There were times when it didn't look like a Bayonetta 2 was ever going to be. Publishers and console makers were all quiet on the prospect of a sequel to Platinum's 2009 cinematic action fest, unsurprising given that even the developer themselves acknowledged that sales for the first Bayonetta were weaker than they hoped. So along came Nintendo to help offer a home to the hair-raising heroine, picking her story up where it left off.
Nearly five years after her first adventure, Bayonetta returns with the same fiery attitude and the kind of thrilling combat that made that 2009 outing a cult classic. Though it's easy to dismiss Bayonetta as a shallow male fantasy, that would be doing this game a disservice, as it proves to be one of the most adrenaline-pumping action games of the year.
The story for Bayonetta 2 is set up nicely in the game's prologue mission. It helpfully introduces the game's characters, including the Rapunzel-like Bayonetta, while establishing that it is indeed picking up from the events of the first game. In fact, not all is well in Paradiso and Inferno and Bayonetta must set off to find out why the worlds are out of whack, while also rescuing a fellow Umbra Witch who sacrificed herself to keep Bayonetta alive.
The forces of both Paradiso and Inferno also have their sights on Bayonetta, as well as a mysterious young mage named Loki, setting the stage for a trip through Purgatorio. It's a story that's basic enough to grasp, but one that could be a bit grating to watch unfold. All of the characters give off a bit of a "too cool for school" vibe that can be annoying to sit through. Bayonetta has a quip for just about everything, which gradually loses its charm over time.
Beyond Human Comprehension
Fortunately, the focus of Bayonetta 2 isn't so much the story. The focus, beyond the obvious sexualization of the main character, is its emphasis on pure action that unfolds at a practically-breakneck pace. Battles in Bayonetta 2 come quickly and they come often, though Platinum is kind enough to avoid throwing enemies out there in overwhelming numbers. Rather, the enemies are kept to certain areas, allowing players to explore levels at their own pace.
Combat is where Bayonetta 2 shines the most. Not only has Platinum capably mapped out 3D beat-em-up-style, Devil May Cry-like combat to all of the Wii U's buttons, but it has even offered touch controls for anyone that prefers using the Wii U GamePad. It's not always intuitive, but touch combat is a nice option that proves to be fun to use at times, whether it's completing combos or triggering some of the quick-time events that pop up during combat.
There are dozens of combos to master, each of which can help either pound enemies to paste or help out with crowd control functions. For example, there's a rising kick that can be parlayed with a ground pound that fires the guns at Bayonetta's feet or there's a breakdace move that sees Bayonetta firing guns in all directions. The fun comes in learning to master these combos in conjunction with Bayonetta's counters. Successful counters can automatically trigger the Witch Time mechanic, in which a "bullet time" effect is momentarily triggered to help start up new combos. Likewise, dishing out enough damage can either trigger the special 'Umbran Climax' for maximum hair-based damage or QTE prompts for over-the-top finishers that dispatch foes in gruesome ways. Combat feels genuinely rewarding and it feels like it pays to get better.
That's not to say any of it is easy, of course. Higher difficulties will require pretty much everything you learned, given that enemies can get more relentless, hit harder, and offer less of a window for counters. In other words, it's the kind of challenge that's become expected of Platinum.
Bayonetta 2's setting allows for some of the most imaginative foes I've encountered in an action game.
Bayonetta 2's setting allows for some of the most imaginative foes I've encountered in an action game. Beautifully-designed creatures are themed after heaven and hell, with enemy design going beyond standard demons. Even low-level minions are designed with amazing detail and artistic care, such as certain Paradiso enemies that are designed with the features of brave angels and gallant centaurs rolled into one that are topped off with sculpted faces carved into their stomachs.
The boss battles truly excel. Many bosses tower over Bayonetta and can fill up the entire screen, putting her into a 3D flight scenario that takes advantage of the right control stick for changing direction. These battles are often majestic, unfolding in theatrical fashion. There's never a static background to be found, as there will always be heavy winds, tornadoes, or even other fights unfolding while Bayonetta does battle. QTEs will sometimes trigger the next part of the battle or signal the time to put the fight to bed, but they don't feel intrusive. These epic finishes and theatrical shifts help every boss battle feel like an event.
Getting Her Good Side
A lot of action unfolds on the ground, in the air, or even underwater. Unfortunately, that means that the camera can't always keep tabs on Bayonetta and it will sometimes prove to be your worst enemy in the course of battle. Since her combos move quickly and sometimes take her across the screen, the camera won't always show a willingness to keep up. I was frustrated by its tendency to get caught behind an enemy or end up behind a wall or under the ground.
The most problematic instances come during the aforementioned 3D flight sequences. These can be a bear to deal with, since some boss attacks will take up most of the screen and the camera won't always adjust itself back to Bayonetta. Given the fast pace of everything that's happening all at once, losing Bayonetta to the camera at an inopportune time can lead to her getting hit. At a lower difficulty, it can mean the difference between a Gold and a Pure Platinum medal. At higher difficulties, it can mean certain doom.
The Deep End
Don't judge a book by its cover. It's easy to dismiss Bayonetta 2, given that the main character frequently gets fetishized throughout the entirety of the story. There aren't just puns in the dialogue, but you can often find Bayonetta shedding her hair, posing provocatively, or even pole dancing in certain instances. It's very easy to not take this product seriously, in light of all that.
But beyond all of that is one of the most competent and addicting action games I've played this year. Platinum understands what it takes to create compelling combat in a vividly imaginative world and they have a major knack for making combat encounters feel epic. Bayonetta 2 is manic, adrenaline-fueled combat at its best, showing tremendous depth beyond its shallow lead character.
This review is based on a downloadable Wii U code provided by the publisher. Bayonetta 2 will be available in retail stores and on the Nintendo eShop on October 24, for $59.99. The game is rated M.