The only Mexican-themed Metroidvania gets a sequel featuring four-player co-op and lots of wrestling.
As many people have already pointed out, the last month or so has seen a bewildering number of new Metroidvania games being released. Its always been a favourite genre of indie developers, but just recently weve had Hollow Knight, Dead Cells, Deaths Gambit, numerous Switch ports, and Castlevania in Super Smash Bros. And now theres Guacamelee 2, a follow-up to one of the best-received Metroidvanias of recent years and, unfortunately, a rather poorly timed sequel.
The Metroidvania genre is always a strange one to discuss because its almost completely ignored by traditional publishers. The name is a portmanteau of Metroid, which hasnt seen a new mainline entry for eight years (although there was remake Samus Returns last year) and Castlevania, which has now gone four years without a new game (despite a well-received Netflix series and the aforementioned Smash Bros. cameo).
In other words, the only people not making Metroidvanias are the companies that invented the concept. Which is more unfortunate than it may seem, because it means indie developers are constantly tempted to create games that not only play like the genre progenitors but look like them too. But thankfully Guacamelee is different and it doesnt restrict itself to either dingy castles or goopy sci-fi corridors. Instead, it features an awful lot of chickens.
As you might gather from the screenshots the most obvious defining feature of Guacamelee is that its based on Mexican culture and folklore, as you once again take on the role of legendary luchador Juan Aguacate. None of the sprawling story that results, with its multiple parallel dimensions and alternate timelines, is taken at all seriously although, as with the first game, we never really found it all that funny either. But to be fair, we do get the distinct impression it wouldve worked better if it had spoken dialogue rather than just text.
Metroid and Castlevania II (the first game was just a straight action platformer) were both released in the same year and both came up with a similar concept of non-linear 2D action where you explore a large open-ended map and use recovered items and equipment to reach previously inaccessible areas. In this sense Guacamelee 2 is a fairly traditional example of the genre, with its main deviation being a more Zelda-like structure where you have both an overworld area to explore and a series of dungeons with a boss at the end of them.
As you might expect from Juans luchador status (and the games name) theres also much more emphasis on melee combat. As such youll frequently find your progress halted as youre locked into a single screen and have to defeat every enemy that is thrown at you before you can move on. Theres an impress variety of opponents – much more than the first game – that range from rolling armadillos to giant earthquake-causing skeletons, and although Juans range of moves is relatively limited many enemies require quite specific tactics to take down.
Monsters will often be surrounded by a coloured shield, indicating that they have to be attacked with a particular move – such as an uppercut or thrust punch. The dimension shift gimmick from the first game also returns, which means enemies only appear as ghostly shadows if youre not in the right dimension to damage them. The combat is actually relatively easily, especially once youve unlocked some of the more powerful moves, but keeping on top of each enemy and navigating the platform perils of the screen youre on can get very tricky.
The first half of the game is fairly easy overall but the second half, or anywhere off the beaten path, becomes very difficult. At times theres hints of both bullet hell and hardcore platformers like Super Meat Boy as you combine pixel perfect timing with trying to remember to switch dimensions, perform an eagle jump at just the right angle, and then wall jump all in the same split second and while fighting a bad guy.
It can feel an awful lot like the video game equivalent of patting your head and rubbing your stomach but like any firm but fair game it feels great when you manage to pull it all off.
By now we should have started talking about all the bold new innovations for the sequel, but were afraid that list is rather short. Theres new drop-in/drop-out four-player co-op but this really doesnt seem the sort of game to benefit from such an option. Weve had a great deal of difficulty finding enough partners of equal competence and to be honest everyone whos played the game has quickly decided theyd rather do so on their own.
The upgrade system is also new and works via a list of Achievement-like requirements to unlock new wrestling moves, abilities, and what comes very close to being actual cheats. You can also still transform into a chicken (the games equivalent of Metroids morph ball), which now has a much greater repartee of moves and its own special mini-dungeons.
Guacamelee 2 is just as enjoyable as its predecessor but its hard to pretend its any great leap forward. Theres more of it, in every way, but if youve played the original youre unlikely to be surprised by much of it. But even with the intense competition at the moment this is one of the best Metroidvania games of the year and proof that a change in scenery is often all thats needed to make an old idea seem new again.
In Short: Only a small improvement on the first game but this is still one of the most original Metroidvanias around, in terms of both its setting and its gameplay.
Pros: Lots of unusual wrinkles to the usual Metroidvania formula, with excellent combat and open world structure. Welcome new upgrade system, great presentation, and level design.
Cons: Gameplay is not very different from its predecessor and the co-op seems ill-suited to the style of gameplay. Dungeons can go on a bit too long.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed) and PC
Publisher: DrinkBox Studios
Developer: DrinkBox Studios
Release Date: 21st August 2018
Age Rating: 12
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