Platinum Games continues its dominance of the spectacle fighter genre with the release of Bayonetta 2, bringing over the top action exclusively to the Wii U, to the dismay of some fans. With many outlets praising the game as the second coming of Karate Christ, does this action game blow the roof off or is it a big old misfire?
So, let’s get the story out of the way first. It’s terrible. Not in a campy way so you can excuse it, the story is just badly plotted and completely forgettable. The story opens a few months after Bayonetta 1, with Bayonetta shopping in New York along with Jeanne and Enzo. As seems to happen in the Bayonetta universe, angels appear from nowhere and a big old bust up happens, forcing Bayonetta to jump back into action and punch seven circles out of the horde of gilded angels. After slaying the divine force and summoning one of her famous hair demons to eat the big boy angel, her summon goes wrong and attacks Jeanne, knocking her spirit out of her body and causing it to be dragged to Hell. Bayonetta then tasks herself with going into Hell, getting Jeanne’s spirit back and being home in time for tea.
Now, this seems like a nice setup. Go to Hell and back, beat up some demons, job done. However, right into the first chapter, the story gets side-tracked, with Bayonetta getting saddled with this magical card throwing kid called Loki and having to deal with a masked Lumen Sage who wants to kill said child and has some history with Bayonetta. The story expects you to care about Loki, despite the fact he is a mouthy little twerp with an awful mock-Cockney accent and just leaves the whole Jeanne plot point on the back burner for about 6 chapters until the game realises ‘Oh crap, I better finish the initial story arc so we can get back to the adventures of Cockney Yugi’. The game has no clear sense of direction, muddling through set-pieces and trying to ramp up the stakes of each encounter but with the lack of any tension, this attempt just falls flat.
Oh yay, another golden angel with a whacking great sword. Haven’t seen many of those about.
This extends to the game’s pacing too, with it starting with a fantastic prologue and never really matching the excitement of its opening, besides a chapter where you fight in Final Fantasy 6 inspired mech suits near the end. Platinum Games blows its best set-pieces in the first 5 chapters, making the game’s pace seem completely off kilter, as you repeat the same boss fight or giant flying creature skirmish another 3 times before the game caps off. Don’t get me wrong, these sections are exhilarating the first time but after you repeat them again and again with very little variation, it starts to become tedious. Also, the game’s bosses are really underwhelming, with Platinum being too focused on showing the chaos going on around you rather than constructing a super intricate boss fight. The eventual battle in Hell to get Jeanne back is with just some rank and file demon that pales in comparison to any of Bayonetta’s summons and the final boss is such a letdown, when compared to Bayonetta 1 or any other recent Platinum game like the end boss of the Wonderful 101.
For me, the main theme running through Bayonetta 2 is just laziness in terms of design. So many bosses or setpieces are repeated, the same locales are used over and over (I think I fought through the same abandoned church about 5 times) and the same white gold angels and pointy black and red devils are rehashed again and again. Every giant enemy looks like a JRPG final boss and after you have fought about 50 of them, it starts to become stale. They even rip sections straight from Bayonetta 1 and use them again, only adding to this sense of laziness. It seems that they blew all of their new ideas in the first quarter of the game and thought ‘that’ll do’, before repeating until someone said that’s enough.
Let’s turn to the combat now, which is the real meat of the game. Sure, it is very fast and furious, with players being able to pull off ridiculous combos and summon giant demons to beat up enemies in ridiculous ways but again, it suffers from it all feeling rather hollow. You do have the new ‘Umbran Climax’ mechanic, which can activate when your magic gauge is full, acting as a sort of Overdrive that makes your attacks larger and stronger so you can continue to massacre hordes of demons and angels but every battle seems to boil down to the same formula. You dodge, get some hits in Witch Time, repeat this until Umbran Climax is ready, and unload with a combo until the gauge is empty then rinse and repeat.
Maelstrom surfing is pretty cool but when you are doing this in your 3rd chapter, you may have bungled your pacing.
If the game had a more prominent style meter, a la Devil May Cry which provided more tangible rewards and bonuses for flashy combos, that would alleviate some of the monotony but alas, you instead just get some numbers ticking over in the corner of the screen. All encounters start to blend together, with no enemies requiring you to change up your tactics or weaponry with them all failing to the same strategy. While it is all very flashy, it is very surface level, lacking the depth of say The Wonderful 101, where you actually have to mix up your weapons and change your usual tactics in order to defeat a tough encounter.
As for the character of Bayonetta, she is just dead boring. Say what you want about whether she is a positive or negative expression of female sexuality, it doesn’t change the fact of how one-note she is. She suffers from the same problem that Dante from Devil May Cry has, of just being awesome and lacking any other real depth as a character. Sure, Bayonetta seems to show some motherly affection towards Loki but it is so artificial that it doesn’t feel at all earnest. The constant crotch and bum shots do feel obnoxious about 4 hours in and while Bayonetta is in control of the situation and is very comfortable with her being sexy, doesn’t change the fact that she is still very dull.
In terms of presentation, the game runs smoothly, never dropping from 60fps even when you are brawling with a legion of God’s bodyguards and the battle animations are incredible, with Bayonetta effortlessly switching between attacks and dodges during combat. Some areas do look very dated and as mentioned earlier the lack of variation in enemy design makes fights blend into one gold and red mess. As for the music, the smooth jazz main theme is nice to hear the first couple of times but again, just some variation in the battle music would have been nice to stop the game feeling like just a conveyor belt of blood and lounge singing.
The game does animate beautifully, with Bayonetta effortlessly switching between weapons in the heat of battle.
The sound effects are very punchy, with Bayonetta’s Wicked Weave attacks feeling meaty when they connect, with blade slices and gunshots all sounding powerful. Unfortunately, the game’s camera could do with some work as it gets stuck on corners or pointing in the worst direction during boss fights or when you are fighting a screen full of enemies. It also seems to fight your control as you are running through some sections, with the camera flying off in one direction at even the slightest poke of the stick. Platinum still need to work on their camera skills for their next action game, as their dodgy camera work is becoming a nuisance now. The Nintendo costumes are a nice touch, adding some fun variations to weapons and combat but it only masks the shallow combat.