Like a chip gliding through a bowl of perfectly seasoned avocado puree, the best moments in Guacamelee! 2 all happen out on the edge. That’s where DrinkBox Studios’ latest—an otherwise bright and cheerful tale of magical guacamole and universe-destroying dog witches—lets itself get all nasty and weird (or brown and oxidized, to take this over-loaded metaphor to its tortilla-straining breaking point). Those edges are where the game hides both its most addictive and compelling challenges—and its meanest critiques and jokes about the medium in which it resides.
All of this is thanks to the sequel’s inspired new setting, the Mexiverse, which blends the first game’s lushly colored Día de Muertos-inspired art style with the universe-hopping antics of an old Marvel What If comic. Years after kicking the first game’s big bad back to hell, our masked hero Juan is called upon to once again save reality, this time by traveling to “The Darkest Timeline” to battle a former companion turned evil. In the process, he gets shunted off through any number of whacked-out extra-dimensional spaces, inhabited by oddball residents who seem to exist largely to fuel a long series of jokes about universes where alternative gaming “rules” apply. (He also gets repeatedly turned into a skeleton-pummeling luchador chicken, although that’s a whole ’nother set of issues entirely.)
Said jokes run the gamut from trenchant, to goofy, to strangely defensive. (Beware the Dankest Dungeon, friends, and its wounded defense of the developers’ love of inserting dumb, played-out memes into an otherwise funny game.) One plays off of every street fighter’s love of punching a car until it’s nothing but a smoking wreck. Another trades the game’s deeply satisfying combat for the hokey slowness of a turn-based RPG. But a few rise to the level of actual critique, most notably the one that asks Juan to overcome an escalating series of problems by either waiting for an increasingly onerous timer to tick down, or throwing money at the problem to speed the process up. After you finally loot the box in question (securing your “randomized” reward), it’s almost a shame that the game doesn’t let Juan transact some cartoonishly brutal vengeance on the perpetrators of the scheme.
None of these jokes are going to qualify as gasp-inducing satire—people have been riffing on loot boxes for at least a year now, and it’s not like a side-quest about the pitfalls of JRPG combat is doing anything Kirby Super Star wasn’t achieving with its own candy-colored aesthetic back in 1996. But they speak to what a rich, potential-filled world DrinkBox has built for itself—even if our tolerance for the Canadian studio’s reliance on stereotypes about Mexican culture remains at a consistent eye-roll level.
Alternative universes are one of the coolest storytelling tools in any medium, allowing writers to riff on pretty much any nifty idea or scenario that comes to mind, whether it’s a simple Street Fighter joke, or a way to liven up the game’s energetic take on the Metroid formula. By blending them with an improved version of the first Guacamelee!’s still-exquisite combat and challenging-but-fair navigation puzzles, DrinkBox has stuffed its new game with an abundance of tasty treats, just waiting for new players to give it a hearty whack. (We still wish we could give just one magically empowered uppercut to that goddamn obnoxious loot-box guy, though.)