The original Bayonetta was met with critical acclaim in 2009 for its sense of style, ludicrous scenarios, and expertly designed gameplay. After some financial uncertainty, the sequel was finally funded by Nintendo as a Wii U exclusive. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but some of that Nintendo magic must have shaken off onto Platinum Games, because Bayonetta 2 takes the original formula to the next level and delivers a near-perfect experience.
What Is It?
Bayonetta 2 is a character-action game set on a backdrop of ridiculous scenarios and over-the-top action. The narrative is oddly compelling for how off-the-wall it is, without being nearly as self-indulgent as the first Bayonetta, which interrupted the action too often with extended stylish fight scenes and overlong monologues. The cutscenes in Bayonetta 2 are far more reasonable (in length and frequency, at least) and accomplish what the first game couldn’t — they establish Bayonetta herself as a complex character, both supremely competent and ultimately sympathetic, a latent, resistant mother who never had children of her own. Despite Bayonetta’s playful propensity for sexiness, there is no sex in the game. In fact, every manifestation of love is genuine, pure, either maternal or platonic. This aspect of the game can be lost in the ridiculousness that surrounds it, but it’s what kept me interested in the story.
When she isn’t going soft, however, Bayonetta is slaughtering angels and demons with manic intensity. And with her hair. Her clothing is made from her hair, and the demons she summons are brought forth out of hair portals. It’s weird, but it’s stylish, and it creates arresting visuals for the combat.
Why Should I Care?
At first glance, the combat in Bayonetta 2 might seem to lean too heavily on button mashing. You punch with one button and kick with another. In all honesty, mashing buttons can be a legitimate method of getting through the game (there’s even a touch screen mode that automatically attacks simply by tapping the screen), but that’s not the best way to play. Combos are formed through a series of punches and kicks, resulting in a different series of attacks depending on the button order. The game rewards variety by limiting the points for repeated attacks, though, so consciously varying your combos will help maximize your score.
To help with variety, you can alternate between two pairs of weapons at any time with the press of a button. Bayonetta has a set of weapons in her hands and another strapped to her feet, so, for example, you might have a giant hammer in her hands and swords attached to her feet, or whips in her hands and flamethrowers on her feet. It’s stupid in the best possible way, and it makes for an amazing display as Bayonetta dances her way through enemies. Nearly all of the weapons can be equipped on either the hands or the feet, so there are dozens of combinations to use.
The stand-out feature of the combat is Witch Time — a slow-motion effect triggered by dodging an enemy attack at the last second. Most enemies are virtually defenseless during the few seconds of Witch Time, and attacks net a higher score in slow motion, so Witch Time is vital. It’s also incredibly satisfying to whale on enemies for a limited time without fear of damage.
If you’ve played the original Bayonetta, all of this should sound familiar. Conceptually, the combat is nearly identical. The feel of it, however, is much smoother in the sequel. The weapon animations are snappier and more fluid, and attacks no longer bounce off of enemies and halt the action for a moment when blocked. The changes are slight but noticeable. The only real addition to the formula is the Umbran Climax, which adds an alternative to the torture attacks that return from the first game. Successful combos fill a magic gauge that lets you either perform a torture attack or trigger Umbran Climax. Torture attacks cause a great deal of damage in one blow (by kicking an enemy into a cage of spikes, for example), but Umbran Climax is the more satisfying option. For a limited time, all of your attacks are supercharged and gigantic, crippling even the biggest enemies as you perform the same combos as before but with huge versions of your weapons.
On a final note, the game looks gorgeous. The environments are artfully designed, and the enemies are deranged and absurd. The game runs fairly well, peaking at 60 frames per second, though dropping to 30 at times in larger areas. The framerate is not erratic, though, and never detracts from the gameplay.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
First, it’s important to note that the original Bayonetta is included in the retail package of Bayonetta 2, and the digital version offers a similar deal. Even though the original game feels dated and has its issues, it’s still worth playing.
Even without the inclusion of the first game, Bayonetta 2 is a complete package. A single playthrough, watching all of the cutscenes and exploring the more open levels, takes around eight hours. That experience alone is probably worth it for most people, but there is much more potential fun to be had. Challenge levels unlock after the credits, and each story chapter can be replayed at will. The game makes it easy to see previous scores by breaking them down into individual battles within each chapter, so seeing where you could improve is quick and simple. Also, as more weapons become available, it’s fun to revisit early levels and tear up the weaker enemies there. For even more challenge, two harder difficulty levels are available that increase the number of enemies and have a higher population of more difficult enemy types earlier in the game. Finally, a well-implemented online co-op mode helps to extend the life of the game even further.
I can’t overstate just how much fun this game is. All of the tedious or frustrating bits of the original Bayonetta are gone; there are no pointless “puzzles,” no precise platforming, no instant-death quick-time events. Basically, anything that might break up the action has been tossed in favor of more enemy encounters (but not too many), more challenges, more boss battles, more fun. Few developers have learned the art of distilling a game into its most potent form, but Platinum Games has nailed it with Bayonetta 2.