Controlling a chicken has never been so glorious as it is in Guacamelee 2. This lucha libre-inspired Metroidvania closely adheres to the 2013 original, full of delightfully punchy combat and precision 2D platforming as you swap between the worlds of the living and the dead at will. But the best addition to your luchador utility belt has to be the greatly expanded chicken form, with new pollo powers that expand your exploration and fighting capabilities. Guacamelee 2 can't match the refreshing newness of the first as it retreads many of the same mechanics and aesthetic flourishes, but it's still a great adventure if you're hungry for a hearty dose of exacting, attractively presented challenges.
Seven years have passed since the canonical good ending to the previous game, quickly relived in Guacamelee 2's intro as a not-so-subtle nod to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Masked wrestler Juan Aguacate has adjusted to family life, when suddenly he's thrust into an interdimensional dilemma: the very fabric of time and space is threatened by Salvador, a corrupted, sickly hero who succeeded when Juan didn't in other timelines. The eccentric premise is all a reasonable excuse for Juan to save the Mexiverse (yes, that's what they actually call the world) once more, though you may grow weary of all the alternate reality jokes in your journey through the 'Darkest Timeline.'
Juan and his adventuring buddy Tostada eventually unlock all the same special moves as in their previous outing, which open up paths to new areas and are a crucial element in the combo-heavy combat. You'll start by squaring off against simple skeletons that crumble after a few punches, but many later enemies have color-coded shields that must be broken with the corresponding ability before they'll take any damage. Once you've gotten the hang of the moves' mobility options and damage output, the plentiful fistfights become thrilling tests of might, as you chain together hard-hitting attacks and deftly dodge incoming strikes. I can think of few 2D platformers that make it this fun and easy to juggle your enemies in the air before slamming them into oblivion with a well-timed piledriver. Guacamelee 2 adds a skill tree with distinct disciplines taught by lovably eccentric trainers, but the upgrades themselves aren't so interesting, usually boiling down to 'do more damage' or 'accrue money quicker so you can buy the upgrades that do more damage.'
Guacamelee 2's combat is just one of the many ways this sequel's presentation pops, from the use of bright, vibrant colors to the super-stylized character designs. The environments are particularly entrancing this time around, with great use of lighting effects that add a glimmering depth to the backdrops, all of which have dual 'world of the living/dead' iterations. Same goes for the soundtrack, which is chock full of absolute jams that have two equally hum-worthy variations (many of which have been stuck in my head long after I've stopped playing).
That said, the flashy visuals can make combat extremely busy when playing in local co-op, which allows for up to four luchadors brawling at a time (just like the preceding game's Super Turbo Championship Edition). It's nice to have the option to have a few pals join the fun with drop-in/drop-out action, until you realize that the battles degenerate into button-mashing chaos with three or four players, and the platforming challenges are really designed for one leader to do all the work while the others look on in a revivable bubble form. Multiplayer can be fun in short bursts, but you'll probably want to play through this Metroidvania solo or paired up with a partner who doesn't mind taking a back seat every so often.
While the expansive moveset feels great to use, whether you're beating up baddies or accessing previously out-of-reach routes, it will all feel quite familiar for those who enjoyed the first game. Many of the same platforming challenges and enemy designs from the original are reused here, with a few fresh gimmicks mixed in for added variety. Most notable is the souped-up chicken form: what was once reserved for traversing Morph Ball-sized crawlspaces has evolved into a poultry powerhouse that doles out serious damage and has two amazing new movement abilities. To put said abilities to the test, chicken-only dungeons have been strewn throughout the Mexiverse, which offer some of the most gratifying and demanding trials yet. There's also the Eagle Boost, a finickier take on Ori and the Blind Forest's Bash move that lets you propel yourself through set grappling points. Fortunately, Guacamelee 2 is as forgiving as its predecessor with its thumb-blistering tasks, offering unlimited, penalty-free retries and plenty of checkpoints before particularly tricky sequences.
And now for the proverbial elephant in the room: those pesky memes. The original Guacamelee caught flak for its hackneyed use of played-out memes which were plastered around the hub areas as billboards and graffiti, and the sequel doesn't shy away from doing the same. If anything, it's doubled down, packing plenty of 'gamer humor' into the main storyline and even including a hidden area meant to lampoon all the haters. Humor is subjective, but it's not all that amusing to find references that merely recreate pieces of pop culture and expect to get a laugh. That said, some of the optional dialogue definitely made me chuckle, and it's great seeing references to other indie games big and small lovingly sprinkled around the world. Depending on your tolerance for puns, quotes, and throwaway references that don't go anywhere, your mileage and/or groaning output will vary.
What really matters is the action itself, and Guacamelee 2 delivers a thoroughly enjoyable trip through multiple timelines and spiritual planes. Its runtime is moderate: my initial playthrough clocked in at around eight hours, and it took another two hours and change to hit the 100% mark. Like the first game, it ends on a strangely somber note unless you take the time to scour the world for hidden collectibles, and once you've done so, there's little incentive to come back. But Guacamelee 2 offers everything a good Metroidvania should, all bundled in a swank package. Failing its challenges is painless, and there's such a deep sense of satisfaction when you finally nail a section that initially seemed so tough. It's simple, really: if you had a blast with the first game, you'll love Guacamelee 2 too.
Reviewed on PS4.