The easiest way to sum up Bayonetta 2: it’s more Bayonetta and it’s on the Wii U. There’s a story as to why it’s only available on Nintendo’s console but that’s neither here nor there; the point is that it’s on Nintendo’s box and it’s unlikely to be going anywhere else for the foreseeable future. Several years of development time and progression in the medium have led the sequel to become a more smooth and polished game than the original, but the heart is there and it remains about the same. It still follows the character-action model fairly closely: you’ve got a stylish protagonist, a free-form combo system with plenty of different weapons to use and enemies that do hellacious damage to punish you for any mistakes you make when dodging all over the screen. Everything looks great with hardly any framerate hitches, so it’s a solid experience all around for fans of this sub-genre.
If you aren’t familiar with the series: you play as Bayonetta, an Umbra Witch. She’s basically a kung-fu spellcasting Amazon who wields four guns simultaneously and punches gods into the sun. It’s that kind of game. Bayonetta spends a lot of her time beating the hell out of various things; in the first game it was mostly angels, while here some demons are just asking for a face full of bullets as well. The highlight of the series is the combat, which focuses on stylishly dodging and linking together massive combos before moving in for the kill with one of Bayonetta’s patented (and gory) Torture Attacks. Highly skilled players make it look like poetry in motion; everyone else can do pretty alright, though in general I felt like Bayonetta 2 was a smidgen easier than the original.
The plot, likewise, is More Bayonetta. See the part where I said gods get punched into the sun? You’ve got the idea, then, and going into it is a bit unnecessary. It’s a Platinum game: they love excess and they do it well.
My biggest praise for the combat engine in the sequel in terms of gameplay is that it makes a lot of things more convenient. In particular, I can’t laud enough the fact that the Bat Within technique is available right from the get-go. See, Bayonetta is really about learning when to time your dodges – a proper dodge is performed slightly before an enemy hits you and activates Witch Time, a bullet-time effect that lets you beat the crap out of your hapless foes. Unlike many games with a similar “parrying” or “just dodge” concept, though, Bayonetta initially places a lot of emphasis on the “before” there – you aren’t trying to dodge right when the attack would land, because if you do you’re just going to take the hit. The Bat Within technique, which isn’t acquired until a few hours into the original game, adjust this so you have an actual Just Dodge ability to activate right when you’re about to get hit. This still activates Witch Time and it drastically improved my “hit rate” when it came to nailing dodges. This might sound like a small quirk, but I felt like it made a big difference during my playthrough.
The new weapons are worth a mention as well. I’m a simple man, and for simple men there’s nothing quite as cool as being able to quad-wield katanas. You earn this capability about two hours into the game, and it’s amazing. Other early weapons include a scythe, a set of paired whips and a bizarre insect-shooting longbow. While the most balanced option continues to be Bayonetta’s “Love is Blue” handguns, you can still make things happen with the rest of your arsenal if you’re willing to put some practice in. Except for that bow. No idea what to do with that thing. The sequel also adds the Umbran Climax technique, basically a form of Devil May Cry’s classic Devil Trigger where you become super-powered and can utterly destroy your foes for a few seconds. It’s a nice touch and adds another level of strategy to the combat, but I found that boss battles became very reliant on using this technique to prevail – you tend to only do serious damage using Umbran Climax, so there’s a lot of points where you have to do “chip” damage and build up your meter to hit it again.
Another new quirk is the availability of the Tag Climax mode, basically an online multiplayer option. I don’t think I’ve seen something like this in a character action game before; it allows you to select from one of several playable characters and team up with your friends to waste some baddies. It’s a good time, but unfortunately it falls into the trap of placing many of its unlocks in the single-player game, so you can’t just play multiplayer all day if that’s what you’re after.
A couple of my old pet peeves from character action games show up here, which is a bit disappointing. You still need to scour every corner of each area to find needed upgrades like health and magic boosts. I can see where some players might enjoy this, but I found it was mostly a distraction from the awesome combat. There’s also the game’s heavy focus on score and ranking; players who are willing to invest the time into this game will love the high skill ceiling, but more casual gamers are bound to be discouraged by getting slammed with low rankings over and over again. The tendency of enemies to use unexpected attacks that you won’t be able to dodge or counter without having seen how they work contributes to this, as it’s unlikely you’ll rate very well without replaying levels. Still, these are minor, personal quibbles and I doubt they’ll bother others at all – they’ll be too busy shoving angels into guillotines and such.
Incidentally, if you haven’t played the original Bayonetta, it comes on disc along with the sequel if you purchase a physical copy. This is the definitive version of the game, though oddly the default control schemes differ between the original game and sequel, which can be a little awkward. In particular, locking onto foes defaults to the R button in the original – if you’re using a gamepad, this is a pretty awkward and painful place to put this function, so it’d be a good idea to change your control scheme. In the sequel, locking on is performed by holding the left trigger, which is much easier to manage. But let’s be honest: you want to be playing this on a Pro Controller. The Gamepad is nice, but leave it at home for these games.
Bayonetta 2 is exactly what people expected it to be: more of the original on a very odd choice of console. In other words, it’s brilliant. If you’re into absurdly different character-based action games then you probably buy every single thing Platinum produces, and their leading lady’s latest is no exception; Platinum’s simply the best in the business when it comes to this sub-genre of the erotically absurd. Grab it, love it, hope it sells enough for a third game, either with Nintendo or elsewhere. And if you missed out the first time around the original game is here, too, polished up and better than ever. Should you buy a Wii U for it? Well, probably not…you should already have one for Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate and Hyrule Warriors.