It wasn’t too surprising to see that Drinkbox Studios went back to its 2013 action-platformer Guacamelee! to develop a sequel. After the first installment’s largely positive reception, impressive sales, and eventual availability across most major platforms, a follow-up seemed inevitable. But that anticipation also put the developer in a tricky spot. What could Guacamelee! 2 do to feel like a necessary sequel and not just a retreaded cash-in on what players loved the first time around?
I’ll admit, I enjoyed the first game, but I wasn’t enamored with it. I’m a connoisseur of platformers, and even though Guacamelee! was an easy breezy experience that I had no problem completing, that also became my biggest problem with it. I need a challenge, and the puzzles didn’t scratch my constant itch for creative platforming. With that said, it’s understandable that I approached the sequel apprehensively, but was still hoping to be pleasantly surprised. After completing the game, though, I can confirm that Guacamelee! 2 offers more than just a rehash of the first game.
When you first jump into Guacamelee! 2, you’ll be thrown back into the final events of its predecessor, with Juan Aguacate rescuing El Presidente’s Daughter from the evil Carlos Calaca (the final boss from the last game). From there, players are thrust farther into the future where a pudgy Juan and his love are married with two kids. At first, everything seems idyllic, from the vibrant and bustling town to the evident lack of danger, but that quickly changes when mysterious red blocks appear in the sky. A new challenger, Salvador, has opened a rift in the Mexiverse to obtain three relics that will unlock the ancient recipe for god-like guacamole. With Salvador’s henchmen ransacking the nearby temples and villages for the mystical collectibles, it’s up to Juan to don the magical luchador mask and bring stability back to the crumbling Mexiverse.
From go, Guacamelee! 2 sets the stage for a wild and reflective experience. Getting to defeat Carlos again instantly reminded me of the opening of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and its direct continuation of Richer Belmont’s success in Rondo of Blood. Thankfully, Drinkbox calls out the homage directly, as Carlos says, “What is a luchador? A miserable little pile of secrets!” As an out and proud Castlevania fan, you’d think I was over the moon for this new play on Dracula’s famous line, but it actually made me slightly concerned. I couldn’t help but tremble at the idea that the development team had sacrificed a new story in favor of nostalgic nods. Sure, it was just one joke, and the game had barely started, but there have been several games driven purely by nostalgia in recent years. Needless to say, I’m burned out. Plus, Juan had all of his abilities from the first game in this opening battle. To me, this was a warning sign that we would follow the trope of losing our hero’s special attacks, slowly gaining them back, and then fighting Carlos again.
Well, all of those fears (sort of) ended up being true—but in a good way. Guacamelee! 2 is replete with references to other games, but they don’t become the bread and butter of the experience. The various nods typically pop up when Juan travels between multiverse gates. They’re brief—but clever—glimpses at Guacamelee! through the lens of different game genres. For example, one gate has Juan running through a 16-bit beat ’em up side-scroller, a la Double Dragon. There’s even a black and white area modeled after Playdead’s Limbo, complete with a giant spider waiting to devour the luchador. More moments like these are sprinkled throughout the adventure, but thankfully don’t overshadow the main narrative. Instead, they lend to the story, as it makes sense that splits in the Mexiverse would cause strange locations to pop up on Juan’s journey. There’s also one area that I can’t spoil because it packs more of a punch when you discover it on your own; all I’ll say is that it brings a wonderful splash of meta-commentary about loot boxes and negative feedback from gamers.
When it comes to combat, the team brought back everything that worked last time and more. Juan does reacquire his various dash, headbutt, and uppercut abilities that are used to break enemy shields and traverse areas, but he can also upgrade those skills. Throughout the game, you’ll meet different instructors that open up skill trees in your inventory where you can unlock new attacks and buffs for your moves. It’s not mandatory to master or purchase them all, but for players that want to pack an extra punch, it’s nice to have the option. Overall, Juan handles just as well as he did in the first game, with the same tight controls and simple button layout. It takes a little practice to get right, but you can string together many of his special attacks with aerial hits to keep enemies caught in your combos. These are welcome tweaks of the old system, but thankfully, Drinkbox didn’t stop there.
The definitive difference between Guacamelee! and its sequel has to be the new Pollo powers. Once again, Juan gains the power to transform into a chicken for easier access to tight spaces. It was a fun mechanic in the first game, but this time there’s actually more to do when in Pollo mode. While searching for Salvador’s henchmen, you’ll come across Pollo shrines, which are essentially temple trials that reward a new Choozo statue. (For those unaware, the Choozo are a play on the Chozo statues from the Metroid series that house new abilities for the player to uncover.) The early trials start out simple enough, awarding Juan with the Pollo Shot, a move that catapults his chicken form diagonally through the air. However, after you acquire this new ability, the game’s platforming gets much more interesting. Since Juan has several ways to move throughout the stages as a man and chicken, Drinkbox has offered more variation on how to reach a new area. Several spots require precise timing with the Pollo Shot, Eagle Glide, and every other jumping skill at once, bringing more of a challenge to the stages than was present in the first entry.
Once the player begins to master the different movement mechanics, Guacamelee! 2 throws in a new skill to learn, and so on and so on. Later in the game, the trials offer up the Pollo Slide, which is another chicken-based attack that can be used to dash over dangerous pits. Similar to the Pollo Shot, this move will become just as crucial as Juan’s human abilities when it comes to moving from stage to stage. I appreciate any time a platformer forces me to stop and examine the best route to overcome a particular sequence of jumps, and Guacamelee! 2 does the fantastic job of introducing increasingly more complex challenges. Some seem impossible at first, notably the secret Pollo shrines, but after you go through a few bouts of trial and error, they’re doable. It’s also gratifying to be stuck at a trial, complete it, and find a new, more powerful skill. It not only makes the platforming a blast, but it also encourages exploration when entering a new temple or village.
One of the main ways to destroy goodwill with a platforming challenge is to have the game tell you how to do it, like Roll in the Mega Man series. Drinkbox mostly avoided that pesky problem, but not in every area. For a game that gives you the tools and seems to have the faith that you’ll know how to string them together for success, it sure does like to overdo it with button prompts. Often after you receive a new move, text boxes will appear on the screen that tell you how to properly use the move. While they don’t obscure the screen or make you stop and acknowledge them, they are distracting enough that I couldn’t understand why they were there. Sure, it’s useful to a have a reminder of how to trigger the skill in the room where you receive it, but to have a prompt appear several rooms later just seems unnecessary.
It’s difficult to give a comprehensive breakdown of Salvador and his cohorts, as I would have to spoil some of the story, but all in all, they offer a tough but fair challenge. Similar to the platforming mechanics, no physical attack goes unused throughout the game. Each boss requires that you know how to trigger Juan’s various skills at a moments notice. Only one seems strangely unbalanced, but similar to the secret Pollo trials, they just take a little practice to beat.
Guacamelee! 2 is a great time, especially if you already have a love for platformers. Even if you missed out on the first game, there’s no learning curve when starting with the sequel, and I would actually recommend starting here. The first Guacamelee! isn’t bad by any means, but to me, it was safe and casual. The sequel incorporates everything that made the first game a standout while giving players looking for a legitimate challenge something to enjoy. And, at the end of the day, there’s nothing more cathartic than using a tiny chicken to beat a skeleton’s bones into dust.
|Publisher: Drinkbox Studios • Developer: Drinkbox Studios • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 08.21.2018|
Drinkbox Studios’ Guacamelee! 2 brings back the colorful lands of the living and the dead, but this time around, there’s more of a focus on challenging platforming. It’s all about Juan’s new Pollo powers, which provide new ways to obliterate enemies or traverse around them. It doesn’t revolutionize the series or knock other recent platformers out of the water, but Gucamelee!’s sequel is a tight, well-constructed adventure that knows how to crack a joke.
|The Good||It offers everything fans loved from the first game, but with more advanced and challenging platforming.|
|The Bad||Unnecessary and distracting button prompts.|
|The Ugly||The secret Pollo shrines won’t make you love chicken.|
|Guacamelee! 2 is available on PlayStation 4 and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PlayStation 4. Review code was provided by Drinkbox Studios for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.|