Bayonetta is death. In fact, she is perfect death. A whirling maelstrom of kicking, slicing, bullet spitting, demon summoning death. She is Platinum Games’ most iconic character; a sadistic, sexy, sharp-tongued witch who, were it not for Nintendo, may never have graced our screens again. The 2009 original was hailed as being one of, if not the, finest third-person action games of all time, but seemingly a sequel was not considered worthwhile by franchise owner Sega. Instead it fell to former adversary Nintendo, searching for exclusive titles to bolster their struggling Wii U’s line-up, to save the game from development hell.
So here we are, returning to Bayonetta’s world in the most unlikely place. The blue skies, J-pop beats and anarchic lead character are so fundamentally Sega tropes, but in 2014 they fit Nintendo better than they ever have, themselves increasingly an outsider whose vision is wholly different to the rest of the gaming establishment. The question is, can Bayonetta 2 possibly be a system-selling title?
In the original Bayonetta combat was crucial, and in Bayonetta 2 it is exemplary. That’s in part due to the fact that it builds upon the exceptional foundations of the first title. It is fast and fluid, tight and responsive, with punches, kicks and gunplay combining with the summoning of powerful demonic hands and feet that end many of the game’s combos with comprehensive force. The key to survival is the game’s dodge manoeuvre, which sees a successful escape rewarded with the perfect opportunity to counter-attack. A well executed dodge causes Bayonetta to enter ‘Witch Time’, a state that slows everything else to a crawl, allowing you to deal out significant damage to your adversaries.
The game also sees the return of Torture Attacks, context specific opportunities to slaughter your opponents with infernal devices. The results are always extremely bloody, and certainly enhance the sense of power that Bayonetta has at her disposal. The newest addition to the game’s combat system is the Umbran Climax; a state that can be entered once the player has filled their magic gauge. Once triggered Bayonetta lets fly at her opponents with repeated summons, giant fists hammering away and eradicating everything in their path. The Umbran Climax is essential to beating the game’s bosses, and given the level of challenge many of the bosses represent, triggering the ability is actually surprisingly calming as you let loose on them with very little chance of reprise. Thankfully though, you’re not handed these opportunities without having earned them first.
The lead characterisation is as strong as in the first game, and Bayonetta is a fantastic heroine, managing to be both compassionate and callous, sexy and imposing, and always unerringly witty. The same level of definition can’t necessarily be seen in the rest of the cast, though returning characters Rodin, the game’s demonic shopkeeper, former adversary Jeanne, and the mildly idiotic Luka and Enzo are all amusing enough. New character Loki, who is central to the plot, has potentially received the worst English accent I’ve ever encountered in a game, though at least Platinum have seen fit to include a Japanese language track so you can opt never to hear his faux-British outbursts again.
The storyline itself sees Bayonetta setting out to save fellow Umbran Witch Jeanne from Inferno following a summoning that went wrong. It isn’t long though before Bayonetta finds herself caught between both Paradiso and Inferno, with enemies on both sides. It’s pulpy but enjoyable stuff, the tone of the story fitting perfectly with the outrageous style of the game.
Graphically the game is a distinct step-up from the original title, appearing increasingly vivid and bright throughout. That Sega heritage is clear to see, with the blue skies and oceans that fly by evoking memories of arcade games such as Afterburner and Space Harrier. Bayonetta herself looks amazing, particularly during combat, and apart from a slightly weightless run animation is as lithe and lethal as you’d expect. From a technical point of view the game runs relatively consistently, though the frame rate will take a dip when the action is particularly heavy in both the foreground and the background. Whilst it proves the Wii U to be a pretty capable machine, it would have been interesting to see what level of performance Platinum could have achieved on a PS4 or an Xbox One.
The art style and the character designs are wonderful, with some truly hideous enemies sent after you from both Heaven and Inferno. The baby-faced angels and nightmarish demons are timelessly creepy, and seeing them break and eventually shatter as you attack them is a great gruesome touch. Despite the shared features that tie each faction together, many of the enemies are memorable and distinctive which helps alleviate any potential worries of fatigue.
The jaunty upbeat pop of the soundtrack may be initially jarring to someone used to a more serious tone, but in terms of the character, her actions, and the overarching story I can’t think of anything that would be a better fit. It all ties into the style of the game as a whole, and the music’s playfulness reflects Bayonetta’s own nature. As the game gets increasingly hectic, the soundtrack heightens that sensation, leaving the calming level select music as a welcome oasis between concentrated periods of insanity.
Bayonetta 2 includes a wealth of content, including the new Tag Climax co-op mode which you unlock levels for by collecting cards in the main story mode. Alongside that you have Muselpheim, a challenge ‘plane’ where you can earn various rare rewards to upgrade Bayonetta by beating a variety of challenges such as beating a group of enemies with a single combo or in a tight time limit. There are also various collectables and unlockables including a range of Nintendo flavoured costumes for Bayonetta and Miiverse stamps as well. There’s even a selection of achievements in the form of Bewitchments, which are a little confusing on a Wii U the first time the accolade pops up in the corner of the screen.
Bayonetta 2 is amongst the most refined and dynamic action games to appear on any console, taking the best parts of the original game and building upon them. It is crazy, chaotic and characterful and a genuine pleasure to play. Whether it can be a system seller for Nintendo is questionable as its delights are possibly not entirely mainstream, but for fans of the original and the genre it should certainly make a Wii U a very tempting proposition.
UPDATE: Our review initially showed the wrong score due to a typing error. Sorry for any confusion caused!