So I never played the original Guacamelee! game when it came out in 2013. Uh, what the heck was I thinking?
As someone who loves 2D side-scrolling brawlers, Metroidvania action-adventure titles and likable characters with humorous dialogue, Guacamelee! should be a game that’s right up my alley — the kind that I would normally go out of my way to get.
Unfortunately, I didn’t realize it was that type of game. Well, at least not until I started playing Guacamelee! 2. As my cousin and I started chortling and laughing at the game’s dialogue as well as the various evil platforming shenanigans it employed to make our lives difficult, I made an offhand observation.
“This game is hilarious,” I said. “I can’t believe I never played the first one.”
“Wait, you never played the first one?” my cousin responded.
“Nope, did you?” I said.
“No, actually,” he said.
Fortunately, I downloaded “Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition” for PS4 all the way back in May 2015 when it was offered as a free PS Plus game so I’ve now got it primed and ready to go. In the meantime, let’s go back to our regularly scheduled program, er, review of Guacamelee! 2.
The game starts out by re-enacting the boss fight and ending from the first game. Spoiler alert for me, I guess, but oh well. Following his triumph, hero Juan Aguacate finally settles down to enjoy the fruits of his labors. Fast forward several years later and we see Juan once again sans his luchador mask and formerly fit physique. This is definitely a Juan who has totally embraced domestic bliss and let himself go. By that, I mean he now sports a beer belly, which sportingly peeks between the gap between his shirt and the prized championship belt that he still wears. For some reason, I couldn’t help but think of Al Bundy scoring four touchdowns in a single game for Polk High when I see that belt on his now middle-aged waist.
It’s all cool, though, as Juan is a happy man with a lovely wife and two adorable little kids. Hey, I’d kick back and relax, too, if I saved the world, married a kind, smart woman and had cute, energetic little children. Unfortunately for Juan, evil rests for no one and it decides to rear its ugly head once more while he’s out. On an errand. Getting avocados for his wife. I have a feeling that kind of goofy narrative does not come as a surprise to folks who played the original game.
Anyway, with evil afoot once more and threatening to tear the very fabric of time and space, what’s a has-been, out-of-shape hero to do? Regain his mystic luchador mask and brawny physique that’s what. Thus starts the second adventure of Juan Aguacate, hero of the Mexiverse.
For its part, Guacamelee! 2 continues to sport the lively and colorful art style of its predecessor. The result feels like a living cartoon of sorts, complete with an entertaining soundtrack that borrows heavily from the game’s Mexican influence. Admittedly, I didn’t quite know how to feel about that aspect of the game at first. As a Filipino, I feel a kinship with Mexicans due to our shared ties with Spain, which has resulted in a lot of similarities between our cultures. On one hand, it allows me to appreciate and get some of the inside jokes and ribbing present in the game. At the same time, I also noticed feeling a pang of discomfort at times regarding some of the game’s use of Mexican stereotypes — and there’s certainly a lot of them.
In looking at it more closely, though, I don’t believe the stereotypes and humor come from a place of malice. Overall, I think they are done with heart and affection as opposed to disrespect. Yes, you’ve got common stereotypes like mariachi music and the like but it also shows a strong sense of family and community. For a culture that’s typically underrepresented in games compared to Western or Japanese characters and settings, I think it’s nice to see a Mexican-themed game that’s also great to boot. It’s the same way Speedy Gonzales features a lot of stereotypes but ended up being popular among Hispanics due to the character being intelligent, quick-witted and energetic as opposed to the negative “lazy” stereotype purported by some. As someone who has vicariously lived through the eyes of countless non-Filipino characters in decades of gaming, I’d definitely welcome a game that featured a Filipino protagonist that was as kind, loving and powerful like Juan.
It certainly helps that the writing makes the game’s characters so likable. This includes side characters such as Flame Face, who sounds like a smartass teenager while inadvertently training you about the game’s moves. Even antagonists such as El Mu?eco crack me up, what with his pretentious attention to detail when it comes to the choreography of his chickens. Seriously.
Guacamelee! 2’s gameplay, meanwhile, is pretty dialed down. It isn’t quite as punishing as Dead Cells or Cuphead, largely because of its generous checkpoint system. But it’s still pretty challenging, especially when it comes to traversing the various hazards that are littered along the way. These include thorns that require you to string together consecutive jumps, uppercuts and wall bounces in order to traverse them. Sometimes, you’ll find yourself navigating interdimensional rooms that require you to seek shelter in spots that turn?lava zones into safe zones, the catch being that these spots move continuously so you’re required to keep up with them — sometimes while dealing with hazards and foes — or you’ll end up being burned to a crisp.
One of the best parts about Guacamelee! 2 is its decision to continue including couch co-op play so you can play the game with up to three friends or family members. For this particular journey, for example, I decided to recruit my cousin Ericson, who has transformed from an action-platforming greenhorn to a lean, mean action-platforming machine after I had him play and finish Cuphead with me. Even in today’s age where online multiplayer has become common, there’s just something special about having the person you’re playing a game with right next to you as you laugh and celebrate your triumphs together after a particularly tough sequence.
That being said, I do wish Guacamelee! 2 had online co-op as well. I have a niece who lives in another state, for example, and I would have loved to play this game with her. It’s one of the few complaints I have for an otherwise enjoyable game. The stages also can feel a bit drawn out at times. I guess that’s par for the course for a Metroidvania game but it can feel a bit like a slog, especially if you’re trying to find hidden chests during extended gaming sessions. The combat, meanwhile, while challenging, can feel a bit button-mashy and simplistic at times and you’re never really required to pull off the tougher combos that you learn.
Despite those issues, I still consider Guacamelee! 2 to be a fun romp. I mean, turning into a chicken in most other games usually means you have to run away from enemies because you’re gimped and can fight back. In Guacamelee! 2, it simply gives you license to beat up the bad guys as a, well, killer chicken. If that sounds hilarious, I can tell you that it’s certainly all its?clucked up to be.
Double dipping in your guac is usually a bad thing. That’s not the case with Guacamelee! 2, which serves up some fun brawler action with Metroidvania stylings. It can feel a bit drawn out at times and the combat can feel a bit button-mashy. Fun mechanics, however, combined with hilarious humor makes this Juan game worth your while.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10Cost: $19.99; PC, PS4 (reviewed)http://www.guacamelee2.com/
Technobubble covers games, gadgets, technology and all things geek. Follow Technobubble poobah Jason Hidalgo’s shenanigans on Twitter @jasonhidalgo or his Tabiasobi Youtube channel.