Guacamelee! 2 Review: Lucha Dimension Party
Kalvin Martinez / Aug 23rd, 2018 No Comments
Representation in media is hugely important. It isn’t simply about throwing a few ancillary characters in that check off diversity boxes. Real representation is about telling stories revolving around a people and their culture.
Representation is extremely difficult in games due to the nature of game development. So, when a game comes along that not only represents an underrepresented people and their culture, but also celebrates it, it is something special.
Gucamelee! was one of those special games when it released back in 2013. It ignited a passion in me, not only because it was a genre I loved, but because it showed my people and culture in a fantastic and reverent way — it also didn’t hurt that it was one of the best Metroidvania-style games in years.
When Drinkbox Studios announced a proper sequel to Guacamelee, it was a big deal. How could it possibly top what was a nearly perfect game? Easy: more pollos and more esqueletos!
Guacamelee 2 transports players back into the beautiful and colorful Mexiverse with an expanded moveset, twice the humor and even more space-time to explore. It is a hell of a feat for a sequel to outdo its predecessor, but Guacamelee 2 doesn’t just raise the bar, it is the bar.
It’s been years since Juan Agucate triumphed over the evil Carlos Calaca and saved his beloved Lupita. In the years since, Juan hung up his tights and relinquished his mask. Peace doesn’t need a luchadore.
Juan didn’t need to be a luchadore anymore; he needed to be a father to his two children, Esperanza and Juanito. With no more battles to fight, Juan focused on his children and being a good father. Naturally, his training fell by the wayside, but even an out of practice luchadore can throw a decent rooster uppercut.
While Calaca had been long vanquished, the Mexiverse felt secure from threats, at least from its own timeline. Unbeknownst to Juan and the people of Pueblucho, a darkness stirred. This threat was far removed in a timeline where Juan failed to stop Calaca, but another luchadore did.
Unlike our Juan, the taste of victory wasn’t so sweet for Salvadore. Instead of starting a family, his mask corrupted him and he grew gravely ill. Driven by the madness of his mask and his illness, Salvadore sought a forbidden power. By seeking out the sacred relics, he hoped to open the gateway to El Otromundo and eat the Sacred Guacamole to get rid of his sickness and gain ultimate power.
In trying to save himself, Salvadore ruptured the fabric of space-time, opening voids in all other timelines. While doing an errand for his wife, Juan discovers the voids, and Uay Chivo informs him about the situation. It turns out Juan will once again have to don his tights and mask to help stop Salvadore.
With the help of Uay Chivos from across all the timelines and Tostada, Juan may stand a chance against overwhelming odds. This time it isn’t just about saving his love, it is about saving the entire Mexiverse.
What makes Guacamelee 2’s story so compelling is how heightened the stakes are. While Guacamelee similarly had large implications, it was a much more personal story. Juan was fighting to save the woman he loved while trying to stop Calaca. Guacamelee 2 sees him fighting to save not only his timeline, but the entirety of space-time from collapsing. The stakes are high, but it also means Juan needs to be much more capable and fearsome to stand against the new threats from the land of the living and the dead, and from different dimensions.
In many ways, the story is still personal in spite of having such dire consequences. Juan has something to protect even if it isn’t in immediate danger. His family is under threat by the voids and he must succeed to keep them and his world safe. In other respects, Guacamelee 2 is a story about two luchadores. While Juan’s story isn’t as uniquely personal, Salvadore’s story is extremely personal. Fantastic writing paints Salvadore as much more than a simple bad guy. He isn’t a good guy or a bad guy, he is just a guy scared of dying and losing what he worked hard for; of losing his identity.
All that is cool, but the real star of the writing is how, at every turn, humor is infused into the story. There is a great tone to Guacamelee 2; it isn’t blase, but doesn’t take itself too seriously. It revels in the absurdity of some elements of its story, mainly in terms of the multiple timelines. There is a lot of fun had paying homage to various video games and other pop culture elements. It livens up the experience and makes fantastic use of additional dimensions. That isn’t even to mention the hilarious dialogue, which never lets up except for the right moments where the story needs to breathe.
On top of all these great elements, Guacamelee 2 doesn’t forget to celebrate the Mexican culture or its people. Whether it is the spirit of lucha that pervades every ounce of the game, the music, the gorgeous scenery, the land of the dead, the vibrant colors or the background art, there is never a moment where you doubt this is Mexico. More importantly, there is no doubt that this a game and story that could only be told in Mexico.
There is no question and no doubt that if you loved the combat in the first game that you will feel right at home in Guacemelee 2. Much of the moveset returns for the sequel. Juan can still throw a hell of a rooster uppercut, packs a mean dash punch, can drop a KO headbutt with the best of them, and has the cleanest frog slam this side of the Rio Grande. He also has a huge arsenal of acrobatic moves and technical precise throws, but his repertoire is greatly expanded to contend with a much more sinister threat.
Juan now enjoys a new throw called the rocket kick, where he can punt an enemy across the screen for great damage. He also has a new means of traversal, called the eagle boost, that allows him to slingshot from grapple points much higher into the air to reach heights previously unavailable.
But it isn’t just an expanded moveset Juan employs this time around. He can train with various trainers to improve his moves, conditioning, technique and pollo form.
Not only has Juan’s lucha gotten better, but he has a range of new pollo powers even if his heuvo power is nerfed. Now, your pollo form isn’t only for getting into small spots. You can fight in pollo form, and use unique power moves like the pollo shot and the pollo slide. These moves also bring with them enemies that must be defeated using them. They also act as unique traversal moves. Every facet of gameplay from combat to platforming now requires you to think both in terms of your lucha and pollo moveset to overcome the challenges Juan faces.
Fighting is tougher than ever for many reasons. It isn’t simply badder and more varied esqueletos or enemies than before or traversing the worlds of the living and dead seamlessly to overcome enemies in both worlds at once, but it is taking into account that both your lucha and your pollo moves are necessary to triumph over the challenges you’ll face.
In any situation, you may be forced to contend with a ton of different enemies that require you to switch between worlds and switch between pollo and human form. Plus, you’ll have to do it all while dodging attacks or all at the same time as you try to up your hit combo. The increased difficulty makes success all the sweeter and those high combos much more earned.
While Juan has to fight plenty of esqueletos, chupacabras and other mobs, his greatest challenges are Salvadore and his gang. The boss fights in Guacamelee 2 are even better than the first game. They are more difficult and ask you to be more technically precise, but what stands out among them is how much more dynamic the level design is for them.
The fight with Uay Pek is one of coolest boss fights. It takes what makes normal combat in the game so engrossing and combines it with a clever level design that shifts every time you try to make headway. While you’re fighting mobs to get back to Uay Pek, she is constantly changing the layout of the world to put you further away. It is a remarkable battle.
In addition, the final confrontation between Salvadore and Juan is one hell of a brawl.
As a Metroidvania, Guacamelee 2 isn’t simply about fighting. There are plenty of platforming challenges to overcome. What made the first game so frustrating and satisfying was dealing with platforming sections that required you to use technically pecise platforming with twitch level dimension switching. That is back and even more arduous than ever.
This time, it includes challenges to switch between forms to utilize all the traversal abilities you have at your disposal. Whether that is using a pollo shot into a dimension switch into a form switch to use eagle boost to a wall hang, you will find plenty of moments that will make you want to pull your hair out, swear out loud and smash your controller. However, triumphing over these challenges becomes all the more satisfying.
Gucamelee 2 is one hell of game. There isn’t any reason to mince word. It is as bold and bombastic as a rooster uppercut to the chin and a pollo slide to the shins. The world effuses charm, vibrancy and a liveliness, whether you’re exploring the world of the living or the dead. From the technically demanding, yet precise gameplay to the story’s effortless humor, it is hard not to fall in love with Guacamelee 2.
If you haven’t played Guacmelee! then you can remedy that by picking up its remarkable sequel and save the Mexiverse from an evil luchadore right now.
Guacamelee! 2 was reviewed on PlayStation 4 with a code provided by the developer.
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