Disclaimer – I didn’t play the first Guacamelee. I made it about 10 minutes, decided it wasn’t for me and never looked back. So I wasn’t hugely excited for Guacamelee 2. I thought that I’d put the same 10 minutes into it that I did the first and see what happens.
What happened is it grabbed me big time. And the next 8 hours were some of the finest gaming I’ve experienced this year. After finishing it, I went back and played Guacamelee 1. It’s good, but the sequel improves on it in every way – despite some very similar moves and progression, small improvements mean Guacamelee 2 is more of a polished improvement than drastic change from the format.
Guacamelee 2 begins with Juan (from Guacamelee 1) dreaming about his past glory where he defeated Calais and saved the land of the living. Today, he’s overweight. Stuff starts happening and it turns out there are many different timelines running across the Mexiverse, and from the timeline in which you are playing was the only one where you defeated the evil Calaca.
You are the ‘Juan’ – at this point, I’m hooked. So it’s a bit tongue-in-cheek but it’s funny, and it’s funny throughout (and the jokes do get better). The first game had a reputation for being too meme heavy, Guacamelee 2 is definitely not. Instead, it takes a lot of notes from various famous films and video games. It’s also a lot funnier than the first.
You must travel to the ‘Darkest Timeline’ where another big bad called Salvador has defeated Calaca and now threatens to destroy the world by gaining massive power from sacred guacamole. Your journey takes you across various timelines, supported by various timeline versions of your friend Uay Chivo. An early joke sees a klepto version having many precious statues that you must be careful not to damage. Guess what happens.
It’s hard to call out a lot of my favourite moments without ruining them – so instead you’ll have to trust me that it’s brilliant, it’s funny, witty, and zigzags all over the place, aware of what it’s doing and changing enough to keep it in line and not jar you too badly. But how does it play?
It plays brilliantly. Control is tight and precise. Guacamelee 2 is really three parts. The first is exploration – a big map across various towns rewards exploration. The map lets you know where you need to go, I never once got lost and it felt linear, but not forcibly so. Bits I could not enter just yet always came across my path later in the game without having to backtrack too much, and the map does a great job of marking and noting these. In that sense, it lives up to it’s Metroidvania inspiration with how you learn more abilities through the game.
The second is combat. The combat system is simple, square to punch, circle and direction for a special move, and left trigger to dodge. It works so well. Combos are easy to do but not enough that you can just button mash your way. Later enemies are colour coded so that you have to plan your attacks and strategies on who to take first. It didn’t ‘click’ at first, but as you play the more comfortable you get and it becomes a thing of beauty. Simple yet deep.
The final element is platforming. You’d be forgiven at points for thinking Guacamelee 2 is nothing more than a hardcore platform. There are some very, very challenging platform segments. Some optional, some required to progress, and it does get close to frustrating. There are some secret areas I still have not yet managed to explore as I keep getting caught on a spike or a vine, and dying.
Death isn’t a big deal. You respawn fast, usually only to the start of the screen you were on. Checkpoints are also frequent. My favourite thing though about my journey with Guacmalee 2 is the way the game builds.
At first, you can jump and punch. Surely the first ability will be double jump? No. That comes much, much later. You’ll learn moves to attack enemies which will also be required to navigate levels. You’ll be able to interact with the environment and even switch dimension. You’ll turn into a chicken… what? Well, that has a whole other moveset. The enemies evolve as you do, with different types and tactics required all the way up to the last fight.
I was about to say something else about how good it is, but got distracted by the music in my head replaying from the game. It’s so catchy. So good. Everything is bright, colourful. Dialogue is succinct, it doesn’t detract from the action and mostly optional. Frequent ‘challenge stages’ appear where you need to kill everyone to progress. They’re all different, and are presented by a big ‘LUCHA’ label on the screen. Small moments like this add some extra polish and flare over the original.
I could talk about Guacamelee 2 forever. It’s one of the best games I’ve played this year. It’s a rewarding fighter with over the top combo exclamations as you chain more and more attacks. It’s a challenging and fair platformer, with some bonus items requiring increasing difficult, complex and precise jumping and button pressing. It’s overall a brilliant experience, and I would recommend it to everyone.
I enjoyed Guacamelee 2 so much I went back and played the original. Now I’m itching for some more platform combat action. Guacamelee 3 maybe?
Reviewed on PS4