It’s a ballsy developer that starts a game with a boss fight, but that’s precisely what developer Drinkbox games has done in Guacamelee! 2. The opening scrap is used as a clever device for recapping the climax of the original game, as well as serving as a catch-up for those of us who either didn’t play or finish 2013’s Guacamelee (or the comprehensive Switch remix, Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition). It also sets the tone for a colourful Metroidvania platformer that’s deeply beholden to, yet also a steady progression from, its predecessor.
Seven years on from the events of the original, Guacamelee! 2 finds our hero Juan in a state of retired bliss, living with his family in peaceful Pueblucho. On an errand to purchase more avocados (which he seems to have been overindulging in), Juan discovers the need to re-don his mystical luchador mask and face a fresh inter-dimensional threat.
It’s that dimensional element that proves to be Guacamelee! 2’s key twist on the formula. You’ll soon be exposed to the concept of the Mexiverse, a daft spin on the multiverse theory of parallel realities. Here each and every one of those universes just happens to conform to Guacamelee’s cartoony Mexican folklore aesthetic, which means that even the key ‘Dark’ timeline is full of colour and humour.
Drinkbox mines this unapologetically silly premise for ample gameplay ideas, which occasionally call to mind the dual light/dark world mechanics of A Link to the Past and Metroid Prime 2, but with a major emphasis on laser-sharp platforming skills. It’s also the driver for a constant barrage of puns and intertextual references. Together with snappy dialogue that’s always played for laughs, Guacamelee! 2 proves to be a relentlessly joyous and inventive experience, despite its ‘more of the same’ nature.
For those who skipped the original, Guacamelee! 2 feels rather like a mash-up of Super Metroid and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, with the deceptively lithe and technical combat of the latter folded into the branching exploration and tool-gathering structure of the former. It’s predominantly a single-player adventure, though up to three friends can jump in at any time to help with the game’s plentiful scraps. It’s arguably a little too cluttered and chaotic to play the entire game in this way, but the option is welcome.
Guacamelee! 2’s beat-’em-up combat really is a key distinguishing factor. Alongside the game’s gorgeous aesthetic – which has really ramped up in detail this time around – it’s what sets it apart from other Metroidvania games. There are a dizzying number of punches, throws and special moves to steadily learn and perfect, and the game is brilliant at giving you incentives to apply them.
This relentlessly expansive combat system rewards chaining multiple attack types together, and you’ll often be locked into compact arena brawls with combinations of enemies that are particularly vulnerable to certain colour-coded openers. You’ll also encounter a hot-headed combat coach, who pops up periodically to give you a practical lesson in specific disciplines.
It’s a brawler as much as a platformer, then, though the latter component certainly isn’t neglected. Indeed, some of the jumping challenges you’ll encounter in Guacamelee! 2 require every bit as much dexterity and fine-tuned muscle memory as pulling off a flawless extended combo. Smartly, many of the most demanding of these challenges have been positioned as optional challenges, either branching off from the main hub world or within the game’s handful of dense dungeons.
Some of these challenges cater to Juan’s alternate chicken form, the moves of which can occasionally outshine our hero’s for pure mechanical fun. We’re thinking predominantly about the diagonal dash move, which can be ricocheted of certain surfaces to deliciously tactile effect.
The developer’s thoughtful structuring can’t fully shield you from various instances of frustration, however. Some of the platforming challenges will have you failing repeatedly, to the point where we suspect many casual players drawn in by the colourful visuals and cheeky humour will bounce off the game quite hard. Thankfully, Drinkbox has been very generous with the checkpointing and the speed of the restart process, to the point where a little perseverance will typically see you through.
Indeed, perseverance is key if you’re to see the game through. Guacamelee! 2’s eye-blitzing aesthetic, phenomenal pace, relentless quipping and sheer bombardment of fresh moves and mechanics can make it quite exhausting to play for extended periods. It’s like a heavily-seasoned, highly-spiced dish that tastes phenomenal for the first dozen or so bites, but leaves you a little queasy by the end. The very best Metroidvanias, like Hollow Knight and Super Metroid, revel in their long-form nature, expertly interspersing moments of intensity with periods of quiet reflection and exploration. Guacamelee! 2 can feel tiresomely one-note by comparison.
Played in bite-sized chunks, however, Guacamelee is like a burst of fiery flavour that rarely fails to brighten up your day. Its combination of kinetic combat and platforming gymnastics feel fresh and inventive, even second time around.
A dazzling, thrilling action-platformer with a potent cocktail of combat and platforming components, all set in one of the most appealing game worlds around. It’s not a massive progression from the original, and its sheer relentlessness can prove tiresome, but Guacamelee! 2 is a real celebration of a sequel.