by Jed Pressgrove
As entertaining as the original Guacamelee! could be as a brawler-platformer and ode to Mexican culture, its imagination only went so far. You could see that in the patronizing and predictable reference to the falling-bridge dynamic in Super Mario Bros.’s Bowser battles; the very limited abilities of hero Juan’s chicken form (an inferior nod to Metroid’s morph ball); and the inclusion of a basic turbo meter in the Super Turbo Championship Edition of the game, just in case you couldn’t already imagine that the developers loved Street Fighter II.
Guacamelee! 2 doesn’t repeat these mistakes. The homages have become vehicles for increasingly complex mechanics and bizarre parody. Hilariously, the chicken form now comes with an intricate moveset that introduces new ways to extinguish enemies and land on seemingly out-of-reach platforms. And because you must switch dimensions as in the first game, Guacamelee! 2 presents numerous situations where you must decide which form will aid you the most as you try to keep up with the tests of ever-evolving level design. Not since Resident Evil 4 has a game maintained such a ferocious pace.
This sequel also sets a higher bar for video-game comedy. Although the game stumbles when it mocks turn-based combat (Jack King-Spooner’s Will You Ever Return? 2 features a more emotionally charged, not to mention more concise, takedown of such conventions), its humor is otherwise sharp and welcome, as when the entitled gamer mentality is satirized (“Is there a mod for removing the rubbish memes?”). In a send-up of pop gaming’s lack of proper suspense, at one point you come across at least five signs warning you of danger ahead on a path. And while Guacamelee! 2 centers itself on the idea of gaining new abilities, it also invites one to laugh at the overplayed obsession with becoming more powerful in games with nonsensical allusions to the protagonist’s newly gained “Fresh Breath,” “Papercut Immunity,” and “Stain Resistance.”
Since Guacamelee! 2 demands the player to integrate a wider variety of techniques, it can be a trial at times to play, as when you find yourself on a treadmill where you must strategically transform between human and cock to avoid being incinerated by moving walls of lava that speak to the game’s interdimensional madness. But there is not a more strangely cathartic moment in 2018 than when the game predestines the player to achieve a 600-hit combo as an overgrown chicken. If Guacamelee! shows that DrinkBox Studios merely adores the art form of video games, then Guacamelee! 2, like 2016’s spectacular dungeon-crawler Severed, proves that the developer is one of the most brilliant artists working in the medium.