Few games have managed to pull off the legacy that both Metroid and Castlevania have going for them. Hell, how many games out there can claim to have not only kickstarted a genre but to actually have it named after them? Well, okay so Rogue did, but still, it is unusual for two pretty unrelated games to have created a genre that is so popular that it has been the basis for countless experiences since the original titles’ releases, barely dipping down in popularity in the over 30 years that have passed since the games came out. These days you can find so-called “Metroidvania” games in pretty much every flavour, fantasy, high-adventure, Roman mythology, furry and…Mexican. People of the internet, it’s time to dive face-first into the spicy, spicy world of Guacamelee 2.
The original Guacamelee was the breakout hit for Drinkbox Studios back in 2013, following the adventures of Juan the luchadore. It featured a striking art style, humorous writing and some pretty decent button mashing gameplay. In fact, the only complaint that most people could come up with was that it felt like the game had more releases than Skyrim by the time the dev team were finished with it. Now it’s that time again to step into the bright coloured costume of a luchador and see if Drinkbox can make lightning strike twice.
The story of Guacamelee 2 once again follows the the adventures of Juan, the first game’s protagonist. It has been 7 years since the end of the last game, and Juan has grown fat, lazy and complacent, wisping away his days playing hide and seek with his two kids, buying avocados for his wife and reminiscing about the day when he could still see his feet and…other things. Before you can get too comfortable with your tubby hero, however, an old friend makes a reappearance and you shoot off through a portal to, and yes this is what the game calls it, the Mexiverse.
There is definitely a different feeling to Guacamelee 2 when compared to its predecessor. Firstly, the game feels bigger, though it’s hard to tell if it actually is or not. There is a lot of dimension jumping and timeline changing which probably helps the feeling, but in general the game just feels like it had more time and effort put into it. That is not to say that it strays too far from the feeling of the original game. Despite some new powers and moves, the game still manages to feel like the first game, and honestly even if you’ve not played the first game, you’ll probably get a pretty similar experience overall.
The pop culture references are a bit different this time around as well. While there is still a healthy sprinkling of sly nods to various other movies, games and TV shows, there are many more that are very ‘on the nose’. For instance, you travel through a variety of instances like ‘Mexican Street Fighter’ in which you beat up an old battered car, and there is a world right at the beginning which is literally a 10-second-long segment of the game Limbo with very little changed. In these moments, the cleverest that the references get is changing one of the words using a thesaurus, such as Limbo being changed to Purgatory. There’s nothing wrong with this sort of thing if you’re into it. It does make some of the ‘joke’ scenes feel a bit less well thought out, however.
Luckily, apart from these few segments where there are just straight up humour, in Guacamelee 2 it is very much intact. When the game is relying on jokes featuring its own characters and areas, it can genuinely make you laugh, and that is very important for a game that is supposed to be the successor to a game that very much wore its comedic charms on its sleeve.
Guacamelee 2 retains much of the same controls as the first game. You have your main attack, your super attacks, throws and dodges. Most of your available combos in the game come from pressing the attack button a number of times in different directions then combining them with your super attacks to juggle your opponents. While it is easy to dispatch most enemies with your basic combos, some of the more complex ones are pretty hard to master, and while it is at least somewhat rewarding to clear a room by deftly uppercutting then juggling a group of enemies, it isn’t really any more effective than just performing super attacks to sweep through your enemies while they’re on the ground.
As well as just smashing the bones out of your enemies (they’re all skeletons, by the way, so it’s not as gruesome as it sounds), there are also a number of upgrades you can unlock to make yourself more formidable. Once you unlock the various super moves, you can also unlock more powerful versions that do a lot of damage, and you can also purchase things such as special throws to perform. These upgrades are included alongside the health/stamina power-ups from the first game, still using the classic ‘collect 3 to gain a new slot’ style that has been present in many games over the years.
One massive change that veterans will notice in Guacamelee 2 is the not insignificant increase in the game’s difficulty. Most of this difficulty comes from the optional segments you must complete to gain optional powers or hidden upgrades, but the standard combat has become more challenging as well. Luckily, the game didn’t fall into the trap of the archaic lives system, so the only barrier to your success is your own skill level combined with how many attempts you can make before throwing your controller out of the window.
The combat difficulty is more of a bugbear. Most of the time, it’s only more difficult because the designers have filled a lot more of the battle segments with combinations of enemies that are immensely frustrating to try and take out together. Basically, this is the equivalent of those Super Mario Maker levels that are 99% enemies and 1% the correct path to avoid dying. While the platforming segments also hold a lot of challenge and can still be frustrating, they usually rely on your reflexes and knowing how to control the character than simply tanking damage or getting lucky with your dodges.
Graphically, there is not much to separate Guacamelee 2 from its predecessor. There are no new effects or overlays that aren’t at least based on graphics used in the previous game. Then again this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The graphics both in and out of the cutscenes look crisp and vivid, and it’s nice to see an indie game that doesn’t fall back on the nostalgia cliché of using pixel graphics. As well as the colour, the style is pretty unique. Everything is done in a very blocky way, all hard edges and sharp corners. Again, this provides a very stark contrast to other examples of the genre, and it really helps the series to develop its own unique style.
Developer: Drinkbox Studios
Publisher: Drinkbox Studios
Platforms: PS4, PC
Release Date: 21st August 2018
For more information on Guacamelee 2, visit the official website HERE
Read our review of Brawlout featuring Juan himself HERE