By William Haderlie / December 24th, 2018
|Release Date||August 21st, 2018|
|Age Rating||ESRB E 10+|
The previous game from DrinkBox Studios was quite a departure from what the studio was known for. Severed was a really solid dungeon crawler, but many people were hoping they would eventually go back to the series that made them famous, Guacamelee!. And now that time has arrived. Guacamelee! 2 is a direct sequel to the first game, picking up immediately after the events of that story. Unfortunately the game came out during an extremely busy period for releases, even for me it was sandwiched between Octopath Traveler and Spider-man. So as much as I loved the first title, I did not have time to play it until now. And I am very glad that I finally did get around to playing this fantastic example of the Metroidvania sub-genre. And with the title being released on the Switch this month, it’s a perfect time to give the game another look.
It wasn’t just the release timing that have caused this game to struggle a little to get press coverage. This was also a very big year for Metroidvania styled games. Dead Cells and Hollow Knight had very popular Switch releases that garnered a lot of sales and critical attention, and then there were the much anticipated releases of Chasm and The Messenger. So even if the sequel to one of the best games in the genre was coming out, there was still an air of “been there, done that” around it. Which I feel did the game a bit of a disservice. For as much as I enjoy the new things all those other games brought to the Metroidvania sub-genre, Guacamelee! 2 does a lot of things better while also hewing much closer to the traditions that have made the genre so popular in the first place. It also eases you into the story even if you haven’t played the first game. Taking a page out of the Castlevania: Symphony of the Night book, the game begins with the final fight from the first game. Also, like that classic game, they make the fight a lot easier so that even new players shouldn’t struggle with it.
Like many other sequel games in the genre, after the opening there is an event that causes the hero to lose all the power that they had previously obtained. But the comedic overtones of this series work very well for it, and they just fast forward a decade until Juan has a beer gut and is just a father taking care of his wife and two kids. He is very clearly a hero gone to seed, and that works even better than some contrived story beat that causes an enemy to steal their former power. The call to action occurs when a group of goat sages from other dimensions call on him to save the entire multiverse (called The Mexiverse) from an evil and powerful luchador named Salvador. He and his minions are out to find the ultimate sacred guacamole, which will gift him ultimate power over all dimensions of The Mexiverse. And apparently Juan is the only hero who survived the previous adventure, so all the goat sages are relying on him to save the universe.
While there are real consequences to the people that Juan cares about, no matter which timeline he travels to the overall tone of the story is humorous. This tone works out very well for a couple reasons. They use the humor as a way to insert a ton of references without having to worry about taking the player out of the game. The dimension skipping especially works out in this favor, and you will find yourself entering dimensions that are inspired by many other video game properties (which I don’t want to spoil for people by listing them). But that humor and fun also provides a counter balance to the sometimes brutal difficulty of the game (more on that later). I can see where some of the humor may either go unnoticed by some people or even offend some people of a particular political persuasion. But since this is a game that is very Mexican focused, it would have felt dishonest to totally avoid some of those subjects. And personally it endears me even more to the game.
For those who didn’t play the first game, you should know that this game is much closer to the Super Metroid side of Metroidvania than the Symphony of the Night side. There are several discreet dungeons that are mostly self contained, and you will find a new ability in each dungeon that will not only help you tackle the final boss of that dungeon, but it will also help you access the next dungeon. There are also items and abilities spread out in the overworld while traveling between the dungeons, and that is also where most of the story takes place. There is no loot in the game other than very rare costumes that you can find and heart or energy containers to raise your health and stamina. But what the first game added, and the sequel expands, is that all the traversal mechanics are also used in fighting luchador style. So fighting large groups of enemies, or enemies with tricky mechanics, using combos and fighting game moves are a large part of the game.
While there is no loot in the game, the skill trees do make Juan a lot more powerful by purchasing new abilities and making the ones he finds much stronger. One of the very cool things they do with the skill tree in this game is that each branch of the tree is a master that he finds out in the world. So in effect they are training him up in that particular style of luchador wrestling. All upgrades require a lot of gold to purchase, so I would strongly suggest you focus on anything that builds up your gold faster first. But there are definitely a lot of options for which order you want to tackle the skills in. They unlock left to right, but you will find the 5th master long before you finish any of the previous trees. You will also notice in the screen above that Pollo Powers has a skill tree all it’s own. And that is one of my favorite new additions over the first Guacamelee! game. You could still change into a chicken in the previous game, but that was only for traversal. Not so in this game, now Juan has true poultry power.
Around the world you will find dungeon entrances that are a giant mechanical chicken head. You may be surprised to discover that they are entry ways into a whole advanced poultry civilization, one that is far advanced over the humans above. Then you will learn that there is another story going on besides the one with Salvador, and having to do with two of his henchmen and their attack on the Chicken Illuminati. Yeah, you read that correctly. It goes quite off the rails, but in a delightful way. A more important gameplay consequence of your dealings with the chicken empire is that they also have a set of statues that give you new chicken abilities that allow you to fight quite deadly as a chicken. There are some enemies that can only be fought as a chicken, and then there are several late game enemies and bosses that you will have to switch between both human and chicken form to be able to tackle.
The chicken civilization shows off how much they have updated the graphics in the sequel. But that is not the only place the new designs shine through. The art style still retains that simple design flavor from the first game, but they were able to add a lot of very pretty bells and whistles to it. While dropping the game from Vita was a bit disappointing for those who played the original game there, the visual flair makes up for it in my opinion. But it wasn’t just the pretty design of the chicken levels that stands out, it was also the music. Most of the game has very fantastic mariachi style music, which is even better in the sequel, but the chicken levels also have a very techno sound to them. The all around sound design of the game is very good, you can really feel the punches and especially the special moves hitting their targets, but the music is still the highlight.
I did not play it multiplayer, but you can play this whole game with up to 4 players co-op. You can also switch to the other players at any save point, if you prefer their design (I generally prefer Tostada myself, unless I’m playing for the story). Playing the game co-op would be fun in general, but I do wonder how it would effect the traversal. My one issue with the game is that some of the traversal sections are so brutally tough that unless you are a hardcore gamer you might just bounce off this game. The fighting can be occasionally difficult, but you can always bring in a co-op friend if you are struggling there. But even as someone who plays a lot of difficult games, I have to say that this sequel is much more difficult than the first game of the series. Expect to have to make split second moves one after the other. The most difficult sections are just leading to health/energy upgrades or outfits, but even the required sections can get really tough towards the end. You better know the buttons on your controller extremely well, because you are going to have to make split second shifts using almost every button on the controller (don’t bother playing mouse and keyboard, this is not the game for that).
If you can get past the difficulty of the game, there is a real gem here. And they did not skimp on the content. I finished the game at just under 11 hours and with just over 60% of the map completed. Like other Metroidvania games, you are encouraged to go back to previous areas with new abilities that you have unlocked. Thankfully the map system makes it fairly easy to see which areas you have not completely explored, and also clearly label paths that require a specific ability to unlock. I hope that this game does not remain largely missed in the greater gaming landscape, it is truly a great title. But to be fair, I didn’t even know about the first one until I played the Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition. But I can say this one is one of the better examples of the Metroidvania sub-genre, and is easy to recommend at it’s $19.99 asking price. DrinkBox just doesn’t seem to be interested in making a bad game or a cash grab, for which they should receive all the support in the world. Hop in and save the Mexiverse, who wouldn’t want a taco truck on every corner?
Review Copy Provided By The Developer
DrinkBox StudiosGuacamelee! 2Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship EditionMetroidvaniaPCSteam