The original Guacamelee, released on PS3 in 2013 and eventually ported to pretty much every system going, was a huge game for me. I discovered it at a time when a number of things in my life were in upheaval and its bright colours, silly humour and jazzed up mexicana tunes kept my head largely above water. I’ve revisited it a few times and it’s a game that’s aged really well, so when Drinkbox and Sony announced a sequel in October 2017, due to hit PS4 as a (possibly) timed exclusive in 2018, I was more than excited to jump back into the shoes of the world saving Luchador, Juan.
So, what is a Guacamelee? Well, it’s an action platform game in the Metroidvania mould with a focus on wrestling inspired melee combat, traversal puzzles and a slew of pop culture and meme inspired gags. The player takes on the role of the aforementioned Juan, a Luchador wrestler who, in the first game, was tasked with rescuing the kidnapped daughter of El Presidente who also happens to be his one true love. Obviously Juan succeeds and, after a brief recap of the first games finale, Guacamelee 2 takes us forward a number of years. Juan is now overweight and depowered when a new threat emerges in the form of an evil Luchador hell bent on discovering a legendary guacamole recipe to prolong his life – however his actions are having a destructive effect on the “Mexiverse”, a series of parallel worlds. Portals are opening everywhere and skeletal foes are infiltrating the different realities, realities that could be destroyed forever if Juan doesn’t step up and do something about it.
As with the first game, Guacamelee 2 is all about exploring a large world full of Mexicana and pop culture influenced nonsense. Saying “nonsense” sounds dismissive, but it’s genuinely the best way to describe the overall feel of these games. They’re silly in the way that classic comedy like Monty Python is, full of word play and non-sequiters. It’s great and genuinely refreshing to find a modern game that eschews a grimdark aesthetic for bright primary colours and a ridiculous sense of humour. The world of Guacamelee 2, while large, is also somewhat more linear than most Metroidvania style games, with your current path clearly laid out for you. Sure, there are side areas that you can only access with certain abilities, which encourages a degree of backtracking, but there is never a point where you hit a wall and can’t progress without exploration. Oh no, in Guacamelee 2 you’ll hit a very different kind of wall…
The main challenge in this game comes in the form of traversal puzzles. As Juan goes about his quest he will gain new abilities – a dash punch, an uppercut, an “Eagle Jump” which allows him to tether to points in the world and pull himself along. As you progress further into the game you have to use these abilities to propel yourself around tricky platforming and combat puzzles. Some enemies glow a specific colour, for example – a shield that can only be destroyed by using a specific attack. Or, you’ll find yourself in a room full of insta-death spikes which you need to propel yourself around using combinations of moves ala Super Meat Boy. Jump, mid air uppercut, dash punch, Eagle Jump and maybe you’ll hit that platform that’s juuuust out of reach. The trick comes with remembering combos and how different trick can chain into each other, but this also brought my only real headache with the game. You see, sometimes the move chains just will not work the way you expect them to . Maybe it’s the incredibly precise timing required, maybe it’s the finnicky controls, maybe it’s a specific frame pattern that just hasn’t clicked, but there were moments in the game where I spent ages just trying to clear certain rooms, repeatedly failing on jumps or moves that I clearly shouldn’t be missing. It got frustrating and nearly ended up in one or two stroppy controller throws which is something I hardly ever do when gaming. Thankfully these were few and far between but the nature of the failures made them feel unfair, rather than challenging.
If you can soldier through these, though, Guacamelee 2 is a ridiculously solid game. The combat is chunky and, while it feels complex, is actually remarkably accessible. On top of a basic three hit combo and the aforementioned special moves, Juan can also grapple enemies. Hit them enough times and a button prompt will appear giving you the chance to grab and throw them – you can use this to your advantage by throwing them into environmental hazards or other enemies. You’ll also find NPC’s in the game who will unlock a series of tech trees that you can progress through by spending in game gold. Give yourself more health or more stamina to allow you to pull off more special moves, buff your existing moveset or even invest in some wrestling moves to suplex or pile drive your enemies when you grab them. The late game combat can get hectic, but buffing and adding to your moves will make you feel like a proper Lucha-superhero and the thwack of fist on skeleton face is supremely satisfying.
On top of the main story campaign, which can be finished off in around 9 hours or so, there’s a huge amount of side content to discover. The aforementioned secret areas are opened up by destroying coloured blocks with specific moves, something which encourages backtracking, and contain some of the games biggest traversal challenges and often result in large a cache of treasure or health and stamina boosts. There are also doors to other realities to discover – while these primarily exist to add some more ridiculous gags to the story, they can also provide a healthy supply of treasure and often come with a trophy for those of you who enjoy hunting down virtual shinies. Add to that a silly subplot about the chicken illuminati and… oh, did I not mention the chickens?
Guacamelee 2 is full of chickens. There are so many chickens. As with the first game, Juan eventually acquires the ability to turn into a chicken to fit through small gaps, this games answer to Metroid’s morph ball (y cant guacamelee crawl?) and the devs at Drinkbox have gone out of their way to make the chicken mode far more integral to the action this time round. The chicken, or Pollo mode, now has its own tech tree and series of special moves to use and upgrade. Sometimes puzzles will require you to switch between human and pollo mid traversal, sometimes enemies can only be damaged as a chicken… yes, it’s all super silly but there’s nothing more fun than seeing a chicken pull of a suplex on a skeletal bat monster thing. There just isn’t.
When it comes down to it, Guacamelee 2 is pretty much MORE Guacamelee. That isn’t a bad thing and the mechanics largely feel more refined over the first game (with the exception of the aforementioned finicky controls) with better telegraphed secret areas and some shinier visual effects. Also, if you’re someone who has friends that like to come and visit them, the local co-op mode makes a welcome return, only this time you and up to three friends can gang up to tackle the nefarious forces of evil! It’s just as mad as it sounds!
A bright, fun and funny Metroidvania which will bring a smile to anyone’s face. It’s a shame the finnicky controls can let it down in some of its trickier platforming sections, but they don’t entirely spoil the overall experience, making Guacamelee 2 another essential purchase.