It’s hard to talk about this game without talking about its predecessor, so I won’t even try. Despite donning a new outfit, a new ‘do and a new unlikely console partnership, Bayonetta is the same snarky, seductive, seraph-smashing witch that she was all those years ago. This is a game that wasn’t broke and didn’t get fixed, but instead tweaks its forumula to near perfection. The witch is back: bolder, brasher and better than ever.
The combat system is fast paced, technical and overflows with energy, just like before. It’s premier league stuff, and fighting enemies in this game really is more intrinsically rewarding than most combat-focused games. This time, in fact, a few details make it even more energetic. Bayonetta can spend magic to activate “Umbran Climax,” drastically increasing damage and reach. It’s a welcome addition alongside the Torture Attacks from Bayonetta 1: instead of magic just being a QTE access bar, this gives a measure of choice. The Umbran Climax serves best for dispatching large groups of smaller enemies, whereas the Torture Attack can quickly deal with troublesome individual threats. The range of weapons this time are weirder in design but feel a lot more cohesive mechanically. More weapons can be equipped to both hands and feet, granting many more wacky possible combinations.
Being a Wii U game there is an obligatory touch screen control mode which I only mention to save you the time of trying it: don’t. If there’s a real flaw, it might be that Bayonetta 2 is too user friendly. The default difficulty this time around is significantly more forgiving than before. “Witch Time” (slow motion activated by well-timed dodges) is slightly easier to pull off, the secret missions seem far less taxing in general and the rate of item chests has multiplied. Bayonetta 2 is so eager for you to enjoy it that it may be a little too streamlined. Don’t let this put you off too much, it’s still one of the most skill-focused combat systems around, and earning Platinum rewards (or higher) will really test you.
The visuals are, like the gameplay, similar to the original but with a few additions. The graphics are no huge leap from the last gen’s entry, and this is no doubt a consequence of the game being bound to inferior hardware. Much like the gameplay, the visuals feel refined rather than improved. Everything seems sleeker and crisper, the palette is bolder, boasting strong reds and blues, a welcome contrast from the original’s over-reliance on hazy yellows. The angels return in all their patriarchal glory, but they’re joined in the spotlight this time by demons. Just like their heavenly brothers, the demons are eclectically inspired. Whereas the angels fuse statuesque and architectural with the biological, the designs of the demons almost seem cyberpunk at times; sleek, futuristic technology incorporated into their spindly, dark bodies. It’s pleasing, but it’s harder to have the same impact as the angels did, since one expects a certain amount of weirdness from hell creatures. The soundtrack sees the return of grant orchestral battle music in between slices of catchy girl-pop. The cheesy official theme song “Tomorrow is Mine” in particular scored some kind of guilty pleasure critical hit for me.
One thing Bayonetta 2 does really well is give a sense of constant novelty. The previous game had a fair bit of re-visiting familiar ground, but the sequel is far more expansive in its range of settings. Whereas the last adventure had you flitting between two worlds for the whole game- the mundane human world and the heavenly Paradiso- (Purgatorio is just Earth w/ghost people, it doesn’t count) Bayonetta 2 sees you ping pong through every layer of the metaphysical strata. Heaven and Earth make a return, both with more breathtaking vistas than before. But this time around Bayonetta is an equal opportunity butt-kicker, and gets to go to hell too. The nightmarish intensity of Inferno’s visual design is difficult to put into words, and may have been a high point for me. Blood red sky and forests of twisting, black, spine-covered tentacles comprise Hell’s panorama. There’s also a brief stay at the Gates of Hell, a dark area with a shadowy loneliness that distinguishes it strongly from the other three realms.
Despite being a briefer adventure, Bayonetta 2 leaves the suggestion of a much larger universe. Whereas the original cashed out spectacle in ever-more ridiculous battles, the sequel does this plus world-hopping between varied and beautiful planes of existence. Two huge and interrelated additions are an expanded roster of playable characters and the online “Tag Climax” mode. In this co-operative/competitive mode, you and another player can take your preferred characters with their preferred load-outs and smash hordes of monsters together, each trying to score higher than the other. It’s simple, but it can potentially add a lot of longevity to the player who wants to cut straight to fighting or test their mettle against the best.
I haven’t mentioned the story yet, and I’m mulling over how to do it. Most reviewers assess the sequel’s story as being a step up thanks to the protagonist’s more human motivations, but that’s not quite the full picture. In my Bayonetta review I mentioned that that game’s story was a confusing mess. Without spoiling anything, Bayonetta 2 manages to explain some of the loose ends with such elegance that it links the two games more intimately than their gameplay similarities ever could. The dilemma is this; without background in Bayonetta 1, Bayonetta 2’s story is also a confusing mess. It’s not a matter of being better or worse; the sequel’s story completes the original. Is this co-dependence an artful literary move, or an exploitative strategy to maximise sales of Bayonetta’s Wii U port? That I can’t answer. All I can say is that if you play one and not the other, get used to living in a narrative limbo.
In the end, there’s a simple test to answering the question “Will you like Bayonetta 2?” and it’s “Did you like Bayonetta 1?” Bayonetta 2 is one of the most sequel-iest of sequels. It stays rigorously loyal to the core while adding a few new trimmings and layers of icing on top. There’s a wider conversation here about how to factor unoriginality into review scores- and if you consider it a sin, feel free to dock as many points from the conclusion as you deem necessary. But I’d ask you, is it really so bad? It’s hard to imagine how you could really improve much on Bayonetta’s essential parts, and big titles with both presentation and challenge this impeccable are hard to come by. Not all change is for the better- see: the mixed fan reaction to Bayonetta’s step-brother Devil May Cry donning the western guise of DmC. Bayonetta 2 is more of the same, and doesn’t hide it. And personally, when “the same” is this much fun, I just can’t get enough.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Wii U code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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