Guacamelee! 2 (2018)

Have you ever played a game and felt it was a lot less enjoyable than it should’ve been? For me that game is Guacamelee 2. Many of the individual components of this game feel like they are fun, but for some reason I just did not enjoy playing the complete package. It’s difficult to put a finger on a singular reason why I did not click with Guacamelee 2, but I believe it was the cumulative shortcomings that left it feeling underwhelming. As someone who loves playing indie metroidvanias, I was disappointed by Guacamelee 2.

Guacamelee 2 obviously follows its predecessor’s story, world, and core gameplay. It is a 2D metroidvania with a world inspired by Mexican culture. You play as Juan, a luchador who has gotten a bit out of shape since saving the world in the series’ previous entry. When a new villain appears to be threatening the “Mexiverse”, Juan dons his wrestling mask and jumps into action. The story itself is pretty minimalist, which is fine. You are told about the villain and his plans at the very beginning of the game, and that will carry you through to the end.

While I do enjoy the Mexican theme of the Guacamelee series, the games do have their issues with their writing. They are meant to be light-hearted and goofy, but often the jokes and references feel forced. Guacamelee 2 is a bit better in this regard, as it doesn’t reference meme humor like the original game did. It also feels a bit more self-aware of how its jokes can make people groan, and it leans into that at times. Still, the non-stop barrage of not-so-subtle humor can get a bit grating after a while.

The core gameplay of Guacamelee 2 revolves around two aspects: platforming and combat. Both of these components seem like they should be fun, but have some flaws that hampered my enjoyment. My biggest issue with the platforming was how rapidly the game threw new abilities at the player. I’m a fan of keeping things fresh, but I’m not exaggerating when I say that at one point, I unlocked four new abilities in about 45 minutes. There isn’t enough time to really familiarize yourself with new skills and get comfortable using them. I regularly found myself hitting the wrong buttons during platforming sections in the heat of the moment. My brain didn’t have enough time to wire actions to their corresponding buttons, I had to consciously remember which button did what. If the game gave the player a little more time to breath with each new ability, I think chaining them together would feel more natural.

The combat side of things had the opposite issue: it got repetitive, fast. The combat of Guacamelee 2 has a heavy emphasis on combos and juggling opponents. Aside from the basic attacks, you also unlocked more powerful directional attacks that cost energy as well as some grab and throw techniques. At best, I could describe the combat as mindless fun between platforming sections. It was enormously easy to mash through enemies with little challenge. Some enemies had colored shields that required certain moves to break, but still I rarely felt like I was doing anything that required skill or a mastery of the combat system.

My biggest issue with Guacamelee 2 was that it is simply a bad metroidvania. The exploration aspects of the game are abysmal compared to its contemporaries. There is absolutely no feeling of exploring a labyrinth, or wondering where that secret path leads. The game is exceedingly linear. You follow hallway after hallway of platforming challenge into forced combat room. There are no branching paths, there is no backtracking, and every upgrade has an obvious and boring function. There is no wonder, no sense of discovery. The game would have been better off just being an action platformer rather than weakly trying to fit into the metroidvania mold.

Another thing to note about Guacamelee 2 is how it is just a rehash of the original game. If you enjoyed the original Guacamelee and want more of it, then definitely give its sequel a chance. But if you wanted anything more, or if you wanted to see improvements, you aren’t going to find them here. Nearly everything is just a rehash of the original. The only element that was new were the sections that you played as a chicken. There was something similar in the original game, but Guacamelee 2 does flesh out the idea more. Other than that, you wouldn’t be able to tell the games apart.

Overall, I was not a fan of Guacamelee 2. I think I would have been more receptive of the game if it had not labeled itself as a metroidvania and made weak efforts to try to fit in with the genre. Truthfully the game is alright, but I doubt it will impress anybody. It has a strong visual identity, but the actual gameplay is bland and repetitive. It doesn’t even standout compared to its predecessor, let alone the hoards of unique and inspired metroidvanias that exist today. It is for these reasons that I give Guacamelee 2 a 5/10. It’s not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, but its definitely not one that I will remember fondly.