Review: Bayonetta 2

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It’s a Platinum Game first off, so don’t expect any semblance of a cohesive story. Yet Bayonetta 2’s story is increasingly better than the first one, mainly due to charming roster of characters previous players have grown to like. Much like the first game, Bayonetta 2 beings in medias res, throwing you straight into an epic setpiece that’s very much like the first, dumping exposition while you feverishly fight off a legion of infinite angels.

Bayonetta 2 concerns the story of, well, Bayonetta. Kicking off from the stylised setpiece intro, it soon cuts to present day in a very humour-filled segment of Bayonetta and Jeanne preparing for a Christmas party, with the Joe-Pesci like Enzo in tow.

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Any player of the first game (and you really, REALLY should play the first) will recognize the returning cast. Luka comes back as the very annoying yet funny ‘love interest’, his presence isn’t really needed at all but he is responsible for creating one of the game’s funniest moments. Rodin is back as the shopkeeper, and as one of the beings more powerful than the title character. Enzo is back of course, and it was really refreshing to see Jeanne and Bayonetta play off one another. Indeed, where Jeanne was mainly an antagonist in the first game, here they’re welcome allies. Of course, its Jeanne’s incarceration into hell that serves as the main focus on the game, as Bayonetta embarks upon a trip to a sacred mountain called Fimbulventr in order to rescue Jeanne’s soul.

Father Balder, surviving the spectacular finale of Bayonetta 1, is revealed to be alive and takes on the form of the Masked Lumen Sage, the last of his species and the main antagonist. A mysterious child named Loki appears early in the game, hunted by angels determined to stop him from reaching Fimbulventr. To elaborate anymore would be going into spoiler territory, but Loki’s presence also forms the major part of the story.

It honestly doesn’t make sense, but it’s also one of Platinum Games’ more creative and well written stories. Some genuinely funny dialogue and some very well written character arcs save the otherwise nonsensical story. Towards the end, the plot embarks on this absolutely mindblowing path to tie it to the first game, and it’s so clever, so ingenious that my jaw was on the floor. I didn’t expect Platinum Games to be this clever in terms of storytelling devices, and it was honestly one of the best things I’ve seen.

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And in terms of complaints about overt sexuality, Bayonetta may very well one of the strongest female action heroes to ever cross gaming. Bayonetta is an internally consistent character with her own motives, character arc and ideas. She isn’t a forefront for the agendas of the male characters. She follows her own lead and is independent. She is vulnerable but isn’t defined by weaknesses; she is internally and externally a strong character who just so happens to enjoy sexuality. She plays with it, breathes it and mocks it at the same time. It’s a symbol of her being in control, an extension of her self-consciousness. It’s not sexist because Bayonetta is more than a trope or a stereotype; she has flaws and motives, she has a character arc that develops her as a person, the story isn’t focused on her physicality, but her as a person. Camera angles and sound effects do their best to illustrate Bayonetta’s sexualisation, and while it may make some players uncomfortable, it’s never done in poor taste.

Objectification in games is a topic and it’s an important one, but to me to label something as objectification requires an insight into the actual character. If the character has no reason to wear what she wears and it’s at odds with what she represents, hell yes, scream objectification, grab the pitchforks and go to town. But if sexuality is part of the character, then wearing something sexual isn’t bad and nor is it objectification.

It should be noted that most male characters are played for laughs (outside of Loki and Rodin) and not one of these characters gets any development. Bayonetta is one of the strongest representations of heroines in gaming, and everything within the game is consistent with the tone.

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Bayonetta 2 is easily the most gorgeous looking game on the Wii U. Contrary to popular belief that 30fps is enough, Bayonetta 2 not only looks better running at 60fps, but it’s essential to keep up with the insanely fast combat. The game runs simultaneously on the gamepad and on the TV, and either way it looks amazing. I noticed some very, very rare slowdown occurrences (specifically during Umbra Climaxes) but otherwise it runs perfectly well on 60fps. I fail to see why other development teams refuse to reach for 60fps especially considering they’re working on more powerful hardware than the Wii U.

Art style is absolutely spectacular: from the start of the game, fighting in a human-based city to the genuinely disgusting realms of Inferno, this game looks absolutely amazing and unique. The creativity gone into environments is incredible, the levels are more open allowing for exploration for bonuses, and enemy and creature designs are both memorable and unique. In a game like Bayonetta, good enemy design is essential towards the gameplay, and the enemies are designed uniquely enough to both keep the game constantly refreshing and fair in terms of dodging enemy attacks. If we were focusing on art design, level design and enemy design, Bayonetta 2 absolutely smashes it out of the gate, eclipsing its predecessor easily. The mindbending physics-defying environments will have you running up and around buildings and around and around environments. The camera trickery and gravity bending feels like Super Mario Galaxy on crack.

Controls are smooth and responsive: I was worried I would struggle to keep up with the action due to my dislike of the gamepad but it works perfectly fine. A Pro Controller would be beneficial though, especially if you’re not using the gamepad screen.

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Character designs are incredible: Bayonetta with her ludicrously extended extremities and short hair looks fantastic; her attack patterns are all unique and are always a delight to watch.

Hair attacks (Wicked Weaves) look similarly spectacular. While the same problem of too much hair obscuring the action remains (a bigger problem in co-op), you can actually adjust the camera further out to make sure that not too much is obscured,  a smart, simple option that makes the game better than the first in presentation. Otherwise, it’s very hard to think of any flaws about Bayonetta 2. It feels good, it looks good, and it’s easily one of the best looking games out there. It just proves that you don’t need top of the line hardware to impress people; you just need creativity and a wicked sense of originality.

The soundtrack is unfortunately less memorable than the first game’s epic 5 disc OST, but it’s still adequate. While I detest the crazy upbeat pop style of Japanese music, it suits the game incredibly well and like in MGR: Revengeance, during boss fights it just works so well. The catchy, super silly tunes mixed with the campy story and likeable characters will just leave a huge grin on your face.

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The gameplay doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it’s hard to reinvent the wheel of a combat system that’s nigh perfect. While I gave flack for Borderlands TPS for being too similar to its predecessor, and while Bayonetta 2 is very similar to the first in terms of gameplay, it’s different as TPS didn’t improve an already flawed gameplay base, while Bayonetta 2 maintains the incredible high bar set by the first.

Like the first, combos are created by punching and kicking. Upon completion of a successful combo you’re rewarded with a Wicked Weave, an extra power kick or punch made out of Bayonetta’s hair. Successful combos also fill your magic gauge, which can be used on Umbran Climaxes or the familiar Torture Attacks; special attacks that gruesomely dispatch enemies using old school torture devices with that added Bayonetta flair- successfully executing the semi-QTE of a Torture Attack leads to greater rewards. There are just a wild number of combos and strategies for each encounter, and Bayonetta 2 reaffirms itself as one of the tightest, fastest and rewarding gameplay systems in gaming since the original (and Ninja Gaiden Black).

Bayonetta 2 also adds a new gameplay element called Umbran Climax which can be activated when the player has a full magic gauge. Similar to the state of boss fights in the first game, this technique strengthens Bayonetta’s attacks and combos with extra Wicked Weaves and Infernal Demon summons for a short period of time. This increases their overall range and damage and also replenishes Bayonetta’s health when in use.

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Witch Time is back, probably one of Bayonetta’s best features. Dodging in the last second allows for time to slow down, letting you sneak in a fast combo or to traverse an environment before it crashes down. While slow-mo is something of a fad, it’s used incredibly well in Bayonetta, as both a strategic gameplay element and as a reward. There’s nothing more satisfying than perfectly nailing a dodge and seeing time slow down in an incredibly vivid and detailed manner. There’s no Non-Stop Infinite Climax difficulty (disables Witch Time in the first game), which is a real shame so your only option is to strap on the Evil Harvest Rosary and play on 3rd Climax for the toughest challenge possible.

The boss fights are consistently incredible in both challenge and in style. There’s nothing that really eclipses the sheer wow factor of the first (which ended with literally punching a god into the sun), but the strategy has been upped somewhat. All bosses are incredibly tough, and it’s such a mind puzzle trying to decipher their strategies and attack patterns. Yet it never, ever feels unfair; whenever I was hit I could never blame the game, it all was due to my own failure. Unfortunately, at least half of the 16 chapters are dedicated to bosses and bosses alone. While the boss designs and fights were consistently spectacular, I personally enjoyed the smaller verses against groups of enemies. It’s a shame there weren’t a few more verses spread out against groups of enemies.
While this particular nitpick won’t affect my score, I wanted to point them out for the diehard fans of Bayonetta who may be a little disappointed to see the same flaws remain. The main nitpick I have is with skipping cutscenes: much like the first you’re forced to pause the game first and then select ‘skip’. It’s a menu flaw I thought would be fixed with the introduction of the Gamepad, but it still remains.

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QTE events remain, but there’s literally only two insta-death fail QTE’s. The first was plagued with bad QTE’s that were punishingly fast and ended in an insta-death during scripted platforming segments, and I’m so glad that this was fixed. QTE’s are still very much part of the game: Torture Attacks utilize them heavily, finishing off a boss will always result in a gleeful bashing of a button to score as many halo’s as possible.

And much like the original Bayonetta, The Gates of Hell remains as one of the most fully fleshed out shops in a game. Everything you do in game results in halos; the form of currency in this game. Whilst many games tend to have very little in their in-game stores and too much money, Bayonetta 2 really makes you work for bonuses, culminating in that very familiar Platinum Ticket (999999 halos) that no doubt will take you to the hardest boss fight in the game (I’m deciphering this via in-game text and the first game’s ticket). You can buy accessories and techniques, and you’ll definitely need them to gain an edge on the punishing difficulty. Wearing bracelets that let you parry attacks, or automatically activate Witch Time when hit, each accessory gives you a small edge in each battle. The amount of costumes, items, weapons and bonuses on hand are staggering: and the best part is that none of it is locked behind DLC. It’s all unlockable as long as you play the game. Lollipops are useable items that provide much needed attack boosts and health regeneration, the attack boost and invulnerability lollipops are incredibly brief as to keep the game as balanced as possible. You also pick up ingredients throughout the game to use to create such boosts.

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Panther Within is unlocked from the start (thankfully), but Crow Within needs to be purchased. A new transformation called Snake Within is also introduced, allowing Bayonetta to traverse underwater environments quickly. There are a lot more underwater environments than in the first, but they’re all fun and brief. Bat Within is essential for struggling players, letting you dodge after you’ve been hit, negating the damage done and activating Witch Time. I found it sad that I spent more time dealing Witch Time due to Bat Within then proper dodging, but again, this is only through fault of my own.

Weapon customisation returns, and as usual they add even more variety to the combos, letting you apply any combination of two on Bayonetta’s hands and feet. Collecting Golden LP’s let you unlock them, but you still need to cough up halo’s to use them. The default weapon set ‘Love Is Blue’ (Bayonetta’s pistols) are enough to get you through the game, but you’ll definitely want to pick up Rakshaka, a sword combo or Alruna, a set of whips. Each weapon is distinctly different and feels varied enough, yet switching between two sets is always smooth and results in some spectacular combo finishers.

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Medals return, as another one of Bayonetta’s signature gameplay motifs. For every ‘verse’ (battle) you’re judged on the creativity of your combos, the time you took to beat the verse and how much damage you took. It was a mark of how challenging Bayonetta 2 was that I was getting constant silver and gold’s whilst I Pure Platinum’d the first game. Medals rank from order of Stone, Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum and Pure Platinum. It should be noted that verses are very easy to skip and having no medal due to a skipped verse is borderline shameful, yet it’s a great reason to explore the game and really soak in the environments. Getting that Pure Platinum is something I aim to do with countless replays, and there’s nothing more disheartening than seeing a Stone medal pop up, while there’s nothing more satisfying in gaming than getting a Pure Platinum.

Bonuses litter the levels in creative ways. Umbram Crows require a quick trigger and are fiendishly difficult to catch; unlockable chests contain Witch Hearts and Moon Pearls, both items essential for raising your health and magic gauge, respectfully. Some chests are shattered into pieces, requiring you to run a time trial in order to pick up all the pieces.

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Difficulty levels are less exciting than the bevy of options in the first. Auto mode is gone, since there’s touch screen controls now, but they’re fairly mediocre. Playing this game with touch screen controls is just wrong. The menus don’t look as nice and even the chapter screen has taken a hit (I really enjoyed the small doll of Bayonetta moving around the map in the first), but these are tiny, minuscule nitpicks that don’t mean a thing. I’m just a huge fan.

There’s less on rails segments, but there are some wildly creative and insane levels. In particular, one missions has you control some sort of giant robot, dealing some wicked damage to enemies. Another one has you riding a jet to a mountain. Each level is just so memorable and unique, it’s hard to think of any game that matches Bayonetta’s levels of creativity.

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Australian gamers get the deluxe edition by default: I couldn’t find a retail copy of Bayonetta 2 by itself anywhere. Simply put, this port is spectacular. It’s better than the 360 version, and let’s just forget about the nightmarish PS3 port job. It runs better, it feels better, and simply put, if you’re going to buy Bayonetta 2, you simply HAVE to get the first. Australian retailers are packaging the two together at NO extra cost, so to pass this up you’ll have to be insane.

Adding a sweet cherry on an amazing cake, Platinum have put Nintendo costumes into the port, letting you play as Princess Peach, Daisy, Link or Samus. Not only are these cosmetic changes, but they actually have gameplay effects. You can actually use Samus’s arm cannon, Link can block attacks with her shield and halos are rupees instead, and the two princesses can summon monsters instead of wicked weaves. I can’t think of any developer that would go to this much effort, and it’s just a genuine delight to see how much work has gone behind the port, and that absolutely zero percent of it is locked behind paywalls.

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