Guacamelee Games Have Been My Best Pandemic Escape
Times are dark, so why not spice things up with a little guac and a few laughs?
Relief can come from the strangest of places and in the most unexpected forms. I’ve watched my friends and the internet at large deal with this pandemic through their own various outlets. A few are learning new skills, others are delving into hobbies. Then there’s most of us, just trying to get by. The one universal situation seems to be an uptick in consuming entertainment, as a distraction, escape, or even a crutch.
I watched as the world soaked up their sadness with games like Animal Crossing. Building their own little escapes from all this and I felt hollow. Those games never really gel for me, and amidst everything it felt like nothing would. That was until I entered the Mexiverse and tasted the sweet hit of Guacamelee.
My partner and I have been self isolating at home for months now. We’re both somewhat high risk and as Victoria’s cases continue to grow, we continue to stay home. This means there’s a constant search for combined activities to break the stagnation without breaking ourselves. Co-op games are fantastic for this, but it seems fewer and fewer games offer couch based cooperative play. Many are shooters and I’m just tired of guns and blood on brown and grey colour palettes. I wanted something bright, fun, and full of life, so when I saw it pop up on GamePass with a confirmation of couch co-op, I downloaded Guacamelee 2 and expected nothing from it.
Cut to a few weeks later and these games mean the world to me. They were exactly what I needed. Guacamelee’s bright and colourful palettes and details make the Mexiverse feel alive and purposeful. There’s such a strong sense of cohesive yet beautiful direction towards all the art. And it does this while still having some of the best visual gags I’ve seen in a game.
They’re of course supported by some really clever comedic writing, that feels almost like joking alongside your funniest friend. The jokes range from so-bad-they’re-good puns, internet and game references, and just good character interactions. Referential humour and memes were highly criticised in the initial release of the first Guacamelee game but everything in 2 rides that line well without overdoing it. Instead, leaning far more into the world of the game, while still taking time to poke fun at our own.
The characters are genuinely likeable with their own personas and their existence makes sense. I noticed once when playing alone that the default second player character still pops up to make (usually pretty funny) comments here and there. At first that felt weird until I realised it’s because she’s still canonically there. She has to be as guardian of the mask the protagonist wears and that seems so much more well thought out than it needs to be. And it’s always small smart choices like that which take me by surprise — I’m still discovering them in these games.
They also all look like true individuals. Expressions on the characters are simple while still conveying fantastic depth and comedic timing. Plus little touches like how each character has their own unique wonderful style, animations, and chicken version to play as.
Speaking of chickens, each one runs with their beaks in the air like an absolute lunatic. They travel through toilets, worship gold, lay explosive eggs, and have some of the wickedest platforming challenges known to hombre or pollo. It’s something so simple yet delightful in every way. The chickens also gave rise to one of the most unexpected joys — perhaps one of new my favourite video game soundtracks of all time.
While we were casually clucking through a sacred hidden chicken society, I turned to my partner and said “Wait… is this song being sung by chickens?”. Which led to a quick hunt to indeed discover the melodious lyrics of “Buck buck”s — probably not sung by actual chickens but brilliant none-the-less. But the rabbit hole which followed was eagerly listening to each track, which while wonderful during the game, I’m not sure I fully appreciated.
There’s a wonderful mix of mariachi tones with videogame synths. Every track in hindsight fits the tone and environment it’s set to astonishingly well. Many will have variants for both the living and dead worlds which convey different emotions within the same tune. Plus they’re all just straight up bangers (except for Templo De Jade and only because it has a woodblock tap on the 4-and which always throws me). I listen to them when I need something enjoyable without distracting lyrics. I listen to them for fun. I listen to them to help me go to sleep with good vibes. I’m listening to them while I write this piece. This game is a well ingrained part of my life at this point and I believe it’s brighter for it.
But it’s not just the levity of Guacamelee 2 that’s made it my comfort game during isolation. It’s that it is challenging in all the best ways, even with two people. To the point where when we worked out how to cheese some sections due to our two player advantage, it still felt like a deserved win for figuring it out.
Some platforming challenges were so difficult we’d chip away at them for hours, all while still being able to enjoy the beauty and humour of the game. There’s a real sense of accomplishment behind them as you can feel your skills improve. Due to the difficulty and learned skill required, actually completing them gave me a great sense of competence. Not enough to make up for how much I’ve lost, but a boost desperately needed.
But there came a point where Guacamelee 2 had done all it could for us. We’d blitzed through a few times at different difficulties, including DLC but we were still hungry. I thought, why not ‘avo (I’m so sorry) go at the original, after all I can’t ever get enough guac. After some research determining the polished up Super Turbo version of the game was the way to go, we downloaded it and got to work.
And it was great. Not as good as 2, but still perfect for what I needed. There are some slight differences between the two games but all of our skills transferred. This edition has fixed a lot of criticism levelled at the game when it first launched and is well worth visiting. It’s now also home to one of my proudest accomplishments in videogames.
There’s a section where platforms dip in and out of existence and get smaller as you go. It’s tough and took many attempts over the course of several days. Eventually I just sat down, knowing in my dumb little heart I could achieve this, and kept trying until I did. I know it’s absurd to place such value in doing a small thing, especially in a game. However, In a world where there’s so much I can’t achieve for so many reasons outside of my control, I sat down with a vision to overcome a challenge and did so.
There’s just so many reasons I’d like to thank these games and the people who made them. They’ve been a bright, fun, challenging, and straight up hilarious beacon for me during a time of global despair. And I know it can’t just be me, who needed this or something like it and may be having trouble finding a good fit. I’m sure other people, other relationships, other families, could use a little guac to dip their sad chips of life into. Even if just to add a little flavour to some weird and dark times.
Also holy shit Guacamelee what a great name. Just saying it is fun — the games are somehow even better.
I will offer one word of advice for those seeking refuge under the Luchador Mask. I feel the absence of these games in my life now I’ve exhausted them completely. I crave more and there’s a real sadness which hangs over me. While I believe it is better to have loved and lost, do not, my friends, become addicted to Guac. It will take hold of you and you will resent its absence.