I do not have much experience with Metroidvanias. Beyond failing miserably in Rogue Legacy and circumnavigating every boss encounter in Hollow Knight, I have only seen walkthroughs of them. I am aware though, of which games Guacamelee! 2 is trying to emulate even though I have never played them, including the first Gaucamelee. So when the game opens with the previous game's final boss quoting Dracula's famous speech from Symphony of the Night, I immediately knew what type of game I was playing.
Guacamelee! 2 is a 2-D action platformer with some Metroidvania elements. It was developed and published by DrinkBox Studios and recently released on PC and PS4. The game is heavily based on Mexican folklore and stereotypes. You take control of Juan, seven years after the first game on a quest to save the Mexiverse from collapsing. An evil luchador called Salvador has begun to steal important relics, leading to the Mexiverse's timelines--here meaning parallel universes--to start collapsing in on themselves. The premise may sound a little ludicrous, but the game makes sure you understand all of it before your first dungeon.
It may seem like the game will have a complex plot, but the convoluted premise is only there to explain why you have been brought to a parallel universe, and why you need to stop the bad guys from getting the relics. The game itself does not have a lot of actual story beyond some simple character interactions, and that's okay because the main focus of the game is on platforming puzzles and combat challenges.
The structure of the game is also quite simple and linear. You will enter a new area, then you will be directed towards a new ability and, afterward, you will be tested on this ability through both platforming and combat rooms. Here and there you can diverge from the main route towards an optional room which will have a much more difficult challenge that will earn you one of four types of chests: a heart piece, a skull piece, money or a new costume. Three heart pieces will get you more health and three skull pieces will give you more stamina.
There are many different abilities in Guacamelee! 2 to unlock throughout the game and all of them have their uses. Special abilities
cost you one circle of stamina to use and are useful for both traversal and combat. For example, the Rooster Uppercut launches enemies into the air and also launches you upwards which will help when platforming. Of course, many challenges force you to manage your stamina correctly so that you don't run out when you need it.
You also get the ability to shift between the dimension of the living and the dead, and many of the puzzles in the game use
this mechanic. Some elements only exist in one dimension and some obstacles act differently depending on which dimension you are in. For example, in one dimension an air current may push you down, while in the other it will push you up. There is a double jump and a wall jump as well. Finally, there is Eagle Boost, an ability where you can launch yourself by getting close to a golden eagle emblem and pressing a button; you will then be sent in the direction of a small blue arrow.
Returning from the first game is the ability to turn in to a chicken. The chicken has two special abilities: a diagonal dash and a slide that is performed on the ground. The chicken also has a glide and fans it can glide on to push itself upwards. Unlike the regular abilities, you have to enter special chicken dungeons to unlock the chicken abilities, and some of them are optional. Beating all the chicken dungeons in Guacamelee! 2 unlocks an ability that is only used to enter a different optional area.
The game surprised me with how it never felt repetitive. Constantly getting new abilities and seeing how the game will test you
with them was very fun. There are many colored blocks around the world that correspond to the specific color of a special move and at first, you may be unable to unlock something, only to return later with that move. Fortunately, the map keeps track of all of the blocks you have not destroyed and chests you have not collected. This makes completing Guacamelee! 2 less of a chore like in other games and is something more games should do.
As you continue through the game you will meet trainers,
who will unlock new abilities you can buy. Each trainer focuses on a different mechanic. One trainer specializes in upgrading your health and stamina. The second focuses on your combos and the benefits you receive from getting higher combo numbers. The third teaches you wrestling moves you can perform by grabbing weakened enemies that deal massive damage and can be used to hurt other foes. A fourth focuses on your chicken abilities, and the final one on your special moves.
Early on in Guacamelee! 2, choosing which ability to buy is a difficult choice as they all seem very useful and some abilities have requirements to unlock them. This is less of an issue in the mid-game where you can easily save up money for any ability. There is a bit of a strategy to buying these because they fully heal you, so buying one in the middle of a tough encounter is actually smarter rather than doing so as soon as you can.
To sum it up, Guacamelee! 2 is never boring. All of the music is fantastic, the art style is very distinct and its use of colors puts it above and beyond most games. The enemy variety is quite high and the game does a good job of both introducing new enemies constantly and having enemy encounters that mix them in interesting ways. The vast majority of the platforming challenges also feel unique and have just the right amount
difficulty. Every area in the game features different obstacles and as you progress the game mixes these together to create gradually tougher challenges. There are also some side quests you can do for chests, such as shortly going to other timelines (like a timeline where you can only fight in turn-based combat) or talking to NPCs.
The issues with the game start popping up outside of the gameplay loop - in its story and humor. Most of the humor in the game is referential. If you are not aware what the game is trying to reference, then you will most likely not laugh. Other than that, the game is just generally very silly. There is an entire subplot about the Chicken Illuminati, a cult of chickens that worship a holy hen and really like gold; their leader is the one who explains to you the chicken abilities. If that did not sound funny to you, then you will probably only giggle at most throughout the game. The game's constant attempts to make you laugh with its lighthearted humor can become aggravating and actively take away from the more serious moments. The most fun I had in the game was playing as a different character (through a costume) and having everyone refer to me as Juan.
The game does not fully explore most of its characters as well. It assumes you know most of the protagonists, and that's fine, but the villains don't have a lot of depth either and that's a problem. You get a sense of their motivations, and their personalities do shine, but beyond that, there is not much. Salvador is the only one that receives a proper backstory, which led to me not caring about any of the villains. There is a lot that Guacamelee! 2 could have done with them, but unfortunately, it doesn't. This extends to the trainers as well. The only trainer that actually offers you real training is the combo meter trainer that offers combo challenges for each new special move you get.
It's not only the characters that the game could have done more with. Other than the main story and some optional challenges, there is nothing more to the game. There is no unlockable game mode or a minigame like an arena. This is even more problematic when you take into account that the game fully supports four player co-op. There is so much the game could have done with its mechanics that it's a bit of a letdown that the only thing you can do after beating the game is just playing it again on hard mode.
Speaking of the optional challenges, the game has two endings. You get the bad ending if you beat the game regularly. In order to get the good ending, you must collect five pieces of a key and unlock The Crucible - a series of difficult chicken platforming challenges that are located inside the Chicken Illuminati's headquarters. Three of the key pieces are perfectly fine. You get one for beating a boss as part of the story, another is at the end of a long gauntlet of enemies and has you beating an optional and very difficult boss and the third is at the top of a long climb with many checkpoints on the way. On the other hand, the two other pieces (located in the Jade Temple and Hell) and the first third of The Crucible are very bad. In order to explain why these are the low points in the game, I will describe the main issues with the platforming.
The worst parts about the platforming in Guacamelee! 2 are the eagle boosts, the fans and the upgraded exploder enemies. Usually, you would not have much of a problem with any of these, but it is in the above mentioned areas that they become infuriating. Let me start with eagle boosts which feature prominently in the Jade Temple: in order to activate an eagle boost, you must be in its range and then it will send you flying in a direction. The issue is that they can be a little finicky and difficult to control at times - which is a problem when you are required to be precise with them. Fortunately, you are only required such precision in the Jade Temple's key piece. The same issue extends to the fans. In the first three rooms of The Crucible, you are tasked with using a fan to glide your way between some spikes. The problem is that the game is demanding that
you be precise but both the fan and the glide are incredibly imprecise, which leads to a lot of frustration.
Finally, the exploder enemies are round floating spiky monsters that explode within a few seconds after they spawn, dealing damage to you. In order to explain my grievance with them I first need to talk about what happens after the half-way point of the game. When Salvador has managed to get hold of all of the relics, the world changes and dark voids appear everywhere which kill you. The other change is that upgraded enemies appear. These enemies deal more damage and have more health. The upgraded exploders blow up after five seconds and kill you if you don't kill them first. Then comes Hell's key piece that has you in a mad rush to kill a long series of these, and it is just horrible.
Guacamelee! 2 is fairly short; it only took me roughly 20 hours to 100% complete it and most of my time I spent on the optional challenges. I had a lot of fun playing it which is why I was disappointed when it ended. At first, it seemed like the ending was teasing that you would go through one last dungeon, only you don't.
Even with me being critical of the game, I still highly recommend it. It is a great platformer and while the humor can be a little grating and there is so much more that could have been done, I still had a lot of fun. If you are looking for a well-designed platformer Metroidvania, then this game is perfect for you.