In its mixture of light, yet engaging, Metroidvania level design with combats that nod to the beat ’em up genre and platforming segments that demand both skill and precision, Guacamelee 2 follows on the footsteps of its predecessor towards bringing a very unique take on a genre that is often visited by indie developers
There is no denying the impressive originality of Guacamelee. With the Metroidvania genre being one of the most commonly explored gameplay styles among indie developers, the game fearlessly dove into it confident in its ability to give the somewhat overused format a refreshing look. And it did so by making its adventure be as much about punching enemies square in their jaw and overcoming brutal platforming segments as it was about exploring connected environments and looking for new abilities that would allow the protagonist to reach locations that were previously inaccessible.
As such, Guacamelee was the unlikely combination of three rather divergent components: one that had players going through areas whose intricacy and branching nature turned them into very large mazes; one that replaced the light inconsequential combats usually found in Metroidvanias with outright brawls supported by a robust combo system and a large deck of highly physical attacks; and one that took advantage of the starring character’s jumping abilities and other special skills to construct dangerous gauntlets whose traps, pitfalls, and devilish design required a level of timing and coordination usually only demanded by the most murderous platformers available in the market.
Those three pieces clicked finely, and Guacamelee went on to receive the commercial and critical dues it blatantly deserved. As an unsurprising consequence of that success, a sequel, simply titled Guacamelee 2, was released five years later, and those who traveled through the original quest will be happy to know that what they will find in the game is pleasantly familiar. After all, Guacamelee 2: boasts a world made up of different areas that lead into each other and individually present impressive size and satisfying complexity; has thrilling combats that flow beautifully and display incredible visual fireworks; and packs more brilliant platforming challenges of delightfully breathtaking and nerve-wracking quality than one would find in a title that is solely dedicated to the genre.
The proximity between prequel and sequel, though, goes beyond matters such as influences, positive traits, and thematic greatness, because Guacamelee 2 stands so close to its predecessor that gamers who beat the original long before stepping into the sequence may have a hard time figuring out what is new and what is old. And it is in that lack of clear change that the title’s biggest problem lies.
Guacamelee 2 starts by reviewing the confrontation that closed out its predecessor. It puts players in control of protagonist Juan Aguacate, a humble luchador, as he faces off against Carlos Calaca, an evil skeleton, who is in the process of trying to sacrifice El Presidente’s Daughter, a woman named Lupita, for evil purposes. As the battle ends, and the game makes a joke about how easy the combat was when compared to its original instance, Juan defeats Calaca, saves the world, and rescues Lupita. The two go on to marry and have kids, but Juan – despite being very much happy – develops a considerable gut and is often seen by his children looking at the pictures on the wall that show him during his glory days.
Little does he know, however, that events in a parallel universe are about to allow him to revive that era. Because as it turns out, the Mexiverse where Guacamelee takes place is made up of infinite alternative timelines, and disaster has struck in one of them. In that reality, Calaca killed both Juan and Lupita, and as if that outcome was not dark enough, the skeleton was subsequently defeated by another luchador named Salvador. Possessed by the power of the dark mask he wears, the once peaceful man seeks to find three relics that open the way to the resting place of the Sacred Guacamole: a fantastic dish – created by a guacamole-obsessed god – that grants amazing powers to those who taste its deliciousness. As the relics begin to be gathered, the universe starts to collapse, and Juan – as the only surviving version of himself in all timelines – is summoned to stop Salvador.
From the very moment they gain control of the hero, players will quickly notice that Guacamelee 2 is not making a huge effort to get away from its predecessor. And that is because, as far as sound and graphics go, there are no noticeable evolutions to be seen. Similarly to what happens on the gameplay spectrum, such characteristic is ambivalent.
On one hand, it is extremely positive, because Guacamelee 2 is – like its prequel – heavily embedded in Mexican culture: its vibrant colors, distinctive lines, and beautiful scenarios nod to the country’s architecture and art as well as many of its folkloric staples, such as Día de los Muertos; its good music usually drinks from the work of mariachi bands; and other elements that, albeit clichéd, are strongly related to Mexico, end up being an integral part of the game’s fabric, like its cuisine, its love for lucha libre, and even its language, as Spanish words are frequently used by the characters and all of them boast regional names. On the other hand, though, that means Guacamelee 2 does not present anything significantly new in terms of scenarios, music, and theme.
When it comes to its Metroidvania front, Guacamelee 2 – like its prequel – is relatively simple. Although its world is quite large, consisting of eleven locations that are – with the exception of its three villages – big and maze-like, the progression through them is rather straightforward. And that is because there is a very clear linear path that leads from the start of the game to the final battle. As it happens in most titles of the kind, Juan will – as the game goes on – gain a series of new abilities that will let him get to new places; however, at no point in the quest will the character have to backtrack to a previously visited area to access new ground.
In fact, once players are done with a region, it is unlikely they will ever return to it, save for if there is character that Juan needs to talk to in order to advance the plot or if gamers are looking for the breakable chests – which can contain money or expansions to the protagonist’s health and stamina – that are sometimes located behind obstacles that can only be overcome once certain skills are obtained. Consequently, even if that basic nature may be a disappointment to those who are into purer takes on the genre, such simplicity goes a long way towards welcoming a wider breadth of players into the arms of Guacamelee 2.
Filling up that big, intricate, and branching world, are the two other main components of the title: its battles and its platforming. As far as the first item is concerned, Guacamelee 2 – like any other game of its kind – sprinkles its map with scattered foes placed in tricky positions. The main portion of its combats, though, take place in a manner that recalls the beat ’em up genre; that is, while walking through a corridor, walls will suddenly appear, locking Juan into arenas in which he must defeat waves of enemies before he can proceed.
Once more displaying a disappointing lack of new ideas by the game, the moves the character has access to are the exact same ones available in the prequel: Juan can deliver a fast sequence of standard attacks that will stun bad guys, allowing him to grab them and throw in any desired direction via a wrestling move; he can string together combos by launching foes into the air; he can dodge; and, showing an interesting duality, the stamina-consuming special directional moves that – in the overworld – are employed to break obstacles, can be triggered in battles to land massive hits and also break color-coded shields that surround some enemies.
With all moves, as flashy as they may be, being activated by simple button combinations, Guacamelee makes its battles, more than exciting, rather accessible. What is most impressive about them, though, is how smart and creative the game is in using different combinations of enemies and scenarios to put players into new combat situations that test one’s reflexes, reasoning, and strategic abilities in different ways, keeping the hundreds of enemy encounters the quest contains unique and challenging.
Difficulty is, in fact, one area where Guacamelee 2 does not hold back. The game is not one tiny bit afraid of making its platforming segments as well as its battles as tough as possible; in both cases, however, it escapes any sort of frustration by drawing inspiration from the anger-avoiding measures present in Super Meat Boy – especially when it comes to the jumping-based sequences.
Battle arenas are always preceded and followed by checkpoints. Platforming gauntlets, meanwhile, are not only rather quick in regenerating Juan so gamers can take another shot at the fun ordeals they present, but they also tend to be rather generous in relation to where the character is resurrected, because most of the game’s trickiest and most precision-requiring areas are surrounded by green spikes or liquids that, if touched, allow Juan be revived – without any incurred damage – on the last point in which he touched the ground. That way, long segments that have players sweating in nervousness can be navigated and learned little by little with no big punishment. Truth be told, when compared to Guacamelee, the sequel can be slightly more frustrating, for it boasts a considerable number of rooms lined with red-colored hazards that – differently from the green ones – outright kill Juan and send him to the last checkpoint, reseting whatever platforming progress had been achieved. Nevertheless, those instances are much less common than their more generous counterparts.
In platforming, much of the smartness and challenge of Guacamelee 2 is drawn from the range of abilities that Juan slowly acquires as the game advances. Besides the special directional moves that, other than being used in battle, can briefly increase or maintain the hero’s altitude when jumping, the luchador is able to: switch between dimensions, which makes walls, platforms, and other objects vanish or materialize; execute a double jump and a wall jump; run up walls or launch himself horizontally from them; use floating bird icons to propel himself upwards; and transform into a chicken, which lets him squeeze into tight spaces, fly for a short while, and perform other tricks. And with those tools in place, Guacamelee 2 is not shy in requiring players to combine many of them in absurd sequences of button presses and timing-testing flights.
Players will be switching between dimensions mid-jump as a way to change the scenario so they can land safely and chain into a wall jump; transforming into a chicken to fly only to then change back to Juan while in the air so he can use the bird-shaped propelling device; and more. It is absolutely wild, and at first many of the button combinations gamers are required to pull off will seem impossible to some, but with persistence – and with the aid of Guacamelee’s accessibility measures – they become manageable and learning how to perform them is greatly enjoyable.
It is arguable Guacamelee 2 tries to differentiate itself from its predecessor by featuring more humor and by putting a heavier emphasis on chicken segments, as the bird now, other than just serving as a way to squeeze into tight places, also has special abilities of his own and even engages in battles and goes into mini-dungeons that are poultry-exclusive. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the game does not do quite enough to stand out, and that issue is pretty much the effort’s sole negative trait.
The ten hours that it will take most players to get to the end of the quest are thoroughly joyful, and those looking for all the collectibles will find themselves very satisfied by what they will encounter, as the title’s maps are not only pretty objective when showing unexplored places, but also very clear in pointing out where obstacles lie as well as what ability is required to overcome them, and in those hidden places one will usually come across optional platforming challenges that are as brutal as they are fun. Moreover, in order to unlock the adventure’s truly good ending, it is necessary that Juan track down the five pieces of a very special key, and – needless to say – they are all locked up behind tough gauntlets that will test even the most skilled gamers.
In its mixture of light, yet engaging, Metroidvania level design with combats that nod to the beat ’em up genre and platforming segments that demand both skill and precision, Guacamelee 2 follows on the footsteps of its predecessor towards bringing a very unique take on a genre that is often visited by indie developers. And in that context, its references to Mexican culture – which walk hand in hand with the wrestling-themed spirit of its battles, heroes, and world – end up being the finishing touch; a final layer of charm that makes the adventure of Juan as lovable as it is challenging.
Thanks to those qualities, Guacamelee 2 is an excellent addition to the Nintendo Switch library, and even though it is true that it suffers a bit from not doing enough new things to create separation in relation to its predecessor, the game is ideal to those who want more of the same. And whether they tackle the quest alone or alongside another three friends, fans of the original are bound to have a good time.