Guacamelee! 2 review: Not quite as spicy as before

Credit: Drinkbox Studios
Credit: Drinkbox Studios /

Some changes to the formula leave this sequel without the same zest as the original.

Title: Guacamelee! 2
Developer: Drinkbox Studios
Publisher: Drinkbox Studios
Platforms: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), PC
Release date: August 21, 2018

Guacamelee! 2’s best moments are its quietest. A simple game of hide and seek or a run to town to get avocados. These moments that open the game set up protagonist Juan’s little corner of the “Mexiverse” in a not entirely wordless but effective way. It draws the player in by establishing stakes outside the world-ending catastrophes often seen and revealing Juan to be more than a luchador in a mask.

The beginning of Guacamelee! 2 will feel immediately familiar to fans of the original game. This is due in no small to the fact that the sequel treads much of the same ground as the original. Players fight the first game’s end boss, revisit the town of Pueblucho, meet the same characters and head to the same church.

Then, Uay Chivo shows up and whisks Juan away on a timeline-hopping adventure. Once Guacamelee! 2 has really, truly begun it uses the opportunity to pack in as many references it can to classic games both retro and modern on its way to “the Darkest Timeline.” Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, DragonNinja and Limbo are all name-checked.

While initially funny, the referential, pun-laden humor quickly wears thin. It’s comedy with empty calories; there’s no actual humor of substance here, only an endless series of, “Did you get that one? Or this one?” Substituting references for earnest attempts for humor is not great writing.

The only truly interesting characters in the game are a pair of returning villains from the predecessor.

The only truly interesting characters in the game are a pair of returning villains from the predecessor. Even then, they’re only interesting within the context of the first game. Guacamelee! 2 provides just a little background for their relationships to Juan, Tostada and Salvador, so the importance of these characters might go over new players’ heads.

Salvador, the game’s villain, is given hints toward being an imposing and foreboding figure. There are moments in the game where his dialogue is played straight, and he proves he can be a truly scary villain. However, this is undercut by the knowledge players are given early in the game, placing the player on uneven terms.

guacamelee 2
Guacamelee 2’s new upgrade system allows players to tailor their gameplay. / Credit: Drinkbox Studios /

The gameplay stays relatively the same level to level, but new abilities are spaced out far enough and mixed well enough that the particulars of the gameplay evolve over the course of the game.  The wide swath of abilities allows players to execute intricate combos. When these happen, it brings the power fantasy so central to the game (and the one that made the first Guacamelee! so fun) to the fore.

Guacamelee! 2’s best gameplay moments are its weirdest and most inventive. Most of these take the form of bonus levels, like one that turns the game into a turn-based JRPG. The main game has some nuggets that could be interesting games on their own; one pre-boss level consists of a blank screen that players need to fill in with their enemies’ guts. These moments are few are far between, though, and don’t happen often enough to break up the occasionally monotonous trudge of the rest of the game.

The game is more difficult than it needs to be. There is such a disconnect between the surface-level mechanics and the deeper, more granular mechanics that the game often leads to frustration. Guacamelee! 2 is not a particularly hard game on its face; the combat is simple and easy enough to learn and master. Enemies’ attacks are clearly telegraphed, the enemies themselves aren’t that complex and clearing out a room full of enemies doesn’t take much effort. Sometimes it takes no effort at all; some rooms can be skipped entirely.

Guacamelee! 2
Drinkbox Studios /

When the nuts and bolts are considered, the game is ridiculously tough. Guacamelee! 2 is far less lenient than its predecessor. This is most obvious when considering the timing of enemies attacks and Juan’s moveset. If players are even one millisecond too soon or too late, the enemies’ attacks will hit, taking out a large chunk of the player’s health.

During many of the Lucha Rooms, players must execute their plans perfectly in order to survive the tougher enemies; one wrong button press can be the difference between getting out of there alive and on to the next checkpoint and fighting the same enemies … again.

That almost none of the enemies are a one-hit kill until later in the game feels like an oversight. Many of the enemies feel tedious rather than challenging because of the disconnect between the surface level mechanics and the deeper ones. When the game finally introduces one-hit-kill enemies, it feels like a relief; the game finally levels the combat’s difficulty up to par with its platforming.

The checkpoint and respawn systems do not help. Checkpoints are no more frequent than they were in the first game; due to the increased difficulty, this can present a problem. There are multiple instances where the distance between checkpoints is quite significant, forcing the player to play through large chunks of the level again if they die or quit the game.

The most egregious example is before one of the boss fights, where players have to play not one but two sections of the game again if they die because the checkpoint is so far back. Guacamelee! 2 also has two types of environmental hazards that trigger different respawns. One simply brings the player back to where they were. The other reloads the entire level and forces the player back to the previous checkpoint.

Guacamelee 2
Drinkbox Studios /

Guacamelee! 2 often mixes the two within a larger level, producing an experience that feels like two separate games Frankensteined together; one much harder than the other. Neither mesh very well and the game flips between the two at will. Because of how difficult the game can be, the latter’s inclusion is made all the more frustrating because of how often players can fail.

Guacamelee 2 takes but never quite gives; it amps up the difficulty without making the necessary changes to keep the game interesting. The result is a test of patience rather than a test of skill.. Drinkbox Studios. . Guacamelee 2. 6

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.