Developer: DrinkBox Studios
Publisher: DrinkBox Studios
Review Context: I played Guacamelee! a long time go and was very surprised by how good it was. I am always interested in tough platformers, provided they are done well and fair.
Date of Playthrough: August 20, 2018
Developer: DrinkBox Studios
Publisher: DrinkBox Studios
Disclosure: This review is based off of a review copy.
Guacamelee! 2, developed by DrinkBox Studios, is the sequel to Guacamelee!, originally released in 2013. I played a lot of the original, Guacamelee!, but it has been so long that I don’t remember the finer details. I do remember how much I loved the gameplay of it, and that is what stands out the most about this franchise, hardcore and rewarding platforming.
The story of Guacamelee! 2 takes place seven years after Guacamelee!. Juan Aguacate is back, settled in with his wife and kids until a major disturbance occurs. He is the Juan that has to enter the Darkest Timeline in order to save the Mexiverse from the villain, Salvador. During the course of your journey you will encounter characters from Guacamelee!, but if you are new you don’t need to know who they are because story events from Guacamelee! are explained. If you don’t want to be spoiled then it is best to play Guacamelee! first.
Platforming, combat and metroidvania elements define this franchise, and in Guacamelee! 2 these elements shine. Juan starts out his special mask, but soon he gets the mask and starts to re-learn special moves. As you defeat enemies in combat you will get gold that can be spent to buy upgrades in the Skills menu. In this game there are five manageable skill trees, each serving a different purpose. Most skill upgrades are not unlocked to be bought until you reach a certain threshold, like for example using the Rooster Uppercut twenty five times to kill an enemy. This also helps encourage some diversity in your combat style. For example, wrestling has its own tree, and during my playthrough I specifically used certain wrestling moves with the desire to unlock its upgrade. The skill tree choices are well placed and are easy to complete, as gold starts to pile up in the late game.
The further you get, the more enemies appear at once. Many enemies have shields that are color-coded to the combat move, which forces you to use that specific combat move in chaotic combat. I still don’t know how I feel about this, but it does make the game tougher for sure, even if the combat moves are easy to pull off. During the course of gameplay you will encounter “Lucha” battles, which is a random battle sequence where enemies appear and in order to advance to the next area you have to defeat them, also giving you a reward. I found most of these battles enjoyable, but there were some that were definitely annoying. Once you enter many of these battles later in the game it becomes apparent that the game is lacking in enemy variety.
One of the newest additions is expanded “Pollo Power,” which gives Juan the ability to transform into a chicken. In this game the chicken also has special abilities, which can also be upgraded in the skill tree. The chicken moves and attacks fast, so it may take time getting used to. The enemies also have color-coded shields for the chicken abilities, so you will have to switch back and forth during combat. I didn’t start to enjoy the chicken combat until later in the game, as the chicken attacks are weak in the beginning, making Juan more preferable to destroy enemies quicker. In the latter stages of the game you will have to switch between Juan and the chicken quickly in order to pass certain sequences.
The platforming in Guacamelee! 2 is tough, but manageable. Never once in combat or platforming did I feel the game was unfair or that the controls weren’t good. Like the first one, this is not an easy platformer by any means, as it requires a lot of dexterity. In this game you will be switching dimensions a lot, which makes platforms or objects disappear using the R2 button. In many sequences later in the game you have to remain airborne, while switching dimensions back and forth, hit an eagle shot, and use your special abilities to propel yourself forward or up. This is no easy task and some sequences can be frustrating, but they feel so rewarding once you complete them.
The metroidvania elements largely remain similar to the first one. You will encounter different types of chests providing different rewards, with some chests being too tough or unobtainable with your current movement skills or abilities. The map provided does a very good job of marking every object precisely, helping you re-locate that chest when you want to return to it. The puzzles in Guacamelee! 2 also feel rewarding, especially later in the game. There is a way to fast travel, but I wish there were more fast travel locations, as there are not that many for this big game. During my playthrough I also found secret locations that can be entered. The Mexiverse is vast and wide with many people to talk to, and don’t forget to switch dimensions because that controls the availability of certain NPCs and doors to enter.
For full context of my platform experience, I played Guacamelee! 2 on the Playstation 4 Pro, but with no 4K TV. The graphics quality is so beautiful and vibrant. I remember my visual experience in Guacamelee! not being quite as visually appealing due to the color palette, but the sequel is extremely colorful, sharp, and the lighting and shadow effects in the levels are amazing to help provide the atmosphere in the game. There were times playing this that I stopped to admire the visuals. The character models are also very sharp, along with extremely well animated cutscenes whenever the story advances. The wide range of surroundings with different looks are impressive, as some areas are dark, while some areas are bright (no spoilers here). Whenever new moves are acquired there is a cool visual on the screen, which I found to be entertaining.
I can’t talk about Guacamelee! 2 without talking about the soundtrack. The soundtrack fits the game perfectly, just as it did the first game. Unlike other games, I don’t feel like I am getting the full immersive experience in the Mexiverse unless I have the music volume up. The music gets you pumping to continue on your journey. The music in boss fights is especially good. The soundtrack is also good enough that it can stand on its own. Not just the music, but the sound effects are also excellent and crisp, making the proper sounds for all of your death.
Other features include local drop-in and drop-out multiplayer with up to four players. Every player shares the abilities and in this one the enemies do scale. In both the single and multiplayer, players can switch costumes, giving different very different looks, but same abilities. The game also contains leaderboards, one for just keeping track of regular speedrun time to the end, and another for 100% speedruns. I can’t imagine starting the game all the way over from the beginning, but for the speedrunning community this must be gold, as the game keeps all the time keeping itself.
I knew I was probably going to enjoy Guacamelee 2!, but the experience was so much better than I expected. The game is beautiful, challenging, and just fun to play. This is a must-play for any fan of challenging platformers, and a solid contender for my favorite game of 2018.
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