The first Guns, Gore & Cannoli blasted its way onto the Nintendo Switch in December of last year, and although the run ‘n’ gun, zombie apocalyptic title was met with a mostly fair reception by fans and critics alike, there was inarguably room for improvement. Now, Crazy Monkey Studios brings the second iteration to Nintendo’s hybrid console, but has the developer done enough to get fans new and old to dive in once again?

15 years have passed since the foul-mouthed gangsta Vinnie Cannoli survived the Thugtown Massacre. For those who played through the first game, you'll be happy to know that Guns, Gore & Cannoli 2 sheds light on what really happened during the very end of the first title. New to the 'Cannoli franchise? Don't fret, there are some informative splash screens to catch you up. Helped by some beautifully animated cut scenes, you’re quickly thrown into the action and are instantly dismembering the first couple of foes with a rusty chainsaw, which not only sets the gruesome scene for what’s to come in the next four-or-so hours, but also swiftly highlights that the vast improvements have indeed been implemented and every single one of them works a treat.

Not too dissimilar to the likes of 2D run ‘n’ gun platformers such as Metal Slug and Robocop – those fond memories of being at the arcade really do die hard – it’s a case of moving Vinnie with the left stick, aiming with the right, while the right trigger is mapped for firing your weapon of choice. While on the topic of firearms, there’s a beefy number of guns to choose from. Blast the enemy into smithereens and the bad guys drop their weapon for you to swipe, and with each having noticeable characteristics that can change the course of play, we found ourselves quickly becoming accustomed to switching from dual pistols to rocket launchers.

You see, on the surface, this video game can easily be passed off as a mindless, violent, blood-drenched 2D platformer. Dig a little deeper, however, and you’re greeted with a game that constantly requires a surprising amount of strategy and platforming finesse. One section has us sprinting through a D-Day-esque beach while homing missiles are honing in towards little Vinnie, coupled with a horde of Nazis that cleverly duck, jump and navigate atop and below cover to send to us to an early grave.

Carefully utilising our full inventory of weapons - that can now be selected via a nifty pop-up wheel - and quickly taking advantage of the many obstacles in our path (while admittedly exercising an element of luck) we soon turned the bad guys to dust. It’s a satisfying affair and something that rarely grows tiresome. Unlike the first game, you finally now have the ability to aim in a full 360 radius; a feature undoubtedly greeted with open arms by fans.

Navigating Vinnie around the intricately detailed, comic/cartoon style stages is now made easier all thanks to double jumps, mid-air somersaults and dodge rolls being included. Having these new moves doesn’t necessarily make the game easier, but it does help to make things feel more fluid and it’s immediately noticeable from the start; it’s a good idea to use them effectively in order to survive.

Stopping things from getting over-familiar too quickly is the combat and level design. Don’t expect complex puzzles that require ample amounts of brainpower, but do expect a well-balanced and tasteful amount of straightforward platforming - albeit not much of it. We would like to see more of the end-game platforming sections as these impressed us far more than any of the previous three hours did. This isn’t to say that we don't appreciate the rest of the content on offer – there are some fantastic set pieces to traverse – but more of the really good stuff next time, please.

The artistic team have done a stellar job of creating a deeper, richer and more vibrant world that’s bursting with charm and noir pizzazz that becomes undeniably memorable. From the crisp forefront greenery to the dingy (and creepy) underground network of tunnels that are filled with the groaning undead, giant acid-spitting rats and all other manner of zany characters makes for some truly impressive visuals. Having the ability to blow up huge walls, theatre screens and other large scaling buildings is a real pleasure and, if triggered at the right time, gives you the upper hand when facing large groups of the opposition.

Guns, Gore & Cannoli 2 succeeds at creating an unanticipated atmospheric experience that, strangely, becomes more believable as you progress. Although dialogue between characters is short-lived, the small but witty cast leaves us wanting more screen time for each and every one of them. The mixed bag of bad guys you encounter throughout changes up at just the right times – the different factions battling it out is brilliantly executed - and with the A.I. choosing to try and end Vinnie in multiple ways, things are kept fresh and engaging until the very end.

If you’re like us and are a fan of having a trusty friend to join in on the fun, there’s a local hop-in, hop-out feature allowing for up to four players to battle through the campaign. What sounds workable in theory, doesn’t translate too well in practice, unfortunately. Sure, it’s entertaining enough to fill the screen to the brim with body parts, bullets and tasty Cannoli, but the action gets dazzlingly hectic. We find having two gangster’s trawling through the stages to be more than enough (and it works great in tabletop mode, too) with one player effectively holding back and firing at the enemies from afar – or grabbing shared health – and the other going in all guns blazing resulting in play-throughs becoming far more tactical.

A pleasant and equally surprising addition is the online co-op play; it works a treat with very little in the way of performance dips. The main, crucial point that sets it aside from the couch co-op feature, however, is that players don't share the same screen; you're free to wander off and gather more bullets, guns, and headshots as you see fit without getting automatically yanked back to your gangsta allies. With up to four players running and gunning through the same campaign, grabbing your mates (or random players in the same continent) and facing hordes of bloodthirsty walkers as a unit is a genuine riot and thoroughly enjoyable. Having a voice chat room running at the same time helps too - Discord came to the rescue here - and with the enemy count seeing a hike with every additional player, the level of difficulty is comfortable to get to grips with.

Conclusion

What fans of the first game ultimately hankered for has made its way into this sequel, and quite rightly so, with this new title overcoming some of those baffling design decisions. Make no mistake, though, newcomers to the franchise will find it easy to get sucked into the small but impressionable world of Guns, Gore & Cannoli 2. The option to draft in extra players online and offline adds longevity to the relatively short lifespan of the campaign mode and, for the most part, performs without a hitch. From its violent yet contrasting and beautiful appearance to the fine-tuned and comical combat - thanks to the well-balanced selection of weaponry - this title is well worth a space in your Switch’s indie game library.