Gruesomely bigger, outrageously better, and offensively uncut
About twenty minutes into the original Bayonetta, our beloved wicked witch – after disguising herself as a praying nun during a funeral – turns the whole celebration into a bloodshed by brutally murdering a group of angels who came by to pick up the deceased soul. Meanwhile, when the same amount of minutes has passed on the sequel, players will most likely – after riding on top of a jet plane through a busy city in the midst of a battle against angelic beings – be using Bayonetta’s newly acquired power to fly in order to kill a gigantic dragon-like demon that, in epic fashion, has decided to climb a skyscraper just for the heck of it.
That paragraph alone could be pretty much everything one needs to know about what exactly are the differences between both games. While the two obviously thrive on the sheer spectacle and magnitude that is bound to come to the surface in the skirmishes between the powers of heaven and hell, there is an appreciable distinction here. In some ways, it could be said that Bayonetta started relatively small (such as with a straightforward graveyard struggle) and grew from there until it reached grand heights. Bayonetta 2, however, is a far fiercer creature.
The elegant lady in black comes out to play with one thing clear in her mind: in order to surpass her prior adventure, she needs to be flashier and more ambitious than ever. And that is precisely what happens. Bayonetta 2 is bigger and better. It wisely assumes that anyone coming into this second adventure has already gone through the earth-shattering clashes of its predecessor, and then it proceeds to pick up right from where it left off.
It knows its audience is experienced, and it is fully aware that little doses of maniac violence will not amaze. Therefore, it starts out huge and it ends in such large-scale fanfare that it is shocking to find out that, when the whole affair is done, the Wii U console has not blown up itself to pieces due to its inability to contain the volcanic force that is present in this package.
The key to Bayonetta’s success was that its combat system allowed players to do a lot with a little, empowering them to unleash spectacular combos and smooth movements with simple button presses that felt intuitive and controlled; hence avoiding the fall into the monotonous pit of button-mashing. Acknowledging the high quality of that implementation, Platinum Games has kept everything pretty much untouched.
Combos, which are numerous and whose effects depend on the weapons that are equipped on Bayonetta’s hands and feet, are delivered with simple combinations of the punch and kick triggers. Stylish dodging movements are performed with the timely press of a button. And filling up the magic gauge, which is done by landing blows without being hit too much, allows players to either deliver torture attacks or, on a twist that is new to Bayonetta 2, activate the Umbra Climax, a temporary power-up that enhances the damage done by all regular strikes.
The trick to it all is how visually engrossing each of those simple commands look on the TV screen. Combos always culminate with the opening up of a portal that allows Madama Butterfly, the demon with whom Bayonetta has a pact, to unleash a powerful hit. A successful dodge as the character is on the brink of suffering damage activates Witch Mode, a feature that slows down time for a few seconds, and lets Bayonetta punish enemies with no major worries. And while the famous torture attacks are a sight to behold, as the wicked woman finds some rather creative and brutal ways to vaporize her foes, the Umbra Climaxes manage some equally dramatic fireworks.
Absolutely everything about the game lives and dies for the bloody extravaganza, making pure unaltered satisfaction the ultimate reward that comes with every one of the hundreds of battles that take place during the main quest. Due to the options it gives players, the game ends up turning all sets of enemies into some sort of unpainted canvas that needs to be filled up with their blood. Here, killing becomes a weird sort of art, for not only are the combos, climaxes and tortures varied (even more so when all the weapon combinations are considered), but they are also extremely accessible.
A game with such a large degree of violence (especially one that turns it all into one showy parade) should come along with some unsettling feelings, but Bayonetta 2 – like its predecessor – stays far away from any such thing. That unexpected equilibrium is once more achieved due to the borderline cartoonish writing and humor that is employed throughout the narrative.
Although she is dealing with some pretty gargantuan powers – the ones that govern the whole universe, to be more specific – Bayonetta does it all with a calm and ironic demeanor that almost turns everything into mockery. She faces unbelievably powerful angels that are bent on killing her with an air of teenage superiority, and taunts the most dangerous merciless demons with a tongue in her cheek.
The game’s insistence in throwing comic-relief personages and sexualized crotch and butt closeups in the midst of the most serious situations, not to mention the use of catchy pop songs as the soundtrack for the bloodbaths, also help in the transforming of what could have been unbearably gruesome into enchantingly light-hearted. The game works hard behind the scenes to make all the gore and murder a boatload of guiltless fun, and it all clicks in a perfect symphony.
Aside from having a great flair for the overwhelmingly big, Bayonetta 2 also fixes some of the minor problems that hurt the original game. The scenarios are much better designed; they feel wider and more interesting. That quality gains a lot of importance when one considers that Bayonetta 2 has its fair share of collectibles, which include LPs that give you access to new weapons, logs with extra information about the game’s setting, broken witch hearts that increase the character’s health, and pearls that give her more magic power.
In addition, quick-time events that upon failure of the player to respond result in instant death are gone altogether. The game still uses that tool with the goal to let gamers interact with the cutscenes where Bayonetta executes absurd moves to turn her enemies to dust (remember, this is a piece of software that loves to show off), but those are actually awesomely fun and well-placed, and the fact they are still present is welcomed.
The one issue that is not addressed is the game’s plot. As a direct continuation of the original game, Bayonetta 2 inherits the same convoluted storyline that plagued its predecessor. The premise Platinum Games uses to catapult the title’s events is a good one: Jeanne is killed during the opening moments and, like it happens to all witches, her soul gets sent to hell. Bayonetta, therefore, sets out to find the entrance to the fiery depths in order to rescue her friend before her spirit is completely consumed by the demons of the underworld.
The great thing about that starting point is that it creates a conflict between Bayonetta and the creatures that inhabit Inferno. Consequently, not only does she have to deal with her usual foes (the heavenly angels), she also ends up on a collision course with her former allies (the demons). Naturally, and thankfully for us gamers, the developers are not shy to use the dual threats in order to make battles even grander and more epic, which is in fact one of the elements that aid Bayonetta 2 in the trumping of its predecessor.
However, underlining that straightforward storyline is – once more – concepts and conspiracies that are a little bit too all over the place. The plot development lacks focus, which makes following and – most importantly – becoming truly engaged in the game’s occurrences quite a challenge.
Bayonetta 2, though, more than justifies the great lengths Nintendo had to go to in order to have the title produced exclusively to them. It is by all means a masterpiece that flirts with perfection, whether it is on the hard-to-believe smoothness and beauty that its visuals retain even amidst the biggest battles the gaming universe has ever seen, or on the solid joy that it is to cause havoc and destruction through its easy-to-grasp control scheme.
The game delivers spectacularly both on the single-player and multiplayer fronts, and has more than enough content to keep players coming back for more and more. Improving the earned rank for each of the missions, finding all secret battles, and trying harder levels of difficulty make the game an experience that can be enjoyed for countless hours. However, even without them, Bayonetta 2 would have still been highly replayable, for the immense satisfaction one gets on each of its many battles has been rarely replicated on a videogame console.
Whether she is flying with her set of wings, riding on top of a jet plane, summoning a gigantic demon, manning a mecha robot, or just doing battle on the ground, lady Bayonetta definitely solidifies her position as the queen of all action games. She sits alone in her castle, though, because she has likely gruesomely murdered the king on her way to the throne.