— A copy of the game was provided, courtesy of PopAgenda —
I have to admit that I never played the first Guacamelee! game. Despite its critical success and the fact that game was ported to the current generation of consoles with some upgrades, I never had the chance to try it out. When the second game was announced for the Nintendo Switch, 4 months after its original release on PC and PlayStation 4, the opportunity was perfect. It would be a great timing to try it out during my commutes. Was it a pleasing adventure? Yes, it was worth the time, despite the little shortcomings I had with this iteration.
Direct continuation of the first game
The game starts… at the last battle of the first game. You are an almighty luchador (Mexican wrestler) called Juan Aguacate, having special abilities in the form of powerful punches, kicks and wrestling grapples. You are fighting against Calaca, an evil entity menacing the world. At the same time, you are saving the life of El Presidente’s daughter: Lupita. After successfully beating him, you return to your normal life.
Seven years later, married with 2 children, you are now out of shape (and your abilities). A new threat to the world appears though, with black clouds all around the village where he lives. His old mentor resurfaces, telling him he needs to save the Mexiverse (yes, there are multiple worlds and timelines in the game). Going to The Darkest Timeline, you discover that you and Lupita get killed by Calaca, who gets killed by another luchador called Salvador. After his victory, he never gets out of the suit and the power of his mask corrupts his spirit. He wants to become even more powerful by collecting the relics necessary to access The Sacred Guacamole. Doing this will destabilize the timelines though, so he absolutely needs to be stopped.
Hard to follow for the newcomers
This is where my shortcomings are with the game. This iteration relies heavily on the story premises of the first game. There are some explanations given when an important event occurs to allow everyone to follow, but it is not enough. Because of that, I sometimes had difficulties understanding what is happening. With those minimal explanations, I always knew what to do, but knowing why, and who everybody really was difficult. It was never to the point of being completely lost, but it affected the level of care I had for the protagonist and all of the characters in the world.
Humor brings the world alive
I have to give an honorable mention to the writing of the game. It is really full of funny moments, inside jokes and even popular memes! There is a section of the game where the characters even mentioned that they know they are in a game (breaking the fourth wall a bit). In the Mexiverse, at one point, you even reach a section where you have a nod to the popular Street Fighter 2 bonus game where you need to destroy the car. I really made me laugh many times, and it made the gameplay very interesting.
Classic Metroidvania mechanics
There is a lot of exploration to do in this game, like every Metroidvania games. There are sections of the world that are closed off by obstacles that need to be destroyed, like the yellow brick wall that you can see in the image just before. To destroy them, you need to have a special skill. To get them, you need to reach a section where an elder or mentor is located. After a bit of conversation, you unlock it, and then you have a scene allowing you to practice the ability you just learned. It is a great way to implement a tutorial-like section for every new change in the gameplay.
Abilities during battle
In the conversation and the practice scene (described previously), you are being taught that every ability is linked to a color (the yellow color seen in the previous section, the red color you see around the monsters in the image just before). For destroying the obstacles, the proper ability needs to be used to do so. In terms of battle, it is linked to a shield some enemies have. To kill them, you need to hit them with the proper ability to get rid of the shield, then you can use everything in your arsenal to finish them off. It brings an element of crowd control, and even puzzle when there are a lot of enemies on screen at the same time. Determining which enemy to kill first is the key of success during certain battles. It brings a depth to the game that I didn’t expect, and it was a happy surprise.
A funny transformation
In all of those skills, there is one special thing that needs a separate mention. You can actually transform into a chicken! When you do, you can access special locations which cannot be reached otherwise. It even has its own list of skills and battle moves! Yes, you have the entire package, with pecks, chicken screams, etc. It is not something I knew that you could do in this game. It brings a great variety to the gameplay, and it was a funny addition to an already-packed game.
Collectibles to upgrade skills
When you reach a certain point in the story, you get the ability to upgrade the skills. To be able to do so, you need to do certain things like paying a certain amount of gold pieces (which can be collected mostly by killing enemies) or performing tasks like finding a certain amount of gold chests, finding heart and stamina chest (see next section), etc. They can be unlocked in any way that you like. There are some linked skills which need to be unlocked in a special order (the squares with black lines between them that we see in the image just before). This allows to customize how you want to play the game, and is a must for every good Metroidvania games. This feature here does not disappoint.
Protagonist’s upgrades and skins
There are special kinds of chests that contain chunks allowing to permanently upgrade your heart (life) and your stamina (energy to perform the skills). You get the reward after collecting 3 chunks of the same category. To get them, you sometimes need to explore the entirety of the world map, to reach certain locations which are hard to reach. We all know this important statement: higher the danger, bigger the reward will be. In this case, it is definitely true.
There are also character skins that are accessible for your playable character. They are very different one from another. They all pretty much play the same, but it breaks the monotony. I didn’t really use it, because I just love Juan, but it is interesting that this functionality exists. The reason behind it is surely though because of what I’ll describe in the next section.
Action aplenty, solo or in cooperation
With all of those enemies and abilities, when the action gets on, it really gets on! Some scenes are just crazy (in the good sense of the word), and it makes the package a lot of fun. Between all of the abilities and a combo system, you are entitled to just go full on when there is a need.
Let’s not forget a very important functionality: drop-in/drop-out local coop multiplayer. I didn’t have the chance to try it out personally, but the fact that the functionality is present is a great addiction. I would have loved to be able to play it online coop, because I don’t have many gamer friends that are geographically near me. For gamers that are not in my situation, this can result in great play sessions with friends, according to the comments I’ve seen online.
A smooth good looking experience
The visual style of the game is amazing. The cell-shading art style present in this iteration is very colorful and fits the Nacho Libre vibe put forward by the protagonist and the Mexican lore. The game also runs very smoothly. I had absolutely no hiccups, frame rate drops or any technical problem whatsoever. There’s also no real loading times that tampered my experience, which is important in a game in which you will die a lot and do a lot of trials and errors. I have absolutely nothing bad to say on the technical and presentation side.
A dozen hours well spent
After spending about 12 hours in this world, I can say that I really liked the experience. It didn’t overstay its welcome. The story concludes in a good way, with a good resolution. There is the option where I could go back to my save and try to get the 100%, with all of the regions and skills unlocked. If I had played on my PS4, I would have done it, because I am a trophy hoarder. But having played on my Switch just made me say to myself: This is nice and complete and I don’t need to go back. It is not an expensive game, and this indie studio from Toronto (Canada) is definitely worthy of our time and investment.