Few games have the unique charm of the Guacamelee series. I’m incredibly thankful it is, in fact, now a series. Of course, I always hoped the independent DrinkBox Studios would return to the Mexi-verse, but with the talent so evidently present at the studio, I have no doubt there was any number of games they could have produced. And I’m almost certain they would have all been incredible.
Still, I am stoked to once again take on the role of Juan the half-man-half chicken, dimension shifting luchador. After doing a bang-up job recapping the conclusion of the previous game (making the sequel perfectly suitable for newcomers), we’re reintroduced to Juan, now an overweight, moustached family man, fondly reminiscing of the days of yore as he stands in front of his posters in the basement. The transition, jumping from an indestructible, shape-shifting Mexican wrestler at his peak to seven years later, Juan now a bored, middle-aged man with a gut overhanging his prized belt, reminded me how hilarious these games are.
Of course, the game is laugh-out-loud funny, much like its predecessor. With a quirky sense of humour, an absurd cast of characters, more pop-culture references you can shake a stick at and some of the zaniest plots points you’ll likely find in a platformer, you could be forgiven for thinking the game tries too hard, too often to be funny. Personally, I welcomed the onslaught of one-liners and fourth-wall breaking barbs, most notably in a ‘dank’ hidden area full of relegated memes, haunted by forum quotes criticising the first game insistence to reference viral internet jokes. Not every joke hits, but it’s rare a game gives you so much reason laugh and even rarer a developer so jovially flips the bird at its haters.
Speaking of flipping birds, the chicken-infused action platforming gameplay is as solid as you’d expect. The controls are tight and the puzzles are increasingly complex. Towards the end of the game, you’ll be stringing uppercuts, dashes, chicken glides and slides, whilst switching between the world of the living and the dead, to progress through the levels. That being said, difficulty ramps brilliantly, with some of the final collectibles buried behind incredibly tough tests if you seek the challenge.
The pacing is spot on; you unlock new powers at a steady pace, but not so quickly as you lose track and fall behind the learning curve. It’s a balance that I believe would satisfy hardcore platformer fans and newcomers alike. And if it’s not tough enough, beat the game again in hard mode to chase down the final achievement/trophy.
Of course, it’s no surprise the gameplay is top-notch. DrinkBox has proven pedigree in that regard. What caught me out was how much I grew to care for the characters and their story. It’s a tight, approximately nine-hour experience, but having met Juan before we connect with him quickly and the peril befalling the Mexi-verse feels palpable. Having Juan’s trainers cheer him on as you march towards the final fight pumped me up. Without revealing too much, the ending too was amazingly bittersweet and a nearly made me shed a tear, the big softy that I am.Moreso, it builds upon the first game well. Despite maintaining the comic-like art style, the sequel looks much prettier and more colourful than I remember the first being. The progression system is cleaned up and much more simple and intuitive. There are some welcome additions to the design and to the challenges and the inclusion of cooperative multiplayer is fantastic. Considering how adventurous it is in every other regard, I can’t help but feel they could have shaken-up the combat mechanics and enemy variety a little bit further, but admittedly, that’s me just being a touch greedy.
THE PS4 VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. A DIGITAL REVIEW CODE WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
Guacamelee! 2 is a fantastic, almost flawlessly designed and well-paced action platformer, complete with charm, humour and heart. It builds upon the first game brilliantly, making Juan's latest adventure just as thrilling and hilarious as I'd have hoped.