guacamelee! (though you can usually find it pretty cheap on sale), you owe it to yourself to play Guacamelee! 2. Though it’s not the longest game, the love and effort that was poured into it is evident from start to finish, and if it doesn’t put a smile on your face I’d be shocked.
Guacamelee! 2 is available today on PC and PS4.
Rogues Portal was provided a code for the PS4 version of the game for the purpose of this review.