When you fire up Guacamelee! 2 for the first time, it might feel like you've seen it all before -- and that's not just because it starts by catching you up on the ending of the first game. Drinkbox Studios' excellent Mexican Metroidvania Guacamelee! was so impeccably tight that it was difficult to imagine ways in which it could be improved, but the developer has made some smart changes and fun additions that give the sequel a little extra shine.
As we mentioned, the game starts where the original ends, giving fans and newcomers a refresher on the story so far. The sequel is set seven years later, when our hero Juan, his wife Lupita, and their two children are happily living their lives on the outskirts of Pueblucho. A trip into town to buy avocados is interrupted by the sudden appearance of mysterious voids in the sky, and Juan's old mentor Uay Chivo arrives to whisk him away to an alternate timeline to save the Mexiverse from a new evil. Yes, it escalates extremely quickly, and no, it doesn't take itself seriously.
Like the first game, the story establishes some great characters and an easy to follow plot, but keeps you in the action most of the time. A silly sense of humour also returns to the dialogue and the environments, though the infamous memes have been replaced with gaming and pop culture references. Occasionally you may still see something that'll make you roll your eyes, but there are some wonderful homages to other titles that should definitely put a smile on your face.
In fact, you'll probably be wearing a big grin for the majority of the game's 12-or-so hours. Guacamelee! 2 is pleasingly light-hearted and colourful, and it moves along at a fair lick, meaning you'll find it hard to tear yourself away. A steady stream of power-ups provides you with new things to toy with constantly, and the labyrinthine maps are dotted with blocked paths and out of reach items you'll be itching to return to. A lot of Juan's powers return from the original, but they're still great fun to use, and the way they apply to both combat and traversal is still an inspired design choice.
This culminates in some of the game’s tougher segments that see you navigating a challenging platforming puzzle while also needing to tackle enemies or dodge their projectiles. When you get a handle on all of Juan’s powers, including switching between the worlds of the living and the dead, it feels fantastic to fly through areas like this, but occasionally you’ll come across a section that requires complex controller gymnastics. Depending on your skill level, they can be frustrating, because it can feel like there are almost too many things to think about, especially towards the end of the game. Having said that, everything is introduced well, and generous checkpointing and near-instant restarts mean moments of frustration are very brief.
The handful of new powers are largely tied to when you're in your chicken form. Playing as a pollo is necessary for certain platforming challenges and areas of the world, but it's been significantly bolstered with new abilities that make the chicken form far more interesting this time around -- including combat. It's entirely possible to win fights like this, because Juan can now create combos and throw enemies about just as he can when in his human state.
Speaking of combat, the simple combos and generous dodge roll are as immediate and as satisfying as you remember. Aside from giving the chicken form a whole host of new options, the brawling feels mostly untouched. Instead, Drinkbox has introduced an array of new enemy types that make its lock-in battles increasingly more challenging. As with the original, it remains fun to fight the various goons because of numerous different combinations of enemies, as well as shields that can only be broken with specific abilities. The handful of boss fights are mostly well done, but the finale feels a tad lacklustre after such a buildup.
Juan's suite of powers are upgraded a little differently this time around. A few characters you meet throughout the game unlock small skill trees that enhance his abilities in many different ways. You purchase these upgrades with the coins you collect from defeating enemies and opening certain chests, but don't worry about not having enough; by the end of our play through, we had bought everything and had thousands of coins to spare.
If you like, you can also play the entire game in up to four player local co-op. Playing it in this way can become very hectic at times, and navigating the game's trickiest platforming gauntlets in multiplayer can be a nightmare, but if one player makes it to the next screen, the rest will warp to them, which is a good way around that. It can be a lot of fun, but it can be equally maddening when too much is happening onscreen.
As for the game's presentation, it looks very similar to the original with vivid colours and crisp artwork, but there's a noticeable increase in the level of detail in each environment. From the gorgeously lit Agave Fields to the Obsidian Temple's shiny, shifting walls, this is a vibrant visual treat, and it runs at a flawless 60 frames per second. On PS4 Pro with 4K and HDR, Guacamelee! 2 will really pop.
Guacamelee! 2 is a worthy sequel to one of the finest modern Metroidvania games. Its blend of challenging platforming, satisfying combat, and new abilities makes for a thoroughly entertaining experience. Occasionally it can feel like you're spinning too many plates, especially in multiplayer, but by and large, Juan's new adventure is a compelling treat that you'd be loco to miss.