I was one of the unlucky gamers that never experienced Bayonetta‘s first foray into last gen consoles. As a result, I missed out on stylized action gameplay reminiscent of the first Devil May Cry, as well as over-the-top weapons, large and epic boss battles, and most importantly, the powerful, sexy and very controversial protagonist herself.
Getting my hands on the Wii U exclusive Bayonetta 2, however, has rectified that mistake and I finally get to see what makes this title one of, if not the, best action games I’ve played in a long time.
Developed by the talent at Platinum Games along with Sega and Nintendo, and supervised by the first game’s director Hideki Kamiya (Yusuke Hashimoto directs this title), Bayonetta 2 is a love letter to Japan’s ’80 — cheesecake, intense action and incredible amounts of gore and violence. What makes the deals sweeter is that every gameplay mechanic is polished to near perfection, insuring that every entry into this game is filled with excellent controls, beautiful graphics and a smooth framerate.
Just as in the last game, you play as Umbra Witch Bayonetta as she harasses Enzo, gets fancy guns from Rodin and slaughters an amazing amount of angels to prevent her own death and subsequent one way trip to hell. Unfortunately, she is forced to put that “comfortable” existence on hold when her friend Jeanne takes a blow meant for Bayonetta and has her soul dragged down to the Gate of Inferno, and must travel to Fimbulventr — the entrance to Inferno — in order to bring back Jeanne’s soul. Along the way she meets and fights alongside a mysterious boy named Loki who, like Bayonetta before, has amnesia and is also being pursued by Angels.
Of course angels aren’t going to take a day off from trying to kill our “heroine” just because she’s on a more noble quest, so you’ll be fighting through hordes of their kind (along with the new foes Infernal Demons) using her trademark guns, physical combos, and various special attacks.
One such special is Umbran Climax, which basically uses the Wicked Weaves (strong finishers that summon an Inferno Demon’s body part to attack) to greatly increase the attack power and range of her combos. These use her magic stocks, which fill up as you attack and take damage. Witch Time is essentially bullet time that actually takes skill to use, since you activate it by timing a dodge just as the attack is about to connect.
Torture Attacks make a return from the first game and like the Umbran Climax, can only be activated with a full magic gauge. Like many other mechanics in this title, this gameplay feature is much deeper than first let on. When a player meets the requirements, a prompt is displayed on the screen and Bayonetta unleashes a devastating finishing blow to the enemy. Upon further inspection, there is a unique Torture Attack for each type of environment and foe that possesses an optimum point to use it.
Bullet Climax comes back as well but with slightly reworked controls, making it much easier to pull off and stay in that mode. Bullet Climax allows Bayonetta to attack clusters of foes surrounding her, and happens to be an incredibly anti-mob move in her arsenal.
Delving into overall controls a bit more, players can either use the Gamepad touchscreen or the traditional button scheme from the first title. The former works to make the game much easier to play for those that are unfamiliar with action titles such entire combos and dodging can be easily done with the flick of the stylus. The latter is for more experienced players that want more freedom to customize attacks and such on the fly. Both are equally tight and responsive methods, although I prefer using the buttons myself.
Aside from the main quest are mini-levels known as Muspelheim, scattered throughout the levels. While completely optional, they provide players with unique combat challenges and help to break up the otherwise straightforward action of the main story. Players can also acquire rare bonus items upon a Muspelheim’s completion.
Bayonetta can purchase new moves, accessories and items from Gates of Hell using halo’s collected from angels, which provide more customization options for nearly any play style. For instance, if you’re not particularly talented at timing dodges for Witch Time, using a technique called Bat Within can nullify damage (as a bonus it requires different timing to activate). Items allow the heroine to restore health and even revive if killed during battle.
Rodin can also make new weapons for Bayonetta using special collectables called Golden LP that you receive after missions. These weapons can be equipped to her legs and arms, either along with her Love is Blue (replacing her Scarborough Fair from the first game) or entirely replacing them. This feature adds even more strategic depth and customization options for players as each weapon has its own playstyle, specialty and role in the game.
Newly added to this sequel is an online multiplayer mode called Tag Climax. You can choose to cooperate with friends, team up with strangers in random match-ups or play with an AI partner. You play through six verses that are chosen based on levels you’ve already unlocked in Story Mode. Players can bet halos against each other in a friendly wager, the winner of such being the one with the highest rank. Bets also affect the difficulty rating — the higher the bet the more challenging the enemies and the more damage you take from their attacks.
I enjoyed the co-operative yet competitive nature of the online, as well as the choice to play with who I wanted. Having AI partners is especially useful for the sake of practicing the mode before actually teaming up with real players, since it requires a certain level of skill to successfully complete. It certainly also helps that the AI is more than competent in battle and can easily keep up with your skill level against the tough enemies (or if you’re not so skilled, it’s capable of carrying you through a match too).
Enemies possess great variety and AI, with bosses serving as a true test of skill, endurance and quick reflexes while avoiding the dreaded fake difficulty label. No boss in my opinion exemplifies this more than Masked Lumen, Bayonetta’s new rival in the game. Battling with the Lumen Sage is like walking on a knife’s blade — at any moment the tides can turn to favor the other side and the only thing keeping you from a crushing defeat are the skills garnered from previous engagements.
Meanwhile, controls in this title are excellent and respond with a precision rarely seen in action games; this is one of the few titles I can honestly attest that any mishaps and gameovers are a direct result of your own mistakes rather than any input lag or poor controls. The camera is also impossibly on-point and even during the most hectic boss battles manages to always give you the best possible viewpoint.
In terms of visuals, Platinum Games managed to outdo themselves. Environments are detailed and gushingly gorgeous in HD quality and even in the midst of complete chaos the game manages to run incredibly smoothly with nice attention to detail. What I truly enjoy the most, however, is the ability of the game to convey ambiance and mood in its settings. Fimbulventr is filled with crisp and ornate gold adorned white buildings that contrast with the simple blue sky and clear water reflecting rays of sunlight to create a city of stark beauty and serenity. This, along with the near invisible ghost residents and lack of animation (barring Bayonetta herself), establishes the city as the stagnant and utterly still Purgatory it represents.
Naturally, the jazz music is just as out of this world as the first game’s, with great composition and lively beats that fit every situation like a glove. I particularly enjoyed the main battle theme “Tomorrow is Mine,” which somehow made me feel even more kickass playing as the already awesome Bayonetta while I mowed down wave after wave of foes.
Fans of the previous title will also notice that Bayonetta’s fighting animations have been redone with massive improvements all-around. Her outfit’s texture has been given a more leathery look, her hair animates like a dream and her body language and movements are made far more expressive to reflect the return of her memories, and therefore her true personality. It’s refreshing to see character growth protrayed so well in a sequel and makes the already strong and confident Bayonetta even more honest and powerful as a character.
Bayonetta 2 is the ideal action game and the ideal sequel rolled up into one impressive package. On the action side it has a simple approach to combat with enormous depth underneath, excellent controls and battles that are familiar enough to perfect mechanics with but never becoming monotonous. As a sequel, it builds on the already exemplary Bayonetta by improving control responsiveness and visuals, while adding on great online multiplayer.
This is one of the rare games that balances appeal to both genre newcomers and hardcore action game heads, without sacrificing anything for it. Bayonetta 2 proves to be one of the — if not the — greatest action games and should not be missed under any circumstances, despite any reservations on the titular character’s design choice.