Despite the success of the first game, I was left surprised by the reveal of Guacamelee 2. Don’t get me wrong, I loved protagonist’s Juan’s initial adventure and I definitely wanted to see it continue, but given that the original game released five years ago it fell off my radar a bit. Well, developer DrinkBox Studios definitely weren’t finished with their Luchador-starring adventure yet and I’m thankful for it – Guacamelee 2 isn’t just a sequel that lives up to the brilliance of the original game, but it also just so happens to be one of my favourite games that I’ve played this year.
Guacamelee 2’s tale kicks off in ‘Symphony of the Night’ style, with a reminder of the conclusion of the last game given in the form of a battle with its last boss (as well as a small nod to the aforementioned Castlevania title itself with its take on a very memorable quote), which pretty much fills in the details of Juan’s adventure and how he now finds himself in a time of peace and relaxation. Fast-forward seven years though and Juan finds his life taking a turn for the worse when a villain named Salvador causes disruption across the world’s many timelines, all thanks to his desire to collect some ancient artifacts. Who’s got to come out of heroic luchador retirement and save the world? Juan, of course.
It’s obvious from the get-go that Guacamelee 2 isn’t a title that takes itself too seriously and it’s something that’s evidenced in its silly but undeniably fun narrative. Everything in the game is a bit tongue-in-cheek whether it’s the writing, the world, or all of its silly little nods to popular culture, but it comes together nicely to make for a feel-good and thoroughly enjoyable experience. You can tell that DrinkBox Studios had a lot of fun putting the game together, and thankfully that fun carries over to the gameplay too.
Much like the first game, Guacamelee 2 plays out like a Metroidvania-style experience with the player given a huge map to explore that becomes more accessible as you progress and unlock new abilities. You won’t start off with any of the abilities that Juan had the first time around either, so it’s a completely fresh start as you explore the all-new environment. One thing that the game does that I’m particularly fond of is its colour coding of blocked-off areas – each ability has a colour assigned to it, so you’ll know which areas of the map you’re able to access when you unlock the corresponding ability. It might seem like a minor feature but believe me, after getting myself lost in so many Metroidvania-style titles over the years it was massively appreciated.
The map itself is brilliantly designed though, with each area not only looking impressive visually (more on that later) but also feeling great to explore. You really do need to put all of Juan’s abilities to use if you want to progress, but getting through them always feels like so much fun. There’s a surprisingly strong emphasis on platforming in the game too, so your reactions and jumping skills will really be put to the test – it’s always rewarding to get through these sections though, so the challenge itself is always more satisfying than frustrating.
Admittedly, a lot of Guacamelee 2 feels similar to the first game, though there are plenty of new power ups included this time around to go with Juan’s older ones that spice the formula up a bit. They’re all introduced at a nice pace too so you’ll always feel like you’re doing something different no matter where you are in the game, whether it’s upper-cutting blocks to create pathways, using the Eagle Hook to launch yourself across the map, or even just Realm Swapping with the land of the dead. The Realm Swapping and Eagle Hook in particular play a big role in the game and make for some genuinely tough little challenges, but they’re so well implemented that it’s hard not to enjoy yourself whilst utilising them. Again, there’s a real demand for finesse when using these skills if you want to make your way to the end of the game.
All of your skills can be upgraded by spending the coins you unlock from vanquishing your foes, so you’re always able to keep improving Juan and have the freedom to prioritise the abilities you use the most. It’s most noticeable during combat situations, which are once again very fun. The enemies are all a blast to take down (particularly with the creativity of the bosses), whilst Juan’s new and improved skillset makes it feel that little bit more refreshing when compared to the first game. The only issue I found with combat was that the game often put you into showdowns in little areas where you had to vanquish all of your foes to progress – it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing since the game’s combat system is satisfying anyway, but I did find that it broke the pace of the game a little.
One feature that DrinkBox Studios have been very proud to share this time around revolves around Juan’s ability to turn into a chicken. Sure, it’s something he did in the first game, but Guacamelee 2 takes it to the next level by giving the chicken form more important powers, manoeuvres, and combat skills that all add a comical twist on the already zany gameplay. Best of all, these moves all pack a punch, so you definitely aren’t weaker when utilising Juan’s feathered form.
You can actually play Guacamelee 2 with up to three other players, though that’s probably a bit too much. I tried it out and it was all incredibly hectic, with the demand for precision a little difficult when you’ve got three additionalLuchadores flipping themselves all around each environment. However, when you’ve got two players going through the game it’s actually a real blast. There’s absolutely no doubting that Guacamelee 2 is one of those games that shows off its best side when played through on your own, but beating down foes and solving some puzzling-platforming sections with a friend was a lot of fun. I’ll be honest, whilst I intended my first playthrough to be a solo one to get a real feel for the game, it ended up being shared with a friend thanks to just how much bloody fun it is. It’s one of the game’s best features and it’s certainly a thoroughly enjoyable way to experience Juan’s tale.
Visually, It’d be incredibly easy to look at Guacamelee 2 and think that it looks exactly the same as its predecessor, but there is actually a lot more going on than before. You’ll notice a lot detail in the game’s backgrounds, characters, and throughout the aesthetic of each area themselves, whilst the quality of the lighting effects has gone up a notch too. Besides that, there are a lot of similarities on show, but at least it means that the game is maintaining both the vivid colours and the creativity of before.
Guacamelee 2 doesn’t revolutionise the formula of the first game, but it didn’t really need to – why fix what isn’t broken, after all? What it does do though is introduce fun new abilities to use, visually pleasing new environments, a tough array of fresh enemies to take down, and a bigger emphasis on challenging platforming sections that all feel mighty rewarding to work through. It makes for an experience that is fresh, fun, and one that captures the vibe of its predecessor perfectly.
It might not have necessarily changed things up all that much, but Guacamelee 2 has definitely improved upon itself and made for yet another brilliant Luchador-starring adventure. It was a blast to play from start to finish and it shows that Drinkbox Studios truly are masters of the Metroidvania genre.
Developer: DrinkBox Studios
Publisher: DrinkBox Studios
Format(s): PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), PC