Title: Guacamelee! 2
Available On: Steam, PlayStation 4
Developer: DrinkBox Studios
Publisher: DrinkBox Studios
Official Site: http://guacamelee2.com/
Release Date: August 21, 2018
As much of a wrestling fan as I am, Guacamelee 2’s concept appeals greatly to me. Luchadors in masks doing high-flying, fancy fighting moves to a cheering audience and lively mariachi music is something that developer Drinkbox Studios has captured perfectly. The Toronto-based development team did a fantastic job at recreating the reverence that Luchadors deserve, but does their game live up to the hype?
Guacamelee 2 is a 2D Metroidvania style side-scrolling adventure game, with a focus on combat that most games of this genre don’t have. Your quest begins in a direct reference to Castlevania Symphony of the Night, where you fight the final boss of the first game, and now that the world is safe, the main character, Juan, retires at home with a new focus on his family. If you’re familiar with other Metroidvania series, each new game in the series starts you with zero special powers, and Guacamelee 2 is no different, but actually justifies your loss of power by making Juan old and fat after raising two kids. A disaster strikes, and you’re introduced to the Mexican Multiverse- the Mexiverse- and as it turns out, the Big Bad from another dimension where Juan was defeated is trying to tear open a rift in the Mexiverse, and it’s up to you to save the day. You do this by hopping between timelines to gather powers and then finally take on the big bad himself in an epic climactic battle.
The game features 4-player drop-in drop-out co-op that takes inspiration from the New Super Mario Bros series, where if one player isn’t skilled enough to make it through a section, they get put into a bubble and warped to the other player. Multiplayer typically doesn’t work very well in a game like this, with precision platforming and timing-based puzzles, but Drinkbox made a handful of changes- like making only one player able to use certain power-ups that help alleviate some of the struggles you’d typically find. The only downside is that the co-op is local only- no online play to be found here. While the PlayStation 4 version of the game can alleviate this with the Share Play feature, there’s no easy solution to play this game online on other platforms.
True to its name, Guacamelee 2 features a robust melee combat system, with dozens of different moves to help dispatch your enemies. Five different upgrade trees and lots of collectible power-ups help expand your arsenal. The typical upgrades you’d find in most Metroidvania-style games are replaced with fighting moves in this game, and those fighting moves will also help you to explore different areas by opening up new pathways. Explore those pathways to find secrets, like extra costumes, health upgrades, and stamina upgrades; and unlock even more abilities and expand your powers.
Guacamelee 2 adds a new feature over its predecessor, the ability to turn into a chicken to fit into tight spaces. The chicken transformation grants access to a whole new set of abilities, like a diagonal dash, a glide, and a slide kick; and allows you to access a bevy of chicken-exclusive puzzle areas, which includes a full secret bonus area that’s larger than the final dungeon of the game, and leads to a secret ending. The addition of the chicken might be the best decision that DrinkBox Studios made regarding this game, in fact. The way that the chicken plays is drastically different from playing as the Luchador, and despite the fact that you can swap freely between the two forms most of the time, there are certain areas that do not allow you to change, and those parts of the game seem to have the most creativity put into the puzzle solving and platforming. In fact, if DrinkBox decided to make an entire game that was just about the chicken, I’d definitely play it.
Every time you get an upgrade that grants a new move, that new move can then be used to gain access to new areas by breaking through certain colored blocks. For instance, the first move, the Rooster Uppercut, is an upwards punch that gives you a red aura when using it, and using it allows you to break through red bricks that block you from proceeding upwards. These upgrades also allow you to perform these same moves in combat. Combat in Guacamelee 2 is fast and flows well, for the most part. The game allows you to string together combos, throws, and special moves, and it almost feels like a full-fat fighting game. Later in the game, enemies start getting color-coded shields that require you to break them using the same color-coded move- a red shield can only be broken with a red Uppercut, and a green shield can only be broken with a green slam, for instance- and the enemy can be staggered but not defeated until the shield is broken.
Guacamelee 2 puts all of these elements together with some phenomenal latino-themed techno-inspired music by composers Peter Chapman, Rom Di Prisco, and Michelle Frey to make a well-polished and engaging adventure, though this adventure isn’t without its shortcomings. While the colored blocks you need to break make exploration simple- either you have the upgrade to break the block or you need to progress further in the game to unlock it- this only serves to make the game extremely linear. Some Metroidvania-styled games allow you to creatively use combinations of abilities to access areas early, Guacamelee 2 has surprisingly very little of that. Relegating the access of secret areas to breaking colored blocks also removes the “What if” scenario that other similarly-styled games have; For example, a suspicious out of place block in a Metroid game might lead to a hidden tunnel that rewards you with a small upgrade, but in my 100% playthrough of the game, there wasn’t a single instance of this happening- all of the secrets in the game were clearly telegraphed through the use of the colored blocks or Golden Chicken-shaped tunnels.
The map design in Guacamelee 2 also feels very linear, with paths that only lead in a single direction and rarely overlap, which robs the game of the “open” feeling of its contemporaries. Each area has a “hub”, with multiple “spokes” that branch from the center then eventually loop back around. While this sort of level design does work for this type of game, it does cheapen the experience a bit and feels a bit tiring after a while. Having a more open style of exploration would have made the game feel a bit more exciting, especially in the last few dungeons. Speaking of the last few dungeons, at a certain point the combat stops flowing as well as it did in the early part of the game. I mentioned that enemies can get color-coded shields that have to be broken by certain attacks, but this mechanic is used to an almost exhausting extent. Enemies can have 9 different colors of shields, including one color that can only be broken by hitting the enemy multiple times in quick succession. Enemies can also be enhanced by a sorcerer-type creature, can give off an aura that slows the players’ movement, and can also be in another dimension, where they can hurt you but you can’t harm them until you swap dimensions. The combat starts to become a real slog in the last few hours, where areas have multiple mandatory enemy encounters in a row, and each one of these enemy encounters uses all of the different shields and mechanics. While it’s understandable that combat would get more difficult throughout the game, the increase in mechanical density destroys the game’s usually-excellent pacing.
The game’s upgrade system also feels like it wasn’t fully realized. Out of 5 upgrade trees, only two of them have a direct impact on gameplay beyond increased damage numbers. One tree is for giving you more throws in combat, and one is for giving you more rewards for victories in combat, but the rest of the trees only increase the amount of damage of each one of your special moves. After you’ve purchased all of the upgrades, there isn’t anything else to spend your currency on. It would have been nice to have a shop to purchase temporary buffs, or extra costumes, especially when one of the upgrades actually increases the amount of gold you make from winning combat encounters.
Verdict: Guacamelee 2 lands a few solid punches to create an engaging and creative world, but the mechanical density of the combat design and some uninteresting map designs weigh it down and prevent it from being the champion that it deserves to be.
- Solid and satisfying combat
- Engaging story
- Surprisingly fun chicken transformation
- Clunky and boring map design
- Overuse of some combat mechanics
- No online multiplayer
Question Block Gaming is a Youtube channel hosted by Maple, that covers all sorts of video games and culture. He’s been a gamer since 1985 and shows no signs of stopping yet.