When the first Guacamelee released, I thought it was a great little game, but now a few years later, Juan is back to save the Mexiverse, but has he learned some new moves, or is this wrestler all talk?
The game starts out by giving you a chance to relive the epic final moments of the last game, it is how it sets up the story for those new to the series, after that, we speed forward a few years and fine Juan is no longer the Luchador, instead he is a husband and father and has developed a serious case of Dad-bod. While being tasked with getting some items from the market, large tetris-shaped voids start appearing all over town and then Uay Chivo appears and demands Juan follows him, to save the Mexiverse, after venturing through a void and meeting up with Tostado, Juan is killed and then in the land of the dead, gifted with his mask again, which in turn reverts him back into shape as well.
It is in this new timeline, known as the Darkest Timeline, that we discover what is causing the voids to appear, another wrestler, Salvador, who defeated Calaca in this timeline, has gone off the deep end and seeks to discover the Sacred Guacamole, which is said to grant power to anyone who eats it. All of the Uay Chivo’s from across the timelines have decided that you, the only Juan to defeat Calaca are the only one to save the Mexiverse. While the story is predictable, it has its funny moments, so playing through to the end is something you should do, the final shot before the credits roll is particularly touching. While Tostada joins you on your adventure, she only makes appearances in cutscenes, unless you are playing with a second player and she rarely has any advice to offer.
The gameplay can be broken down into two distinct groups, 2d brawler and Metroid-vania, each combining to make something interesting. The game is heavily inspired by Metroid, given how many areas require you to venture back later on, when more power ups are discovered. Heck even the statues that you smash to obtain power ups are something long time Metroid fans will notice and while it could have fallen more into the stolen camp, the amount of attention to detail the game has against its inspirational elements, proves the developers love those games and making their own is something they really wanted to do.
When you are not running around the map, you are fighting and to a lesser extent platforming, but the fighting is what you will do a lot of. The boss fights, of which there are only a few, are interesting and quite fun, but it is the ‘random’ room encounters, where you are locked into a fight with however many enemies the game decides to throw at you, that you will find yourself stuck in a lot and I mean stuck. The game throws you into more of those fights than anything and the first few times its ok, after that, its an annoying joke, because they are either laughably easy or insanely challenging, with no real middle ground to discover. A lot of the challenge comes from using the right super move, to break the shield of the enemy and until you do that, you can deal any damage to them.
The problem with this system is that the difference between one super move and another, is a slight directional change on the control stick, that is it. There were many, many times when I wanted to do a dash punch, which is blue in colour, but because I had the stick pushed more towards up, I would do a super uppercut, red in colour. Early on the restriction for these moves comes from your stamina meter, so going in for the attack, only to waste time with the wrong one, which usually results in you being hit, is not fun. As the game progresses and you unlock new moves, Juan ends up with four coloured attacks, his chicken self ends up with just as many, learning the colours for the attacks and being in the right body for them, all while avoiding countless attacks and environmental hazards, it really pushes you as a gamer, but the result at the end is not worth it.
The other thing that game does, is let you swap between the lands of the living and the dead, once you get the ability, the game really feels different. There are a lot of platforms that only exist in one, so you need to swap through them and when they alternate, you have to constantly keep up with the swap, in order to survive whatever element, you are attempting to clear. As the game progresses, you will need to constantly swap, in order to avoid hazards and more, with some enemies only being able to take a hit, in that phase, but for some reason, they can still hit you. The ability is one that you will eventually forget is there, because it becomes second nature to swap and with how simple it is, that is a very good thing.
From a presentation point of view, the game has a clean and wonderfully colourful look, with each location, being able to stand on its own, in terms of design and when you throw in both a land of the living and land of the dead variants, there is a lot to see and explore. Character designs are very much the same from the first game, with the new characters like Salvador and Chicken Illuminati blending in very well, though, I would have loved to have seen more variety on the Uay Chivo designs. When you collect a power up, or health/stamina booster, you get a nice little animation that is bright, cheery and contains some nice music.
Sound wise, the musical score was something I did not enjoy, which is a shame, as I am a fan of latin based music, my issues with the score was that first, the balance was off and it was way to loud for what it needed to be, so lowering the volume was something I did right away. The second issue and far more impactful, was that the score never connected with me, I never got a sense of the music being important, it did not help set the scene, thinking back on it now, I simply can’t recall any single theme. One thing about the sound that I hate and with a passion is the sound you hear, when you press A, to continue through dialogue, the first time I heard it, I honestly though my Amazon Alexa activated and each and everytime since, that sound only made me think of Alexa.
Guacamelee 2 is a wonderful game, while not super long, it is still a game you need to play, from the incredible cast of characters and the vibrant world to explore, there is always something to do. The controls will frustrate most players, thanks to their over complex nature, but if you can adapt to them quite well, you will find a game that is one of the best examples of the Metroid-vania genre.
Review code provided by DrinkBox Studio