Guacamelee! 2 (PlayStation 4) Review

By Renan Fontes 21.08.2018 2

Review for Guacamelee! 2 on PlayStation 4

For as critically acclaimed as the original Guacamelee! was, time has not been particularly kind to it in large part due to a few key design decisions that dated the title at release. While the gameplay holds up well thanks to a skill-based approach to combat and platforming, the script has suffered immensely. Littered with memes and references, the general writing works against the game's luchador aesthetic, creating a clash of identity that Guacamelee! never manages to shake off. That said, though, the foundation has remained strong enough that a sequel could easily come in and wipe the slate clean of any major issues. The question is whether or not Guacamelee! 2 is said sequel.

In a move heavily reminiscent of how Symphony of the Night recaps Rondo of Blood, Guacamelee! 2 opens with Juan's climactic showdown against Carlos Calaca from the original Guacamelee!. It's an action-packed opening, which allows players to familiarise themselves with the battle system, while also establishing the overall tone of the journey. As Juan defeats Calaca and a tender cut-scene plays out of embracing Lupita, the game abruptly flash forwards to a now obese Juan still wearing his championship belt, incapable of pulling off any of the techniques he was shown using just minutes ago.

This is not a plot that takes itself particularly serious and establishing that early on was a smart move script-wise. This isn't to say the narrative is devoid of substance or emotional depth, as there are a few key moments that genuinely tug at the heart strings, but rather that comedy will always follow drama. Even the tenderest moments will typically cap off with a joke just to remind audiences what exactly they are playing.

The first entry made a bad habit of relying on referential humour and memes, which resulted in the script ageing fairly poorly and, while there are still memes and references present in this second installment, they are scaled back considerably, allowing the story to find an identity of its own, both comedically and dramatically. Guacamelee! 2 is self aware, self deprecating, and self referential. At the same time, it's tender, deliberate, and far smarter than it lets on.

The premise itself opens full of potential. In the Darkest Timeline of the Mexiverse, Juan failed to defeat Calaca and the villain was instead bested by another luchador, Salvador. Salvador has now forsaken his timeline, however, and seeks three mystical relics in order to open El Otromundo, creating an apocalypse that would consume all the timelines found within the Mexiverse. Being the only living Juan in any of the timelines, it doesn't take long for the playable Juan to be recruited, donning his luchador mask yet again and setting forth to regain his figure, while saving the world along the way.

Screenshot for Guacamelee! 2 on PlayStation 4

Needless to say, timelines are used quite frequently for comedic purposes. Juan will occasionally find himself in timelines that have nothing to do with the overarching story, existing solely for flavour purpose. This isn't bad, however. Juan's timeline visits turn into some of the most memorable moments in the entire story, providing added comic relief to an already comical adventure.

It should be noted that given the nature of references in the first Guacamelee!, many of the timelines do exist solely to capitalise on referential humour, but it's far more restrained than it once was and broader in nature. Two of the most engaging timelines reference the fighting and JRPG genres in a broad sense and neither outstay their welcome. The referential humour is handled with far more care here, allowing timelines to feel more like a proper homage than anything else. There's even one such timeline that directly mocks the first title's approach to memes and referential comedy, wrapping everything together in a charming bow.

Not every joke lands, of course, with the most notable stinkers being the ones that ground themselves perhaps too much in real world referential humour instead of sticking to poking fun at the videogame medium or itself, but the writing as a whole is actually quite strong. Characters have clear, identifiable voices, and the general quality is higher than most games.

Although Guacamelee! 2's script makes for a fantastic backdrop and provides a far greater narrative than the one found in its predecessor, it's in the gameplay where the title shines most. As a Metroidvania, gameplay generally consists of a mix of combat and platforming on a 2D plane. Where the title differentiates itself from other entries in the genre is in how it approaches difficulty as a whole.

The core gameplay, encompassing both combat and platforming, is easy to pick up, but difficult to master. Staying on the main path will result in battles and platforming challenges that follow a rather linear progression of difficulty while never demanding too much from a player's skill set, whereas optional areas ramp up the difficulty and genuinely expect mechanical mastery.

Screenshot for Guacamelee! 2 on PlayStation 4

Juan has quite a few abilities at his disposal and they can all be used for either combat or platforming. Juan's upgrades include: an uppercut, a body slam, a dash punch, a head-butt, a double-jump, a wall slide, the ability to turn into a chicken, a diagonal dash, and a slide… among a few others.

In battle, these abilities are best used to chain combos together. The Hit count returns from the previous release and it's given far more fanfare than before. Chaining combos together by using all of Juan's skills against a group of enemies is easily the best way to earn more gold and generally just allows combat to feel all the more fluid.

Boss fights, especially, make great use of Juan's skills, requiring players to use them to either gain mobility or find a way to properly damage the boss. Juan's dodge also returns and the endgame puts it to the test as enemies attack relentlessly by the final dungeon. Knowing how and when to dodge is pivotal, especially for the optional lucha segments. There's something truly exhilarating about getting into a battle and chaining a three-hit punch, an uppercut, a dash punch, a head-butt, and a body slam together into one masterfully pulled off combo. In that regard alone, Guacamelee! 2 stands above the majority of Metroidvanias as combat actually requires a fair deal of skill to pull off adequately.

As skill-based as the core gameplay is, there are ways to mitigate some of the difficulty; most notably through the use of purchasable skills. Throughout the course of his adventure, Juan will stumble upon five different teachers who will allow him to buy skills from unique skill trees. Gold is given far more importance than it once had as a result, and Juan himself gains a valuable scale of progression where he's growing as a character from start to finish.

Purchasing skills isn't as simple as earning enough gold, however. Rather, the majority of skills require Juan to meet a certain criteria, whether that be using a skill enough times, opening a certain amount of optional chests, or killing enemies. This keeps the skill system engaging in a way it wouldn't be otherwise, leading to a scenario where the player is also growing alongside Juan.

As aforementioned, Juan's abilities can also be used for platforming. In fact, by mid-game, platforming essentially requires a consistent use of Juan's obtainable skills. Whether it is uppercutting to gain verticality or dash-punching to propel Juan forward after a weak jump, his abilities play a huge role in the success of the level design.

Platforming seems to be a rare concern for most Metroidvanias, so for DrinkBox Studios to take such a careful eye to its level design is a fantastic surprise. Guacamelee! 2 is home to some of the best platforming challenges in the genre, and it's all thanks to the developer refusing to create upgrades with combat or platforming in mind. Platforming and action go hand in hand to the point where giving Juan specific upgrades for either style of gameplay would have removed a great deal of the game's inherent cohesion.

Screenshot for Guacamelee! 2 on PlayStation 4

Nothing demonstrates this better than Juan's returning ability to instantly switch between the world of the living and the dead. Battles will occasionally feature multiple enemies existing on both planes, requiring Juan to swap back and forth while being mindful of the enemies he can't damage, but can damage him. Platforming, likewise, makes use of the plane switching by featuring platforms that exist in different worlds.

By the later parts of the adventure, almost every platforming challenge will require a quick trigger finger as Juan launches off platforms with his skills, while quickly swapping planes to give him a new platform to land on or stick to. All his abilities end up coming together in a substantial way whether it is through general action or movement.

Optional areas, which are plentiful as this is a Metroidvania, demand the most from players. Optional platforming segments can involve Juan needing to use all of his skills to just barely reach a platform, while optional lucha segments see Juan needing to use his skills to break colour-coded shields. These shields aren't just part of optional content, though. After a certain point, enemies will sometimes start fights with active shields that need to be broken with specific skills. Red shields are broken by uppercuts, blues by dash punches, and so on.

Using so many skills in succession can be demanding, though, especially when taking into account Juan's stamina. Each skill drains his stamina, and using up the entire stamina bar results in a brief cooldown where Juan can't do much other than punch or jump. This makes exploration all the more valuable as the optional areas either house a large sum of gold, a heart piece, or a stamina piece.

An attentive and curious gamer will reach the end with a considerable amount of stamina and health, along with a handsome wallet. In a way, because the core design forgoes the RPG elements not too uncommon to the genre, exploration is far more rewarding. Going out of one's way to explore results in items that are useful for the whole adventure rather than just new equipment that will end up phased out in a matter of hours.

Speaking of hours, the adventure here is roughly twice as long as the one found in the first outing. One of Guacamelee!'s biggest faults was how short it was, especially when taking into consideration how much more content could have been added it, so it's nice to see Guacamelee! 2 pace itself a bit more liberally with more main content to play through. It isn't a particularly long adventure, with a relaxed playthrough clocking in at around seven hours, but it's nonetheless an improvement over the original and there's more than enough side content to go around.

As phenomenal as the gameplay is, it's the music and the visuals that tie the entire experience together. Both root themselves heavily in the Mexican aesthetic, resulting in a title with a cohesive identity all around. The colour palette is truly beautiful, specifically lifting heavily from Mexican folk art, and the heavy use of both guitars and trumpets in the soundtrack grounds the Mexiverse even at its more over the top moments. Guacamelee! 2 shines in every facet of its design, mixing culture and classy crass together into a beautiful, bombastic explosion of an end product.

Screenshot for Guacamelee! 2 on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

10/10
Rated 10 out of 10

Masterpiece - Platinum Award

Rated 10 out of 10

To say Guacamelee! 2 excels as a Metroidvania would be to sell it short. Featuring some of the most engaging platforming, combat, and exploration this generation, Guacamelee! 2 excels as a videogame, full stop. Its visuals are at times mesmerising, rooting its aesthetic in traditional Mexican art; the core gameplay loop has a low skill floor and a high skill ceiling, encouraging mastery of the mechanics; and the script irons out the kinks of the first game's story in order to offer a more compelling narrative with a stronger comedic identity. Guacamelee! 2 is without a doubt one of the strongest Metroidvanias in recent memory.

Developer

DrinkBox

Publisher

DrinkBox

Genre

Action

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  10/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

Better than Hollow Knight? That's getting a 10 when I finally finish the review... but now you've got my interest with this one. Hopefully it gets a Switch port as I'll be more likely to try it then.

Adam Riley [ Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited ]
Word of Adam | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter

That's a good question. Both are games I would give a 10, but for different reasons. I prefer Guacamelee's combat and script, but Hollow Knight has better exploration along with a stronger core narrative. HK's also much longer and arguably has a better soundtrack. Personally, I can see myself revisiting Guacamelee! 2 quite a bit over the next few months, but I'll likely be done with Hollow Knight for a while once I finish Godmaker. 

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