It had been five years since Sega’s character action game Bayonetta first took to the stage of previous generation consoles, dazzling audiences with amazing set pieces, balletic ballistics, and graceful, sexual, hard-hitting combat. More than a spiritual successor to the Devil May Cry™ series, Bayonetta’s outstanding debut had proven itself to be one of the finest of its genre, and much like its predecessor it propelled the standard for hack-and-slash games to dizzying new heights.
However, despite promising sales, the curtain seemed set to be drawn on Bayonetta as a one-time performance. Fans clamored for a follow-up, and while their demands did not go unanswered, the response came from a rather unexpected place. Published by Nintendo, advised by Sega and developed by Platinum Games, Bayonetta 2 brought the iconic femme fatale roaring back to life like a phoenix from the ashes, retaking the spotlight for one final rousing encore.
To veterans of the venerated original, things will feel immediately familiar from the word “go”. Atop a large piece of debris as it plummets through the sky, Bayonetta and a mysterious ally do battle against a swarm of angels while some holy narrator drones on about the lore. While mimicking the prologue of the original almost to a T, some previously unseen elements are thrown in to mix things up a little, like a pilot-able mech which Bayonetta uses to pummel enemies many times her own size.
This intro provides a fitting precedent for what returning players can come to expect throughout the game; an unshakable sense of déjà vu. It is by no means groundbreaking, with all too familiar faces, locales, mechanics, and style mimicked or outright lifted from the first game. Bayonetta 2, to its core, is every bit a remixing of what has already come before, with a few extra bells and whistles.
This fact, however, should not deter Bayonetta veterans from taking this return trip down memory lane. While it does not push any boundaries in the genre, it exceeds the original in almost every imaginable respect, and to those who have missed out on the ride for its first go around could not ask for a finer entry point to the series.
Bayonetta 2 is a character-action hack-and-slash beat ‘em up with a focus on graceful movement and perfect technique. Bayonetta—the series’ titular star, engages with forces both divine and demonic, ranging from tiny cherubs to gargantuan fire-breathing dragons. Oftentimes, Bayonetta must contend with seemingly impossible odds, taking the concept of “David and Goliath” to mind blowing extremes. These sequences may see her performing atop a jet, ascending a skyscraper, or even surfing through a raging waterspout as she dances between her enemies’ attacks with playful agility. Dodging is easily performed with the press of a button, and Bayonetta is completely invincible for a time as she flips through the air. Ducking a blow at the last possible moment triggers “Witch Time”, a slow-motion mechanic which sets up your enemies for a devastating counterattack.
By default, Bayonetta fights with her fists and legs, utilizing a quadruplet set of handguns—one in each hand, and one on each heel. She alternates between her hands and feet to perform several different preset combos, punctuating them with powerful attacks called “Wicked Weaves”, where she uses her hair to project giant limbs which obliterate her enemies into a smoking streaks of red. Large bosses are typically finished off by summoning an even larger demonic monstrosity to eviscerate and/or swallow them whole, making for satisfying finales to terrifying confrontations.
Throughout the game, Bayonetta will collect record pieces scattered and hidden throughout the game world which can be used to fashion new weapons, replete with their own unique move sets and combos which can be further customized by equipping them to her hands or feet, letting her alternate between two different weapons at once for unique combinations. A couple of these weapons return from the previous game, like the katana and whip, with newcomers including a giant robotic scythe, a hammer, twin swords and a bow, among others.
Every fight to be fought in Bayonetta 2’s sixteen sizable chapters will grade you based on how long you can keep up your combos, how quickly you can dispatch your enemies, and whether or not you are able to clear the fight completely unscathed. These three grading rubrics aggregate into what rank you receive for the fight, ranging from stone, bronze, silver, gold, platinum, and pure platinum, and the ranks you achieve for your fights aggregate to what grade you achieve for the level, with level grades aggregating to what rank you achieve for the difficulty level upon completion of the game. Bayonetta 2 stresses flawlessly efficient performances, and much of the game’s replay value is found in challenging players to shoot for the best possible result for every fight, every level, and every difficulty level.
It’s certainly possible to just brute force your way to the finish line with repetitive combos and sucking down health regenerating lollipops, but you will miss out on bonus currency and the game will subtly mock your ineptitude. The game’s currency takes the form of halos, which can be spent at the Gates of Hell, a classy little bar run by Bayonetta’s grizzled black friend Rodin. While also scattered throughout the game’s chapters in the form of broken pieces, Bayonetta may purchase permanent health and magic boosting items from the shop, as well as new fighting moves, perk-granting accessories, and interesting new outfits which pay homage to several different Nintendo franchises.
Fighting is the main focus of Bayonetta 2’s gameplay, but exploration plays an important role as well. Some fights can only be found off the beaten path, as well as the aforementioned health/magic items and record pieces. Combing over the level for secret goodies between battles gives the player a chance to appreciate some of the dazzling beauty to be had in the game’s environments. Much like the first game, Bayonetta 2 takes place in an old-fashioned city which features some breathtaking sights. With only a few rare exceptions, the game averages at about 60 fps in and out of combat, making for action that is visually appealing in both functionality and aesthetics.
Combat is a visually spectacular affair, striking a balance between violent chaos and fluid motion. Attacks performed by Bayonetta and her enemies are complemented with colorful after-effects which paint the battlefield in vibrant hues of dazzling neon. It can be a difficult task to keep track on what exactly is going on when fights become particularly hectic, but incoming attacks are choreographed clearly enough with sharp audio cues and conspicuous flashes warning the player of danger, so failing to dodge in time is rarely the fault of the game itself.
Bayonetta 2’s soundtrack is energetic, groovy, feminine, and bombastic, with catchy electro-pop dance tracks perfectly complementing the game’s fleet-footed combat, with other tracks being a more traditional, orchestral affair. While they are not quite as memorable as the vocal tracks, they are no less effective in emphasizing some of the more grand encounters. English voice acting is as superb as it was in the last game, mostly because everyone reprises their own roles. Helena Taylor returns to lend her flirtatious, sultry, deliciously British voice to the protagonist, Yuri Lowenthal is Yuri Lowenthal as Luka, Allan Groves remains as goofy as ever as the portly wiseguy Enzo, and Rodin’s thick baritone is delivered by the talented Dave Fennoy. Japanese voices are a selectable option, but while they offer a change of pace for repeat playthroughs, the Japanese performances pale in comparison to the stellar English voice-work.
While it was an exemplary model of its genre, the original Bayonetta suffered from a few issues that kept it just sort of perfection. Framerate problems, particularly on the PS3 version, dogged the game’s most chaotic moments with stilted, chugging performance. Unforgiving quicktime events became the source of many an undeserved death, cheaply ruining what could have been a strong grade at the end of the level, and on its default difficulty setting, encounters provided starkly uneven contrasts in challenge throughout the game, with shockingly harsh battles interrupting stretches of general ease.
Bayonetta 2’s performance is roughly on par with the Xbox 360 version of the original while completely outshining the PS3 version, averaging 60 fps with minimal dips in combat. The instant-death quicktime events of the original have been completely removed, with only Bayonetta’s button-mashing finishers remaining to give players that sense of overwhelming power. Difficulty is much more evenly handled as well, escalating ever higher in a much more gradual fashion as the story progresses. As a whole, the general difficulty has been scaled down by comparison, making for a game that’s easier to get into, but just as difficult to master as the first. Personally, the fun of Bayonetta was never the struggle to survive, but the dexterity to perform as flawlessly as I could for every single act. To that end, Bayonetta 2 offers the same degree of challenge as the first.
Those who have already been around for the series’ grand debut will know exactly what to expect for its follow-up; everything which made the original Bayonetta such an outstanding showpiece on full display, with a little extra refinement and polish to make it shine just a little bit brighter. To those who already own a Wii U, there is no reason to miss out on one of the finest action games ever made, and for those without the system but have a keen interest in the genre, Bayonetta 2 is one of several titles which may very well justify the purchase, with the added bonus of the original game included in the package.
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