By Will Whitehurst / November 4th, 2014
From the prologue, where you fight a horde of angels on a plane and a rogue dragon from Inferno on the top of a building, to the intense final battle that echoes Space Harrier, Star Fox, Sin & Punishment and other action game forebears (all at the same time!), Bayonetta 2 never has a dull moment. More so than its predecessor, this game feels like the ride of your life as you kick ass in air, land, sea, Hell, and even in the belly of a giant beast. While most other action games as of late have mostly been monochromatic affairs with precious little in the way of excitement, one could say Bayonetta 2 fills a niche with its sheer variety.
Bayonetta 2‘s combat system is absolutely magnificent. Again, it’s hard to top perfection in that area as well, so Platinum wisely decided to keep the core tenets of the first game’s combat system intact while retuning it and adding some new key elements to make it feel fresh. Witch Time, a slo-mo state activated by a last-minute dodge, is a fantastic way to increase your combo score, and still one of the most incredible mechanics in action games today. In addition to Torture Attacks, finishing moves which put a significant dent in your enemy’s HP, Bayonetta 2 also introduces the new Umbran Climax system. It increases your attack power by quite a bit, making it easier to pull off devastating moves, and is perfect for both newcomers struggling to learn the combo system’s intricacies and Bayonetta experts trying in vain to kill a boss. And a new Animal Within form has been introduced, too. In addition to Panther on land, Crow in the air and Bat when dodging (the former is usable from the start, while the other two can be purchased at the Gates of Hell), Bayonetta can use the Snake Within underwater to go faster (also usable from the start). All of these forms add an interesting dynamic to the gameplay.
Like the first game, Bayonetta 2‘s sixteen chapters are split into battles called Verses. Each expansive level has anywhere from 4 to 13 of these, with some being mandatory. Others, called Muspelheim, serve a similar function to Alpheim in Bayonetta, as they give would-be experts difficult challenges, like defeating enemies within a certain time limit or using only Witch Time. Finding all the Muspelheim stages and clearing them in a timely fashion is one key to adding to your score, and Bayonetta 2 is all about the scores. The scoring system measures three aspects: how many combos you deal, how quickly you finish the verse or chapter, and how much damage you take. As in Platinum’s other games, there are six medals you can possibly get, with Stone being the lowest rank and Pure Platinum being the highest. Let’s just say it takes a lot to get a Pure Platinum in this game.
Bayonetta 2 controls well, with several control options and plenty of customization on that front. Personally, I like the GamePad’s button layout and the Wii U Pro Controller the most, having alternated between the two quite a bit. I thought the touchscreen controls would be nothing more than a cheap gimmick, but I was pleasantly surprised with their responsive nature. Pulling off those combos is just that much easier when you’re using your stylus as the weapon. I think these controls would work for Bayonetta newbies, but I still highly recommend the GamePad or Pro Controller for anyone who’s used to them, as those controls are still the most smooth and responsive option.
In making Bayonetta 2, Platinum also smoothed over some of the first game’s technical foibles and streamlined things a bit. Namely, this includes the removal of the prequel’s occasionally nasty quick-time events that required the press of a certain button at a certain time. You can still get many bonuses during Torture Attacks and Climaxes by mashing a button or twirling the control stick around, but it’s not a setup for instant failure.
While just a tad bit easier than the first game, Bayonetta 2 is still a very difficult game, embracing the Platinum ethos. But what I like about it, as well as other Platinum titles, is that the difficulty just feels right. For example, if you don’t dodge at the precise moment, the AI lets you know this and leaves a pretty big dent in your HP along the way. It might seem intimidating to newcomers, but there are three difficulties to choose from from the start, with two harder unlockable ones as well. Although it took me about 11 hours to complete the campaign on 2nd Climax (basically equivalent to Normal on the difficulty scale), I cleared with a mix of Stones, Bronzes and Silvers, but definitely feel like I’ve gotten better.
After all, as with any Platinum title, clearing the story mode is just the beginning, and if you’re like me and addicted to raising those scores, Bayonetta 2 will be right up your alley. There are also numerous unlockables to collect, including those much-publicized Nintendo costumes, 20 Umbran Crows (which leave behind special Miiverse stamps), weapons and more. Plus, the Nintendo fanservice doesn’t disappoint, and you can buy those costumes right from the start―although they are 100,000 Halos each. (Pro tip/slight spoiler: use the Star Fox one when playing Verse XVI. You’ll be very glad you did!)
The other major mode in Bayonetta 2 is Tag Climax, an online co-op mode that puts you with either a stranger or someone in your Miiverse friends list, and puts you in six scenarios from Verse Cards. Those are earned in the campaign, and they function as quick challenges similar to the Muspelheim stages in the campaign. There is still a competitive aspect, however, as the player who gets the highest score here gets a lot of Halos. It’s easy money, that’s for sure, and the mode is fairly responsive. I got no lag the first few times I’ve played it, which is good, especially since there are so many items that cost well over 100,000 Halos.
To me, Bayonetta 2‘s only major flaws are that one, I’m still not exceptionally good at it; and two, there’s the feeling that not enough people will be able to experience just how great this game is thanks to the Wii U’s stigma. I could go on for hours about that, however, so I’ll give my take on another common criticism of Bayonetta 2. I’m not going to dwell on Bayonetta’s characterization, but all I can say is that she uses her sexuality purely for her own amusement. And while I can see where others are coming from with the whole “male gaze” aspect of it, it never seems to fully come across as leery or creepy. If anything, Bayonetta knows she’s incredibly hot. And while some people might find this offensive, I thought it was merely another part of the deliberately over-the-top nature of things in Bayonetta 2. She’s not a pretty face baring all her cleavage for no apparent reason, like any Soul Calibur character. Even the sultry end-credits sequence has her being in complete control.
To close, The Wonderful 101 was a phenomenal and essential game in its own right, but it was also just a taste of what Platinum Games could accomplish on the Wii U. With Bayonetta 2, Platinum manages to pack a ton of quality and style into another must-have for the system. This is one of those exceptionally rare sequels that hits all the notes fans would expect, yet is still polished and inviting enough to let new fans in on the action. And with what I would consider to be the best version of the entire first game on a separate disc or a low-priced digital download (take your pick), there really is no reason Bayonetta newbies should pass this up. In a perfect world, this deep, engaging, beautiful, massive, and above all bewitching action game would become the ultimate Wii U system seller. In other words, Bayonetta 2 fully earns all five of these stars, and, in all honesty, I would give it even more if I could. Props yet again, Platinum Games.
Review copy was acquired by reviewer.
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