All right, I’ll admit I’m a little biased.
Back in 2009 when Hideki Kamiya’s ‘Bayonetta’ was released for the PS3 and Xbox 360, I rode that angel-slaying, demon-summoning hype-train all the way to 100% completion. What’s more, the demise of Bayo 1’s final boss had me in such hysterics that its name would become my online alias from then onwards.
So when Bayonetta 2 was announced as a Wii-U exclusive in 2012, like every other fan of the original, I was torn. On the one hand, to be treated to another installment of the bonkers, Platinum Games IP was fantastic news. On the other hand, it meant splashing out on a new console for the privilege of playing it. £250 was a little steep for the sake of just one game. But since then, thanks to the Wii U’s expanding catalogue of exclusives, picking one up has become much easier to justify. Now in hindsight, I wish I’d done it sooner.
While the decision to make Bayo 2 a Wii U exclusive was necessary to the keep the franchise alive, it was also by far the most appropriate platform to release it on. As while Nintendo have usually shied away from mature-rated content in the past, their in-house titles have always prioritised fun above anything else. And that’s exactly what Bayonetta 2 is. Pure, unadulterated fun.
Where other consoles are suffering from a glut of grim, identikit shooters, and online-only multiplayer experiences, Bayo 2 feels like a breath of fresh air from the old school of gaming. No mass-market pandering, no season-passes, no microtransactions and no pressing ‘F’ to pay your respects; just a fantastic single-player experience, with an emphasis on story, characterisation, and entertainment.
Much like its titular protagonist, Bayonetta wastes no time getting stuck into the action. Five minutes of prologue is all it takes for our heroine to transition from ‘shopping trip in the city’ to ‘akimbo-firing pistols off the back of an angelic centaur riding a stunt jet’. All the while, an up-tempo remix of Andy Williams’ ‘Moon River’ accompanies the stylish slaughtering of Heaven’s army, and with that, the tone is well and truly set.
If you can manage to sit through the entire opening sequence without at least cracking a smile, then perhaps the fabulously ridiculous world of Bayonetta isn’t for you. If however, you struggle to see all the beautifully choreographed angel-slaying through your own tears of laughter, then you’re in for a real treat.
A brief tutorial follows, explaining how to dodge and attack, and from thereon control is yours. Pay attention though, because this isn’t exactly the type of game to hold your hand. Even the ‘normal’ difficulty will prove challenging for newcomers to the series, and higher difficulties should really be saved for subsequent playthroughs. Combat is fast-paced, fluid and absolutely typical of Platinum. There’s a strong emphasis on mastering the dodge mechanic; as evading an enemy’s attack at the last possible moment will activate Witch Time, slowing their movement and allowing you to get a few good hits in.
There’s a huge number of combos and moves spread out across multiple unlockable weapons, all of which can be equipped on Bayo’s arms or legs to different effect. Inevitably, you’ll find yourself falling back on the same, safe few strategies, but if you’re planning on scoring high and reaping the big rewards, you’ll have to mix up your style as much as possible. You might notice underneath your health bar, you’ve got magic too. This allows you to pull out Bayo’s gruesome torture attacks, which trigger a small quick time event and usually mean instant death for anything caught in them. With a full magic meter she can enter the new ‘Umbran Climax’ mode, turning all of her regular attacks into Infernal-demon-infused ‘wicked weaves’ for a short period of time.
Performance is evaluated on a fight-by-fight basis, and at the end of each combat you’ll be awarded a rank from ‘Stone’ to ‘Pure Platinum’. This is determined by how well you chained your attacks, how fast you dispatched your enemies, and how much damage you took. You’ll also receive a bonus number of Halos (the in-game currency) which can be spent on new moves, costumes, items and upgrades. The whole system is reminiscent of Devil May Cry (another Kamiya IP) and the game makes plenty of nods to this throughout. Any upgrades and techniques you pick up carry across playthroughs, and are more or less essential for tackling the games higher difficulties and post-story challenge-levels.
Bayo’s not just about tearing through celestial creatures however. Between scuffles with angels and demons, you’ll have the opportunity to explore some truly stunning environments. From heavenly Paradiso to hellish Inferno, each area has its own beautifully unique aesthetic. Even the human city of Noatun takes architectural inspiration from Western Europe, and the result is a jaw-droppingly pretty Venetian/Parisian hybrid.
Thorough exploration is rewarded with a smorgasbord of collectables, from expositional diary entries and consumables, to essential health-increasing pickups. Straying far enough off the beaten path will even reveal extra enemy encounters, as well as portals to the hidden world of Alfheim where you can really start to test yourself.
The game’s story is as absurd as it is entertaining, and ties in heavily with Bayo 1. This might leave newbies to the series a little lost at times, and even old fans might get thrown off by all the time/dimensional travel involved. You don’t need to have played the original to appreciate Bayo 2’s story, but it helps.
Supporting the narrative is a pantomime cast of heroes and villains. Some welcome returns to the series include demon hunter and resident badass, Rodin, comic relief, Enzo, and journalist/stalker, Luka. All of whom deliver their cheesy dialogue with total conviction, making them genuinely hard to dislike. Even newcomer to the franchise, Loki sports a horrendously poor British accent (complete with northern colloquialisms), but like everyone else, the performance is so hammed-up anyway, it only adds to the distinct sense of humour.
Bayonetta herself is given a little more scope for expression this time around since she’s no longer shackled by the clichéd ‘amnesiac-trying-to-remember’ role she was landed with in the first game. And while the issue of her hyper-sexualisation still lingers over the series, it’s hard to feel like her portrayal should be taken seriously given the totally insincere context that she’s being portrayed in. But that’s an argument for another time. If you’re comfortable enough to endure a few close-ups of Bayo’s bum and a handful of comically placed sex noises, there’s really nothing to be offended by here.
Competent players will run the main story in about 9 hours or so, but between the post-game challenge missions, extra difficulties, hidden bosses and the much anticipated co-op mode, there’s enough content here for a solid 25 hours of play.
In short, Bayonetta 2 is one of the best reasons to go out and buy a Wii U right now. Fluid gameplay, entertaining story and fantastically stylish cut-scenes make it a worthy successor to the original. Some self-referential and fourth wall-braking humour juxtaposed with more serious moments, really invest you in the likeable cast of characters. The generous amount of unlockables (including some Nintendo themed goodies) will see you retuning for multiple playthroughs, and consequently make Bayo 2 great value for money.
Of course it’s not perfect, but it’s damn close. A certain reliance on the previous game’s story will make it hard to follow for some, and the humour won’t be to everyone’s taste. But the gameplay is truly hard to flaw, and only gets better the further you progress and the more you play.
What Platinum have tried to do here, is create a fun, no holds barred, old school gaming experience on a modern system. And personally, I think they’ve succeeded.