Bayonetta 2 is a game that never should have been made. We don't deserve it. We obviously didn't buy the original enough and yet now we're being rewarded with one the best character action games ever made. This is the opposite of how good things are supposed to happen. I'm sensing a terrible monkey paw twist real soon like that episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark. I can't remember what happened in it but I remember the monkey paw. Or maybe that was Freaky Stories. Either way, Bayonetta 2 is amazing. Play it before something awful happens to you.
+ Moment to moment tension in combat that makes Climax moves spiritually satisfying
+ Beautiful set pieces and enemy design that lend themselves to spectacular moments both in-game and during cutscenes
+Stage design that doesn't fight against the flow of the game
+A heavily customizable loadout with unique weapons and costumes
-Good luck figuring out how to equip those weapons and costumes in the beginning
-No quick restarts in the middle of a stage
-Loki's voice-acting is reeeeal blah
Bayonetta 2 is the sequel (that by all rights we never should have gotten) to 2010's Bayonetta by Platinum games, a studio well known for it's over-the-top character action games. Directed by Yusuke Hashimoto taking over from the series creator Hideki Kamiya, Bayonetta 2 follows the story of the titular Bayonetta, an Umbra Witch who seems to constantly get into tussles with the powers of Heaven and Hell, sometimes referred to as Paradiso and Inferno. Her trademark fighting style involves her four guns (one in each hand and one on each high-heel), her prehensile hair that summons demons(?) and is also her clothes(?!), and her Witch Time ability which slows time to a crawl.
Platinum's main focus is always crafting a rewarding and deep combat system with a simple veneer that the player whittles away at until it's many-layered core blossoms out into a gorgeous fractal array of combo strings punctuated by caesuras of evasive or defensive maneuvers. Bayonetta 2 does not disappoint in that respect.
Every moment of combat is an exciting dance of tension with brief moments of release. Executing well-timed dodges activates the Witch Time skill. This feature slows down time and allows the player to go hog wild with combos until the flow of time returns to normal. Those familiar with the original Bayonetta - or most of Platinum and Clover's titles - will recognize the conceit. Like the Dantes and the Viewtiful Joes that came before her, Bayonetta makes each battle a theatrical experience. Platinum games aren't interested in seeing you merely beat a level. You're expected to do so with panache.
Playing well means being rewarded with fantastic visuals and absurd, over-top finishing moves aptly referred to as Climaxes. These range from torture moves on smaller enemies - guillotines, iron maidens, etc. - to summoning towering beasts that gruesomely eviscerate your foes, gnashing and crushing them into a pulpy stew of angel goop. These are the money shots, the moments that you build up to with each successive attack. During every moment of battle you will subconsciously be thinking about when your next finishing move will be, who you'll get to use it on, and how many chunks they'll be in by the end of it. Combat in Bayonetta 2 is moment-to-moment action game bliss. Proof positive that the fine folks at Platinum are the masters of tension and release.
A problem that can sometimes befall action games is the fatigue from fighting wave after wave of the same enemy. Stages can devolve into running from point A to point B while mindlessly slaughtering as many enemy grunts as possible. Luckily the stage layout in Bayonetta 2 is wonderfully paced. Any chapter that isn't purely a boss encounter finds a delicate balance between exploration, combat, cutscene, and spectacle.
Plenty of the game's 16 main chapters have open areas that allow for a couple minutes worth of detours discovering its nooks and crannies, which you'll want to do if you plan on finding all of the game's many hidden items and missions. The areas are never so vast that the pace of the narrative feels disrupted or that the rhythm of the game itself is being thrown off. Bayonetta is a fairly linear experience and it knows it, but if you want to see what's on the other end of that pier no one's going to stop you.
Speaking of which, you'll want to go investigate the other side of that pier. There are very few times when a quick 30 second detour isn't rewarded in some way or another.
Findables include tomes left behind by a certain character that expound upon the game's lore, chests that can be broken open to uncover rare items, umbra crows of which there are twenty to collect, and portals that will send you off on a quick bonus mission in the realm of Muspelheim. Some of these may interest you, others may not. Inarguably the best secrets to come across though are the Musphelheim bonus missions.
These briefly whisk you away to a self-contained stage with a strict requirement - don't take any damage, beat X enemies in XX seconds, etc. You'll be rewarded with upgrades to your health and magic meters and they take very little time to complete. I'd compare them to the VR missions from Metal Gear Rising, but there's one major difference and it's the tip of an iceberg of problems that Bayonetta 2 has with its interface.
In Rising, another title by Platinum, when you discover side-missions they become accessible from the main menu any time you want to play them. In Bayonetta it's necessary to return to the story chapter that mission is in and physically travel to it to access it.
This isn't the biggest oversight in the world on its own but the frustration it brings is compounded by other problems. There is no restart option. If your goal is to get a high rank on any given mission - ranks for which you are judged very, very harshly - and you've been hit one too many times somewhere in the middle your only option is to reset from the very beginning of the chapter. There's no ability to start again from the last checkpoint or last autosave and there's certainly no way to access an individual part of a chapter to work on raising its rank. All this really does is make trying to get higher ranks and practicing on side-missions a test of patience more than anything.
Again, none of these frustrations were present in Metal Gear Rising, another game by the same studio that came out last year. Why these little extra missions are so woven into main stages is beyond me. Adding a 'Restart' to the menu would have done wonders for streamling the process of replaying areas. Unfortunately the last thing the menu needs is more clutter.
Pressing select will bring you to one of the many menus that will take a few tries to wrap your head around. Accessing and changing weapons, costumes or equipped items is far from intuitive. For example, I completed a stage and a prompt came up telling me that I had unlocked Weapon A. I was also informed that Weapon A was available to purchase in the store. Then I was informed that another item with the same name as Weapon A was available in the store except this was a costume. What I did not understand was that by unlocking the weapon I now had it in my possession, but if I wanted to equip that weapon to Bayonetta's hands and feet at the same time I would need to buy a replica of that weapon from the store.
Then if I wanted to wear the costume associated with that weapon I would have to buy the costume then go NOT TO THE COSTUME MENU that I had already become familiar with, but the weapon menu, equip the weapon and hit Y. Or something. I'm still not entirely sure if I'm wearing the things I want to yet. There are also a half a dozen different menus you can equip your weapons from and I want to punch all of them.
Honestly though, once you're familiar with these menus a couple hours in it stops being a problem. It seems like such an odd place to hit a snag when the rest of the game flows so beautifully. And there's a hell of a lot game there.
Outside the main story there's Tag Climax mode which lets you team up with either a computer controlled second player or someone online and fight waves of enemies that you unlock by collecting Verse cards. It's a fun little distraction and a nice way to get practice on some enemies that don't appear frequently in the story mode, but the best part is the enemy art on the cards themselves. In fact everything about the game is gorgeous.
Enemies and bosses are colourful and terrifying, chunks of them flying off after being pummeled by Bayonetta, revealing their gooey, disgusting insides.
Environmental design is top-notch too. From the game's opening jet-ride through a metropolitan city to the ornate sea-side cathedrals that twist and writhe as they're destroyed by towering angels, every beat of each stage is a well-composed spectacle that burst with energy in regular combat, and then begs to be soaked in during the slow-motion of Witch Time. Luckily there's a gallery of unlockable 3D models, character art, enemy designs, and plenty more.
Between aiming for high-scores and the elusive Pure Platinum rank in story missions, playing with friends in Tag Climax mode, unlocking new weapons that all play radically different, trying out new costumes, replaying the New Game+ with a secret character, hunting down all the bonuses hidden in each stage, or hell, playing through the new version of the original Bayonetta that comes bundled with the retail copy, Bayonetta 2 has plenty to offer fans of action games and stands as one of the finest examples of the genre.
Despite some problems with menu navigation and understanding what exactly that item was that I'm pretty sure I just bought, nothing should stop any Wii U owner from picking it up. It's a gorgeous, stylish, action-packed, brilliantly designed game that I'm thankful Platinum had the chance to make and I had the chance to play. I'll probably just play it until I die. That's probably the monkey paw thing. Now I'm trapped playing it forever it's so good.
Review based on a download code for the Wii U provided by the publisher.