After mistakenly labelling Dead Cells a Metroidvania in my review, I thought I’d get it right this time.
Guacamelee! 2 is a Metroidvania. You collect new powers and collectables around several maps that you go back, back and forth, forth on to reach an [optional] 100% completion rate, much like a Metroid or Castlevania title. Huzzah, balance is restored and the Old Gods are appeased.
Now, Guacamelee! 2 is quite clearly a sequel. It lays that down in the very title. As is par for the course for most sequels, be it games, movies, TV shows, it helps to have played the first one. It’s not absolutely essential. The game isn’t going to lock you out if you don’t have a clear file from the first. Its prologue is an abridged recap of the ending of the first. But, and in what ever order you do so, I’d highly recommend the first one. It’s bright, it’s over the top, it plays well, it’s got an hilarious and self-aware story, and it’s a nice take on the 2D action-platformer genre.
So does the sequel live up to that, or is there too much pepper in this mix to kill the flavour? Fortunately, no. Like a Mexican Goldilocks, it gets it just right. The humour has been ramped up, the visuals have been spit on and polished, and the referential humour, pop culture referencing and fourth wall breaking is in abundance.
Continuing the adventures of Juan, the mute protagonist of the first game, we find him seven years after vanquishing the evil Calaca and cohorts, settled with his wife and children. Hailed as a national treasure, and with everyone safe and thankful, he’s settled into a relaxed lifestyle (and waistline). Some of his old foes hang about the town, all free of Calaca’s evil temptations and are amicable towards him. How quaint. The idyllic life is shattered though when Uay Chivo, the expository shaman/goat-man turns up from another dimension after Juan’s help.
Turns out, while Juan’s dimension is relatively safe, a sinister luchador by the name of Salvador is on the hunt for the fabled guacamole of the gods in the Darkest Dimension. In every other dimension Juan has been killed by Calaca, and in this one Salvador has succeeded him, at the cost of his waning health. You could even say he’s…the only Juan left. The spicy side dish of legend is said to grant whoever chows down on it all the usual cosmic space powers. Created to be the perfect dish, and sealed in a timeless dimension, Salvador needs three awfully familiar triangular shapes to open said dimension. He sets about this with a colourful cavalcade of compadres, whom of which you’ll encounter on your travels.
Juan isn’t alone, though. Whereas the first game had two player local drop in/out gameplay, the sequel doubles down on the shared combat. Quite literally, as you can now have up to four players bounding around and causing all sorts of Mexican mayhem. As well as our stoic mute, you can be Uay Chivo, previous mask guardian Tostada, even former boss character X’tabay joins the fray, and more. Each character has a few skins they can wear, but these are purely cosmetic, and they all share the same moveset as Juan. It would have been nice if characters had slight variants on moves, but it’s not a deal breaker.
Powers in the game remain largely unchanged from the first outing. As before, assigned to the O button (on PS4) and a directional button, you’ve got an array of uppercuts and punches, belly slams and a headbutt. These abilities are upgradeable with dinero and a certain criteria of usage, to pack some extra punch. It’s a rewarding combat system, which encourages you to rack up your combo for more cash rewards, to further upgrade your abilities. They are no penalties for losing a combo, so you have no need to hold back and not get stuck into the fracas. There are also several trainers you learn new moves and abilities with, such as quicker stamina restoration, new grapples and slams, and the like. It’s pretty standard fair to anyone who’s played a similar game, but that’s not a detraction. Abilities are again found in Choozo statues, much like the Metroid Chozo namesake, and once obtained can be used to unlock previously restricted areas. These usually hold challenge rooms, that test your cojones of steel, with usually either a health or stamina piece as a reward. Three of those each will increase your respective bar permanently, so it’s a very risk/reward payoff.
The first game gave Juan the ability about halfway through, to turn into a chicken. This was mostly for means of progression, in that you can squeeze into narrow passages that wouldn’t previously allow you to fit. This time, they’ve also doubled down on the pollo parts. With additional combat skills, exploration moves and even a whole subplot with the Chicken Illuminati, it adds extra depths to the game, instead of a passing gimmick. Combined with the returning ability to switch between the worlds of the living and dead, it adds an extra dimension (no pun intended) to navigation of the Mexiverse. It can be tricky at times to change between chicken and human forms, and dimensions in some of the later stages of the games platforming, but that’s not a criticism. It actually invoked the nostalgia of my younger days, with its Death Eggs and World 8-8’s (for you Super Mario 3 fans); that frustration of knowing the slip up is down to you, not the game. There are checkpoints, but they’re usually at the start of lengthy sequence, not halfway through. It’s not as hard as Super Meat Boy, for example, but it’s not a complete breeze. Or maybe it is, and me thumbs don’t work like they’s used to.
Now, the first game was divisive for its somewhat reliance on pop culture memes and references, albeit with a Mexican twist. Grumpy Cat, Inquisitive Raptor and all manner of gaming heroes all received a nod/homage in the game in some form, be it billboard poster, NPC dialogue or even characters themselves. It can be seen as funny or endearing, depending on your outlook. Luckily, or thankfully, to some, it’s been somewhat toned down in this game. There’s still plenty of pop culture referencing, and right from the offset we’re treated to lovely homages to Fez, Limbo and River City Ransom, in a tasteful way. Billboards and posters still throw familiar faces at us from recent games and such, but meme references have largely been dropped.
There’s an absolutely brilliant side quest that’s so tongue in cheek, it’s in danger of bursting through it. It’s hilarious in its deadpan, fourth wall breaking delivery that makes up for its usage of the word “dank”. I won’t spoil anymore, but it’s a testament to Drinkbox that they can take this all in stride and poke fun at themselves, the fans, the toxic community and the power of internet opinions and leave the player grinning throughout. There’s also a few more side quests, poking fun at the previous game, JRPGS, popular culture and the like. It’s hard not to elaborate, and it feels lazy to say “find and play them for yourself”, but anything else would detract from the joy of discovery.
Considering how we’re always pushing for groundbreaking graphics and physics engines, the uncomfortable reliance on DLC and season passes for a full games content, it’s great to see games like this and Dead Cells taking it back to an older time. Being able to jump in and out as you see fit, explore untapped areas, and have some good ol’ fashioned couch co-op again, will come as a great delight to those that appreciate the fun within.
Viva la 2D platformer, for it will never die.
Guacamelee! 2 is out now on PS4 (reviewed on Base PS4) and Steam.
Developer: Drinkbox Studios
Publisher: Drinkbox Studios
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review we were provided with review code from the publisher. For our full review policy please go here.