Developer: Platinum Games
Release Date: October 24, 2014
Platforms: Wii U
Reviewed On: Wii U
Bayonetta 2, the once dead-in-the-water sequel to Platinum Games/SEGA’s character action game that helped to redefine the genre, (Bayonetta) is an anomaly of epic proportions. It is a Platinum game published Nintendo (with SEGA advising), exclusive to the Wii U (after being multi-platform prior), somehow more boisterous than the first game and, surprisingly, even better than its predecessor. It is, in short, the best game Platinum Games has ever developed and a masterclass in action games. It does not get any better than Bayonetta 2 when it comes to the oft-neglected subset of the action genre.
Hideki Kamiya, an industry veteran who helped bring about the former trendsetter of the form, Devil May Cry (along with the fantastic Wonderful 101 and more), takes a step back as first time director, Yusukue Hashimoto, grabs hold of the reigns to move what many hope is a long and potentially successful new franchise in the IP stable of Platinum Games. The narrative choices are bold but the mechanics additions are even more strident. This game is more challenging than its sire but also more lenient. The very beating heart of the original Bayonetta is very much intact within the core of this sequel yet it has been further refined, upping the ante substantially and evolving what was already genre-defining combat and making it even better.
Whenever reviews get hyperbolic about a particular title the minutiae of frame rates, graphical superiority, and the like are usually in the conversation; but rarely does one here about just how perfect a game is in regards to control. Bayonetta 2, in iterating on what was already a genre classic, showcases a means of executing combos, flurries of blows and large-scale finishers that is simple upon the surface but immensely deep as the player digs further into the system. The WiiU Pro controller is definitely the preferred method of input here though the Gamepad will suffice. The leniency mentioned earlier actually comes into play if one makes use of the Gamepad. Touch controls are present with an easier mode of play available which allows for quick targeting and tapping on enemies to execute combos. It does, however, greatly diminish what makes Bayonetta 2‘s combat so compelling in the first place. This is a control scheme and combo system that leaves nothing on the table and only gets better the more one plays. The simple beginnings become far more nuanced as the game progresses, teaching the player not only how to play but making them do far more than when they first started.
This is a game that requires the player to pay attention when it comes to executing paired combos and dodging attacks. Dodging and rolling constantly won’t get the job done as it becomes a necessity (especially at higher difficulties) to make use of a mechanic known as Witch-Time. The concept, present in the prior game yet much harder to initiate due to a smaller window of time in which to dodge, allows for the player to avoid an attack at the last moment thus slowing down time an allowing for a momentary respite from the chaos. It also allows avoidance of huge telegraphed abilities and gives the Umbran witch an opportunity to get a few more blows in or setup another combo. The simple alteration of the timing window for dodging in the game makes such a huge difference in terms of playability and what is possible via Witch-Time that it not only becomes a joy to execute but a flatout extension of the already superb arsenal of moves and weapons at Bayonetta’s disposal. The more dodging and correct executions of mechanics the player earns the more magic to be stored in their meter to unleash an Umbran Climax. Bayonetta is imbued with power temporarily to unleash a bevvy of Wicked Weave attacks on her foes that build towards a demonic finish that does devastating amounts of damage. The interplay between dodging to get to Witch-Time, building towards Umbran Climaxes and finishing foes with Torture Attacks (single foe takedowns that are often brutal and hilariously overwrought using ancient torture devices) make for a delightfully absurd mixture of frenetic combat and a feeling that truly earned victory.
Each limb wields as a weapon as Bayonetta tests her mettle against scores of angels and demons (Seraphim and Infernals) allowing for instant toggling, mid-combo, between the two if necessary. You can pair swords up top with chainsaws (you read that right) or, in what might be my favorite combination of weapons in a game ever: A giant hammer in Bayonetta’s hands along with a Chain Chomp attached to her ankle. The sheer variety and overall utility of each and every weapon (and so many more are unlocked through subsequent playthroughs) is staggering. This is a game that, immediately upon completion of your first playthrough, unlocks three different sets of weapons with the promise of more to come. It is, much like other games that came before it, a title that ultimately gets better upon subsequent treks through it. The difficulties levels are referred to as Climaxes (Cheeky aren’t we, Platinum?) with the penultimate, Infinite Climax, an exercise in not only insanity but a true test of even the most battle-hardened of action game veteran’s skills. Oh and the Chain Chomp weapon above? That is one of many Nintendo-themed costumes and weapons that can be unlocked via the in-game currency, Halos.
Enemy design, much as the first one, is top notch as well with Seraphim and Infernal both possessed of truly unique traits. The Seraphim tend to be more symmetrical and ornate, even austere in nature. The Infernals, denizens of Hell, are far more abstract and provided some of the most glorious fights in the game. The sheer amount of lunacy on screen at any given time paired with the breakneck speed of the battles is stunning. Combat is always fluid and the first game, by comparison, tends to feel stiff when placed against the second. Large-scale enemies are even bigger than before with huge boss battles that feel not only epic but downright cosmic in the way they play. Whether Bayonetta is flying towards an enemy to dish out a flurry of blows or riding atop a giant demonic horse and slashing away at falling debris or enemies there isn’t much in the game that doesn’t feel overblown or ridiculous and that is a damn good thing.
The sequel takes full advantage of being on the next-generation hardware and, though, it doesn’t quite have the horsepower of the Xbox One or the Playstation 4 the WiiU more than delivers with Bayonetta 2. This is what you refer to as a “killer app” for the much maligned system. Combat has never been so fluid or fast-paced, vistas constantly stunning and the sheer scale and size of some of the boss battles are astounding. The use of space constantly between the arenas and the more vertical sections allows for setpieces that simply weren’t possible on the prior generation’s hardware, and while it would have been great to see this game on other platforms as well, it wouldn’t have made its way into the hands of gamers without Nintendo’s help. A small price to pay for genre perfection.
It is a combat game and, of course, the action is executed flawlessly; but what about the rest of it? Bayonetta for all it did in helping to set the bar that much higher for the character action game genre was not without its flaws. It featured an absolutely horrid mid-cutscene insta-fail QTE (Quick Time Event) system that would often mean repeating segments constantly due to poor timing windows. The game, while tremendous in its own right, featured a story that was, for lack of a better term, an absolute mess. Half the time players were clueless as to just what the heck was going on, character motivations were shaded at best and it was merely a thin thread to keep the various setpieces tied together. It featured time-travel, witches, angels, demons and the fate of the free world but, for the life of this reviewer, many of the finer points of that game’s narrative are either blurry or downright forgotten at this point. Most don’t play these sorts of games for the story but it would have been nice to get something more coherent.
Bayonetta 2 not only solves that problem handily but manages to fix most of the problems presented by the story trappings of the first game. Lingering threads that seemed to have no resolution from before are taken care of. The motivations of villainous sorts in the first one are made clearer by the story of the sequel and the characters most important to the story have far more embellishment and backstory filled in. The dialogue is, as with the first, delightfully campy and downright silly at times as Bayonetta’s smoldering voice purrs out lines. This is a decidedly Japanese game and, because of it, many of the sort of excesses of anime and the things one might love about them are all present here. The overwrought nature, though, doesn’t deter from the quality but, rather, bolsters it. It is so over-the-top that one cannot help but enjoy it. The outlandish nature of it all sucks you in.
This might make me an unpopular sort for saying this but, ultimately, Bayonetta is one of the strongest female presences in all of gaming. The “sexualization”, if you wish to call it that, applied to her does not strip her of any agency but, rather, is merely a part of the persona. She is rarely if ever falling behind her male counterparts but quick to offer a quip, witty and as tough as they come. The polarizing components of the character are easy to spot, for sure, but rarely does the game ever have fanservice for the sake of it. It delivers a heroine that not only takes on scores of awful creatures, large and small, but one must remember that this series of games is ultimately just insanity sandwiched on top of insanity. It is so over-the-top and outrageous that the moments of questionable intent regarding the character dissolve into the awesome soup that is the Umbran Witch’s larger-than-life personality. The first game had a rather generic and trope-laden character introduction involving amnesia and so forth but the second game makes big strides forward in that department by actually developing the “super sexy Witch” into an actual person. She is still sultry and always on her toes but the moments that count have impact and lead towards a character that is both sexy and powerful. She is what she is, love her or hate her.
The soundtrack is a truly magnificent grouping of orchestral tracks along with vocal work provided by Keeley Bumford on tracks like “Tomorrow is Mine” and “Moon River”. The first game had a decidedly excellent soundtrack and the sequel is no exception to that rule. It injects the tension-filled moment-to-moment combat with a grace and exceptional atmosphere that adds a lovely layer of icing to an already delicious combo-filled action cake.
The only lingering complaint after a playthrough would have to be the voice-acting being a bit uneven. Nothing ruins the game or sours the proceedings much but Loki, a major character in the story, is poorly realized. The voice-work for such a major character being so bad provides really the only blemish on what is, otherwise, a truly wonderful experience.
There are more compliments one could pile on to this game but, perhaps, this might work best: Bayonetta 2, far more than any other title, is the most video game of video games to come out this year. It is the absurdity of the form cranked up to the highest level and dished out to perfection. It is not only a true masterwork in the action games genre but it somehow manages to be the best game Platinum, a studio already famous for producing absolute quality consistently, has ever produced. Bayonetta’s latest adventure trumps the first game in every way possible while still remaining true to what made the first go-round so dynamic. This is a must-own title and a definitive reason to own a WiiU. It also happens to come with a remastered version of the first game as well for the same price. Best action game bundle ever? Yup.