It’s not every day that you get to pile drive enemies into oblivion just moments after pecking them to death as a chicken. That experience, however, is precisely what is offered in Guacamelee! 2, the sequel to the colorful luchador-themed beat ‘em up platformer from five years back. Guacamelee! 2 offers up an experience that you can’t find almost anywhere else, except for in its predecessor. And there lies both the biggest benefits and drawbacks with the game. It plays to its themes perfectly and its combat can be immensely satisfying, but most of what is in the game feels all too familiar. I can’t harshly begrudge a game that plays it so close to the vest when it follows a tried and true formula. I also can’t help but feel a little bit disappointed that the game not only offers little that is new, but also completely fails to address the first game’s biggest issue. Nevertheless, if you loved Guacamelee!, then you won’t have a hard time getting into its sequel.
The gameplay in Guacamelee! 2 consists of three elements: combat, platforming, and metroidvania style unlocking of new map areas by the acquisition of new powers. These elements are all spurred along by perfect pacing and then firmly tied together by the game’s wrestling theme and quirky sense of humor. It’s this theme and the game’s constant ability to elicit a chuckle from the gamer that pulls it through some of its rough spots. The first game was lighthearted in nature, but Guacamelee! 2 goes one step further and is legitimately, laugh-out-loud funny from time to time.
In Guacamelee! 2 you, once again, play as Juan the luchador. Since the first game, Juan has married the damsel that he once saved, started a family, and developed somewhat of a Dad bod to go with it. When I started up the game, this setup had me imagining all kinds of fun ways in which Juan’s family could be integrated into both the game and the story. Kicking ass with his wife as a co-op partner? Teaming up with his kids and coming up with all kinds of crazy combos? Gradually slimming down and getting back into shape as the game progressed? To my disappointment, nothing of that nature came to fruition. As soon as the prologue ends, Juan is whisked away from his family to an alternate timeline with none of his previous powers. At that time, you begin a souped up version of the first game that plays out largely the same way. Developer Drinkbox Studios could have just as easily cast a brand new character in a new universe and it wouldn’t have felt much different. It isn’t their fault that my expectations for a sequel didn’t match theirs but considering that there were five years between the first game and Guacamelee! 2, I was hoping for innovations. Guacamelee! 2 is more like an iteration that is typical of games that have a one or two year development cycle.
Combat, however, remains one of the most fun applications of wrestling that has ever been put into a video game form. The strength of Guacamelee! was its combat, and that strength remains here too. No game that features the sport so prominently would be complete without faithfully including classic acrobatic moves like the Souplex or the Pile Driver. Those moves are in the game, as well as the abilities to grab and throw enemies into each other and punt them towards the ceiling. A cadre of kicks, punches, flips, and dives can keep enemies suspended in the air in Devil May Cry fashion. In a manner that is typical to the genre, you unlock and enhance moves as you progress, and the difficulty of the enemies ramps up in response.
The difficulty of encounters is very well calibrated too, so that a legitimately hard one perhaps takes five tries to get it right, but it’s not so hard that it makes you want to ragequit the game. In case you need couch co-op to enjoy a good beat ‘em up, then you will be happy to know that you can beat enemies’ brains out with a friend sitting next to you too. It all makes for an experience that goes through long, addictive stretches that can keep you glued to your controller. Combat is also the one area of the game where Guacamelee! 2 makes what is arguably its biggest addition — the ability to fight as a chicken, whereas the first game allowed you to transform into a chicken only to access new areas. This addition, however, doesn’t bring much to the table since the coolest looking and most fun wrestling moves are generally reserved for your human form.
You collect money from enemies and occasional treasure chests with which you can buy new moves and other upgrades. Since the game is fairly challenging and upgrades are expensive, it incentivizes you to explore as much as you can to buy as many upgrades as possible. Most of that exploration, however, simply involves either returning to a previous spot once you have acquired a new ability or tackling an insanely hard platforming sequence. Most of the exploration-related abilities that you acquire are simply new punches that you learn in order to break through barriers of various colors. For red barriers, you learn an uppercut, for yellow barriers, you learn a head butt and so on. In general, the manner in which the map gradually unlocks for you isn’t one of the game’s stronger points, because the new punches that you learn are only one step removed from different colored keys. If it’s yellow, then you ignore it until you learn the head butt. If it’s green, then you ignore it until you learn the dive punch. There is a useful wall running ability that you get about halfway through the game, but other than that power, there isn’t a lot to keeps exploration interesting.
The worst part of Guacamelee! 2, or perhaps the best part if you are a glutton for unfair punishment, is the platforming. The difficulty of these sequences ramps up much quicker than they did in the first game, which didn’t get very difficult until about two thirds through it. Guacamelee! 2, like its predecessor, has virtually no puzzles, and instead opts for platforming based on skills and reflexes. This approach would not be a problem if the game had tight, responsive controls. Unfortunately, when the going gets tough, the controls often fail to rise to the occasion. In between combat sequences are numerous challenges that require perfect execution of back-to-back-to-back moves, all of them precisely timed. Too frequently, though, you will fail because you tried to execute one move a fraction of a second before the previous move’s animation was complete, or you will leap in a direction that is the complete opposite of what you had intended. It’s a source of immense frustration that begins fairly early on and never really relents. This letdown is made more disappointing by the fact that the first Guacamelee! suffered from the same problem, which appears to have gone completely unaddressed. If you are a veteran of the previous game, though, then you should at least be able to soldier through the tough spots — the rest of the game makes it worth your while.
There isn’t much of a difference in the presentation between this and the predecessor, nor should there be. When it comes to graphics and music, Guacamelee! didn’t need any changes or improvements, other than perhaps a little bit of spritzing up. The soundtrack is all new and just as good and thematically appropriate as the first one. The scenery and the characters are still colorful and creative, and the punches and wrestling moves still look as powerful and devastating as they sound. The game is a treat for both the eyes and ears.
In the ten or so hours that it takes you to make your way through Guacamelee! 2, you will have jumped, run, and body slammed your way through countless enemies and a wide variety of areas and challenges. They are a little bit too much like the enemies and challenges from the first game, though. That doesn’t mean that Guacamelee! 2 isn’t a very good sequel. Fixing what wasn’t broken appears to have been the studio’s number one goal, and they accomplished it. It would have been nice for some more new gameplay elements to have been introduced and for the controls to have received a little bit of precision. It also would have been nice if the Juan had been more fleshed out, as was promisingly teased in the game’s prologue. These issues aren’t deal breakers, though, which means that gamers looking for a good time of cracking skulls and terrorizing enemies as a chicken should find the experience that they seek.