Bayonetta 2 | Principal Platforms: Wii U | Developer: Platinum Games | Publisher: Nintendo | Genre: Action | Year: 2014
In the immortal words of Lt. Jean Rasczak, “Never pass up a good thing.”
So don’t be like Sega and move to cancel the sequel to one of your newest and most critically acclaimed franchises ever, because doing something like that would be very silly indeed.
Be like their former rival Nintendo instead; take advantage of such amazingly talented development teams like the one at Platinum Games and help them publish yet another ass-kicking, faith-affirming nirvana destined to fellate gamers senseless via its blissful awesomeness and then rake in the profits. Simple really!
And if such a game were to make your struggling Wii U console look like a trillion dollars in the process, then so much for the better, eh?
If I didn’t make it clear enough already, this sequel’s storied battle to escape the (gates of) development hell has always been somewhat overshadowed by that heaven-sent Nintendo olive branch; a lucky break that not only secured the game’s salvation as a Wii U exclusive, but also some rather intense community backlash and a spree of “pedantic port-begging” on the part of many Internet commentators.
Indeed, Bayonetta 2’s subsequent glowing reception must have felt like a resurrection after the crucifixion for its developer Platinum and after getting to know it rather intimately this past Christmas, I can’t think of any production more deserving of such immense success against the odds.
If you’ve ever played the original Bayonetta then you’ll feel right at home with this latest outing as the irrepressibly quick action, fluid combat and completely batshit insane set pieces are all back and this time they’ve been dialled up to eleven.
The game begins by plunging players headfirst into a battle atop a soaring jet before crashing into a relentless chase by train, only to finish up with a climatic mid-air showdown versus an inter-dimensional kaiju at the apex of a skyscraper.
All of this and Rodin dressed as Santa features in the prologue level alone! Now why is a main character dressed as Santa? But that’s besides the point. It’s an impression that Bayonetta 2 is keen to make early: if it’s an enormous amount of crazy fun, then why the heck not!?
It’s also likely that you’ll be amazed by the gorgeous in-game visuals and colour; something that’s so vibrant it somehow makes the first installment look drab by comparison. Platinum have accomplished a disappointingly rare feat in pushing the Wii U console to its limits here and more importantly it’s a feat achieved without overly compromising on performance.
The beautifully rhythmic combat returns in all its blood-soaked glory which is great because players now have even more toys to play with when slaughtering their chosen quarry of angelic/demonic foes from beyond.
In addition to some leaner torture attacks and “wicked weave” combo finishers, you now have access to the Umbran Climax during combat; a powered-up state that allows Bayonetta to launch devastating gun fu blows akin to those formerly reserved for boss battles.
If there’s any word to best describe Bayonetta herself, it’s catlike. Her feline grace is on full display as she evades incoming attacks with her new Matrix-style dodge and it looks so sweet whenever she delves into her crucial slow motion witch time with the glib retort of “so close!”
It’s a satisfying sight to behold and the improved animation here extends to the enemies themselves who now recoil in more believable ways after being battered with the expanded arsenal of magical hammers, dual chainsaws and even an enchanted bow that shoots poisonous green wasps for missiles!
The enemy design has been heavily bolstered and you’ll discover a whole new bestiary of hellish minions supporting the usual choir of angelic foes, but it’s always the bosses that steal the scene in the end and in Bayonetta 2 the upper hierarchy of principal angels and insidious demons are always outputting another relentless assault to jump-start your heart at the end of a chapter.
This is helped further by Platinum’s crack team of composers who deliver a suitably epic soundtrack that does well at adding a spot of drama and upbeat tempo to the heady bouts of angel slaying.
The fun gameplay is still as exquisitely accessible as it was in the prequel and it’s only got even more so with the addition of a suite of simple touch screen controls that are perfect for casual players using the Wii U’s lightweight Gamepad.
The automatic attack routines that play from your simple swipes and pokes of the touch screen can often be imprecise when enemies congregate in large numbers and it does turn the experience into something a bit more pedestrian, but in terms of accommodating players of all skill levels and physical capabilities, you can’t deny the potential.
For experienced gamers, the use of a Nintendo Wii U Pro Controller or equivalent joypad is quite obviously recommended for a fast twitch-based action game like this, but the touch controls are a positive inclusion; something that the AbleGamers Foundation – who voted Bayonetta 2 as their Most Accessible Game of 2014 – no doubt heartily agree with.
To much the same end, the returning range of craftable power-ups no longer penalize your high score and even better is the complete removal of those fatal quick time events that blemished Bayonetta’s early cutscenes.
An intriguing semi-cooperative Tag Climax mode, that allows you to wreak carnage with an online buddy, has also been introduced. Players select a character and work together to slay a cadre of preselected enemies whilst betting halos (the in-game currency used for purchasing character upgrades and hidden bonuses) to increase both the difficulty and potential pay-off of the fight.
Enemies here are selected via a variety of verse cards which are awarded by beating those same enemies in the game’s main story mode. The action during this quick-fire team gauntlet is as fast and frantic as the single player game as players try to balance effective cooperation with their individual desire for points.
Attacking the same enemy as your partner generates a bonus towards your character’s magic regeneration, so it’s still in your best interests to help each other even as you compete for the lion’s share of the prize purse. It all makes for a friendly experience in the end of course and it’s an unexpectedly solid addition to the package overall.
In both Tag Climax and the single player modes, the game looks spectacular and puts lesser Wii U efforts to shame with its robust performance throughout its many lavish set pieces.
A few frame rate drops and occasional stutters are to be expected, what with the game-wide increase in particle effects and character model complexity, but on the whole the action is as smooth as it is relentless and there are certain sections – like the hilarious ones featuring an armoured suit of angelic power armour – that will have you clueless to just how exactly Platinum Games has managed to squeeze so much out of Nintendo’s diminutive hardware.
Bayonetta 2’s vividly apparent origins as a multi-platform release clearly didn’t leave much time for Platinum to take advantage of the Wii U’s unique selling points though. Aside from the aforementioned touch screen controls, there is a handy ‘post to Miiverse’ menu shortcut and the expected support for off-TV play, but little else of note.
That old Bayonetta “no DLC” promise is very much alive however and you can look forward to a generous helping of on-disc content including Nintendo-themed costumes, collectibles, post-game scenarios and an integrated suite of achievements or “bewitchments” for players to unlock over the course of their playthroughs.
For a genre that has arguably stagnated in the years since the first Bayonetta’s release, almost everything about this sequel is glorious and still possesses that incomparable personality and flavour that makes similar games feel so lethargic. This is not to say it’s entirely perfect however.
The most apparent niggle of Bayonetta 2 – though some could argue it isn’t an issue at all – lies in its very close similarity to the original game. Many setups and encounters are overly familiar including the menus, items, scoring screens and sound effects. Since Bayonetta 2 is an iteration on an already fantastic blueprint, it’s not a big deal to mention in terms of gameplay, but other elements do suffer from the comparison.
Nowhere is the derivative tone more evident than in the uninteresting storyline. It’s yet another muddled time-hopping narrative here and it gets fast and loose with its retcons in order to introduce a truly annoying, puzzlingly voice-acted supporting character in Loki as well as a chapter that takes place in the past; complete with many recycled enemies and level assets from Bayonetta.
Sometimes this approach works; the extra chapter full of returning foes just adds to an already meaty campaign after all, but as is the case with the overall plot, the derivative tone sometimes upsets the game’s impact. Bayonetta travels to many similar locations on a quest that doesn’t really ask much of her other than “how far are you willing to go to save a friend?”
It’s a tired yarn at the best of times and here it prevents us from further exploring the character of Bayonetta herself, not to mention her criminally neglected rival-turned-comrade Jeanne, which is disappointing to say the least.
This isn’t to suggest that the plot is totally without surprises or amusing throwbacks – the new cinemas and level songs featuring a remixed Moon River motif (in the last game it was Fly Me to the Moon) is incredibly catchy – but the tale is still burdened with a rather tasteless tone consisting of potty-mouthed dialogue and many leering camera angles of Bayonetta’s various extremities.
Even if you take the sexism aspect out of the equation for a second, it’s still a shame that Bayonetta herself feels so incidental to the developing drama. Whilst she is still superbly cast as the elegant badass (thankfully Hellena Taylor returned to voicing duties), our titular heroine doesn’t share any particularly inspired twists on her character and it makes all of those inevitable innuendos feel a tad closer to awkward rather than cheeky.
You’re also still subject to a similar run of quips, one-liners and exposition dumps, so ultimately it feels like a missed opportunity to add substance where perhaps it lacked the most. The chapter structure is still the same, the arcade game throwbacks are still present and the cloying trope of “humans have the moral strength to make their own decisions” even rears its ugly head towards the end too.
Aside from the plot foibles, there are some new underwater sections that don’t particularly inspire from a gameplay standpoint and it’s still disappointingly easy to miss bonus fights and challenge levels because of them being too well hidden.
It also has to be said that the second half of the game struggles to live up to the rip-roaring first act. When you compare the darker hell dimension and dilapidated ruin stages to that of the beautiful harbour town in chapter 1 and the mesmerising airborn chase with Glamor outside the Gates of Paradise, the difference in satisfying scenery is instantly noticeable.
And when the action reaches its thundering high points it can be a real challenge to physically see what’s going on in between all the slashing claws and magical explosions; something that is especially true when playing Tag Climax!
The promising aspect of all these criticisms though is that the game’s director Yusuke Hashimoto is certainly aware of them and hopes to make some big changes should a third game ever see the light of day. “I’d want to change everything up” is his official comment on the matter, so whatever the future holds for the Umbran witch, you can bet it will be pretty fresh and exciting.
Even with the odd gripe here and there, Bayonetta 2 is still a joy to play and you’ll quickly want to delve straight back in even when the main story mode has been finished. After a hundred hours of gameplay you can still find yourself learning more about the nuanced combat system and elaborate levels and it’s the details like these that betray just how much care and affection this game has been crafted with.
In terms of graphical fluidity and performance alone, Platinum Games have shown up many a third party developer where the Wii U platform is concerned; such is the scope of its quality and generosity.
This is such a tremendous effort that it even had my impossible-to-please technophile of a brother stating “that actually looks really good” when catching a glimpse of it in motion for the first time, but what else could you realistically expect from a game where you get to witness a 100-story angelic deity literally dropkicking a god into the waiting jaws of hell?
Climatic? Certainly! Ridiculous? Without question!
And if you were to ask me if this one game is worth buying a Wii U for, then in the heat of the current moment I would have no problem in answering “hell yes it is!”