Colourful, characterful and disarmingly charming, Guacamelee 2 is a hit.
I didn't think I was going to like Guacamelee 2.
For starters, I can't spell it. Each time I try, my fingers fumble to type the letters in the correct order, that final double-e almost inevitably becoming a double-l. It's an irrational grudge to hold, granted, but we're friends here, right? So I'm hoping you won't hold it against me.
Then I was adamant the Day-Glo colours and outrageously jolly soundtrack would grate on my nerves. It happens a lot, and it probably won't surprise you to hear my tolerance dips in direct correlation with games that require more dexterity than my preferred just-point-a-gun-in-this-direction-and-shoot style of play. I know I can only put up with a cheery score for so long, and Guacamelee 2 seemingly has the most aggressively cheery music of them all.
Then I'm chucked immediately - yes, immediately - into a boss fight, my Most Hated Of All the Truly Detestable Gaming Tropes, and I'm starting to wonder how I can get out of having to play this.
Something changes then, though. I still can't quite isolate when it happened. It's as if the music and the neon and the combat swirled together in an enchanting mystical mess, and I realise I don't hate the music anymore, or the boss encounters, nor the groan-inducing puns. I'm fascinated by Juan, the NPCs - the world - and I realise I've fallen a little in love with Guacamelee 2.
This is the first time I've met Juan, which means I can confidently say you don't have to know anything about the original game to make sense of this sequel. Sure, prior knowledge helps solidify the story, but it's certainly not mandatory.
Juan's, uh, chunked out a little since his first appearance, his age betrayed by the portly gut that hangs over his belt and his days punctuated by running errands for his missus. But his world is so delightful - so bright and bold and stuffed with humour - you can't help but want to while away the hours here... and there's certainly enough to do.
While the first game saw Juan trying to fight back from the Land of the Dead, Guac 2 sees you straddle several timelines at once (and sometimes, jumping seamlessly between them). This means things get complicated in that special kind of way only certain timey-wimey Doctor Who episodes can muster, but it does make for some truly extraordinary mechanics that elevate Guacamelee 2 beyond a simple - if frighteningly fashionable - Metroidvania.
It's the definition of insanity, isn't it? Redoing something over and over and over again, even though your fingers twitch in the same old pattern, even though you know that that lava wall's going to catch up with you and snare you right before you reach the safety of that convenient ledge. Again. There were so many times my fingers failed to twist in the way required to uppercut, switch dimensions, wall jump, dash jump, switch dimensions back, and then dash-jump again with a final dimensional switch thrown in for good measure. But there were enough times where my perseverance did pay off, enough fist-pump moments to balance the mistakes and keep me motivated.
Guacamelee's not afraid to be silly or poke a little fun at its own expense. The flurry of jokes - almost always of the dad variety - and delightful presentation unite to form a wholly unique, satisfying experience that keeps you grinning even as the game quietly ramps up the difficulty. It's the gaming equivalent of a puppy that just pooped in your shoe; you want to be mad at it, and you're trying so hard not to smile, but it's just too adorable to hold a grudge against for long.
Does that mean it's easy? Not particularly. Sure, it's easier than some other games of its ilk, you retain your gold when you cark it, and there's a seamless drop-in/out co-operative mode that means you can couch co-op your way out of a sticky boss battle or two. But even then, you can be bumping along just grand until you're suddenly stumped. As you progress you can bolster your skills by upgrading a modest skill tree, but there's also special moves - uppercut, dash-jump, frog-smash, wall jump, and a curious ability to morph into a chicken, just for starters - to be found, too, which helps keep that hammer-square-and-triangle-repeatedly combat fresh even several hours in (plus the burgeoning array of special abilities makes it difficult to control the impulse to backtrack and open up previously unattainable pathways).
That said, it can get incredibly busy on-screen, especially if you're playing cooperatively, and unless you and your pals elect a leader, it's going to be difficult to deal with the timeline stuff if you're all switching at the same time. Respawns could be a little kinder, and a couple of times I got myself "stuck" in an environment that I either didn't have the powers or the dexterity to escape, but the environment resets are peculiarly kind, so even if you plummet into water, your life bar won't suffer as a consequence. Occasionally, the control scheme didn't respond as I'd instructed, and given all your powers are triggered by a single button, at times you'll uppercut instead of dash, or jump instead of roll. Annoying? Yeah, a little. But not prohibitively so.
There's more to talk about, of course. I haven't even told you what happens when you turn into a chicken, or about the gravity-drooping loincloth, or the side quest that sends you all over the place for no reason, or the chicken called Loretta and her pal Donna, or the time the it's-okay-I'm-not-spoiling-it-video-game-cameo popped up for no discernible reason, or the part where you smash all the statues in search of a particular ability and gain the superhero powers of Fresh Breath! Stain Resistance! Speed reading! And - my favourite of them all - the wondrous power of Refreshing Naps. And that's what Guacamelee is, really; it's this long list of thoroughly entertaining things sewn together by thoughtful, creative platform-puzzle play.
Guacamelee 2 is stuffed with warmth and fun and charm, with every cutscene and side quest adding an extra layer of colour to an already vibrant story. Sure, the whole "Mexiverse" thing may feel a little contrived at times, but don't let that mislead you. Beneath the neon signs and Mariachi music beats the stone cold heart of a devilish Metroidvania that absolutely enchanted me... even if it did kick off with a bloody boss fight.
I hope it does the same for you, too.