Thanks to Drinkbox Studios for the review code
Title: Guacamelee 2
Release Date: 08/25/2018
In this sequel to the absolutely phenomenal Guacamelee, you take control of Juan, seven years after the best possible outcome of his previous adventure. When a timeline distortion causes chaos in his present timeline, Juan must travel to another timeline in order to stop the rise of a corrupted Luchador named Salvador, for he was the one who took Juan’s place as savior only to fall into darkness.
Like with the first game, Guacamelee 2 goes all out on funny humor and will often poke fun at itself or the prior game due to how nonsensical the game’s story is in comparison, due to dealing with alternate universes and whatnot. During the first few hours you may even feel completely confused as to what the heck the point of everything is compared to the basic plot of the original, but somehow the story all makes just enough sense and stands out as a great followup when it comes to an end. The developers clearly knew this story was crazy, and they had fun making it as absurd as possible.
Way back in 2014, when my review website was just starting out, I reviewed the Wii U version of Guacamelee STCE, and thought very highly of it, thanks to using an excellent look that made it stand out from most other indie games at the time. Four years later, with the flood of pixel art titles along with Severed improving the standards set in Guacamelee 1, I’m very pleased to say that Drinkbox has outdone themselves when it comes to the visuals. While the team could have easily gone with the exact same shading style as STCE and kept everything the same, they still managed to pull out all the stops in improving the quality established in the first title, with even better shading, more detailed backgrounds and lighting, and a more compact UI for the shop.
While the overall look is the same as the original game at first glance, you’ll soon realize that there’s been more effort put into the little details than there was before, which makes going back to the first entry a bit stranger now that I’ve completed this sequel with much better lighting.
Guacamelee 2 starts out with a redux of the final boss from the first Guacamelee game, with nearly every single upgrade and special move you could get in the original at your disposal. While this tribute to Symphony of the Night’s intro may seem irrelevant to the rest of the game outside of showing newcomers previous events, it actually does a great job at showing off most of the things you can re-obtain later in the game, since all the special moves Juan could do in his human form are also things he can re-learn in the sequel.
In fact, most of the things that you learned in the first game are able to be re-learned in the sequel, making the game seem like it has a bit too much deja vu at first, especially since two of the smaller areas from the first game return. Thankfully, every map is completely new, and even the returning maps have some new objectives to clear, with one of them sporting a brand new layout thanks to what Salvador did to the place, so there’s no need to worry about retreading old ground here. In no time at all you’ll re-learn most of your physical abilities (plus the dimension shift) from the first adventure and even make use of a new mechanic known as the Eagle Boost, where you can pull yourself from an airborne ring in order to reach higher ground or gain some extra speed. It doesn’t really do all that much and is a very situational upgrade in the end, but to see them put in something new for human Juan is appreciated nevertheless.
However, while a lot of mechanics and features work exactly as they did in the original Guacamelee/STCE, there are some features that have been entirely reworked or taken out altogether. The shop system is by far the mechanic with the biggest overhaul, since it also changes the entire point of the gold coins to begin with. Instead of going to the autosave points and using the triangle button to purchase upgrades and costumes from them, you can only use the autosave points to change the costumes you’ve already gotten. You start out with a few, but where do you get the others now? Well, instead of spending silver like you would before, you find them like you would with a typical health or stamina upgrade, and this time they’re all cosmetic, with no noticeable changes felt when you put one on. This honestly makes some costumes that were beneficial to use in the original incredibly pointless, but it also allows for no negatives when choosing what looks best, so this leads to a tradeoff of sorts.
In terms of where the upgrades that were purchasable before went, they’re now assigned to five separate trainers that Juan will encounter throughout his journey, and can be purchased at any point in the menu after completing certain objectives. Usually these objectives are self-explanatory, from obtaining an ability before you’re allowed to purchase upgrades for them, to using said abilities or upgrades multiple times in order to unlock the next part of the skill tree to purchase. This is a far better system than having to stop at autosave points, as while both games have a plentiful amount of checkpoints, being able to purchase upgrades at will makes the whole process so much easier and more fun!
It also helps that the upgrades this time around are actually worth getting, instead of just powering up your throws or adding extra health and stamina. Now you can purchase super helpful skills ranging from extra damage for your combat abilities, a less strict combo counter that will only reset after taking three hits instead of one, to gaining infinite stamina for as long as your combo counter is above a certain point. The best upgrades are the ones that will only unlock after purchasing every other upgrade that a trainer offers, since they can give you a huge boost and make your life a lot easier due to offering crazy power boosts or even allowing you to heal by holding down on the left stick for long enough. (This also explains why Intenso from STCE is totally absent, since this is a much better and stronger replacement)
Make no mistake though, despite the superior upgrades and your familiar moves coming back to lend you a hand, this game is significantly more difficult than the original Guacamelee, even on Normal difficulty. (and that’s comparing it to the hard mode of STCE) While Guacamelee 2 still offers incredibly lenient punishments for death or missing a jump, (typically respawning you right at the start of the screen or the platform you fell from, like before) it makes up for this by offering more difficult challenge rooms than the first game ever had, even in terms of ones you must clear in order to beat the story. You’ll certainly have to memorize some segments a lot and use good reflexes in order to clear some of the rooms, especially if you aim to get the true ending this time around.
Yes, like just like in Guacamelee 1, you must gain five pieces of an item (a key in this case) in order to unlock an extra ability that will grant you the true ending, and let me say that as someone who had next to no issue getting any of the pieces from the first game, (even the infamous tree segment was a walk in the park for me) the ones in Guacamelee 2 are significantly more difficult and will test your absolute mastery of every single one of the game’s mechanics. Not only do you have to deal with another segment akin to the Tule Tree from the first game, (which ironically, is the easiest challenge this time around, save for a piece you get as part of the main story) but you must also run through a long room of conveyor belts and dodge a dimension shift that will instantly kill you if you fail to outrun it, battle through a fierce gauntlet of enemies that are even stronger than the ones found in the gauntlet from the first game, and a maze filled with instant death bomb enemies that will kill you if you fail to kill them in a time limit.
For these challenges, one death and you’ll be sent back to the start of it, or at least near the toughest portion, so this is the one part of the game where death is something you do not want to deal with, yet it also becomes the most rewarding part of the game by far, which makes it tough to hate on these challenge rooms too much.
Last but not least, the biggest addition to Guacamelee 2 that makes it stand out from the original game, the Chicken transformation. In the first game, this was an absolutely stupid ability that was only useful for going through small gaps every now and then, and occasionally finding a treasure chest here or there. Here it’s been totally expanded upon and given significantly more importance in both the plot and the gameplay. Now the chicken can fight just like human Juan, but he does less damage at he exchange of faster attacks. He may not be able to do the usual moves that human Juan can, but he can learn some handy ones of his own, from a diagonal dash than can strike airborne enemies, to a ground attack that can trip them, along with a variety of throws available in the upgrade shop.
While I still preferred playing as human Juan until near the end of the game, the chicken has a lot of benefits and there are even mini dungeons where you’re forced to play as that form the entire time, usually ending in obtaining the next ability. Considering how they fixed the worst part of the original game in the best way possible, I think that deserves major props on its own, so if you or a friend really want to go nuts with this ability, then feel free, the game won’t really care if you try to fight the bosses this way or not (unless they have a shield that only human Juan can break, and vice versa if you want to be primarily human)
In conclusion, Guacamelee 2 is a fantastic sequel to one of the best metroidvania titles out there, improving the few faults of the original while playing it mostly safe and just sticking with what worked before. Despite the fact it doesn’t set a new standard for the genre like its predecessor did, this was an immensely fun experience that I loved from start to finish, just like the original. My only regret is that I wish that Drinkbox gave more new abilities to Juan’s Human form instead of just adding the Eagle Boost. With all the cool new stuff they did with the Chicken form, I was hoping to see if they would do something equally awesome with the human form, but in the end the game plays it pretty save with that one. Still, if you haven’t checked out the first game and are a fan of metroidvania games in general, or if you enjoyed the first as much as I did, then this is definitely a metroidvania worth checking out ASAP.
I give Guacamelee 2 a 9 out of 10.