There’s power in looking silly and not caring that you do.
“The following is a contributor post by the Mail Order Ninja Mage.”
The original Bayonetta may have had some issues on the PlayStation version that hampered some people’s enjoyment of the game, but it was critically lauded, launching to rave reviews. A sequel may have seemed inevitable, but though it did well critically, that was not so commercially. The original game only moved slightly over a million copies on its first release. That may sound like a lot, but for a multi- platform internationally released game, those numbers are considered underwhelming. Due to the poor sales of the original, Sega cut the sequel before it ever went into proper development. The future of the franchise appeared dim, fans of the original would be left in a lurch hoping for a sequel that never appeared.
Then Nintendo showed up, and saved the day.
In agreeing to publish the game they also introduced a caveat: the originally multi-platform game would be exclusive to the Wii U. This is where Bayonetta 2’s first controversy began, as some fans of the original were livid at the move. It felt to them that Platinum had abandoned them to move onto a Nintendo console, which at the time wasn’t doing so hot. However, Platinum quickly settled that debate, making it clear that if not for Nintendo, there would simply be no Bayonetta 2. People may have been unhappy, but if they wanted to play the sequel to one of the hottest action games since Devil May Cry, they would need to pony up the dollars for a Wii U.
This was undoubtedly a move Nintendo implemented for two reasons: in order for fans of the original to play the sequel they would have to buy one of their systems, and it gave them a mature hardcore game to tout as an exclusive, something the system was sorely lacking. It was probably the right move for Nintendo; though all reports would seem to indicate the title sold poorly, it was now considered a Nintendo IP. Bayonetta even showed up in Smash Bros. on the Wii U, increasing visibility to the franchise exponentially.
With the Switch doing as well as it is, Nintendo decided to re-release both titles on their new platform, granting a whole new group of people access to the stunning gameplay of these two games. Despite poor sales of the second game on Wii U, Nintendo has also greenlit a third game in the series recently.
The future of Bayonetta is looking up indeed, but that wasn’t the only controversy that followed its original release, or subsequent re-release on the Switch. There was always a concern over the hyper-sexualized nature of the original Bayonetta, but this controversy seemed to explode around the sequel. This was likely due to a change in the way we were viewing women and video games, and the culture surrounding games at the time with the hotbed of Gamergate. Whatever the reason, several voices cried out against the objectifying of the lead protagonist and the sexual tones of the game. Though I myself hadn’t experienced the game yet, even I raised my eyebrow at the trailers. As the camera zoomed in on a tight close up under Bayonetta’s butt, between her thighs, and up to her tightly wrapped bosom, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes.
However, after playing the games myself I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t feel like the game is victimizing or over-sexualizing Bayonetta, though I can certainly understand the viewpoints of those who feel like it is. Personally I feel like the devil is in the details, the tone of the game and its witch protagonist making all the difference to that narrative. I’m a fan of anime, but something that has always made me cringe a little is the inclusion of fan service. I’ve always felt the perverted panty shots up the skirt of some blushing teen were a little embarrassing for an otherwise fantastic medium. Even the best anime falls victim to this, and I know it is a cultural difference in America and Japan, but it is hard when watching it with another not to feel embarrassment over the shows when these occur.
The difference I feel is clear in Bayonetta 2, because she absolutely owns her sexuality. She is an insanely powerful witch, whose clothes just happen to be made of her hair, and she clearly knows she is attractive. With all the confidence and panache of a super model, she struts across the game destroying the most powerful of foes and making sure she looks good doing it. There is a complete agency to the way she behaves, with no question that she is the only person who would ever decide how and when those sexual wiles were put to use. In this way she is a power fantasy character who happens to be a female, on par with something like Goku for males. When the camera zooms around Bayonetta in the way described earlier, you don’t feel like it is victimizing her, mostly because she is flirting with the camera right back.
This still might have been something they wouldn’t be able to pull off, but the game’s tone makes all the difference. Though there is a story there that has serious undertones, the game never allows itself to dwell on it for too long. Bayonetta is insanely powerful, and the things that are constantly on-screen are ridiculous in the best of ways. She might fly down a highway on a motorcycle, dodging things with impossible moves, only to end with catching an oil truck with one hand; this is of course after she fights on the top of a jet, all while maintaining perfect posture and hair. Because the game never takes itself seriously it allows a tongue-in-cheek vibe that pervades the whole experience, and makes the overt sexuality even more acceptable in the terms it is framed in.
Why discuss all of that when the ultimate goal is to review the game itself? For one, I think it is an important and worthwhile topic to discuss, especially in the culture we find ourselves in today. Secondly, it is an important part of the character and the game, so not discussing it would be doing a disservice to the review itself.
So aside from the sexuality, how does the game hold up? I’m glad you asked.
The 8-bit Review
This game was originally released on the Wii U in 2014, so it shares the graphics one might expect of a game of that time. It certainly is a step up from its predecessor, with better textures on characters especially, and more flashy particle effects. However, the Switch version does relegate itself to 720p in resolution, though it does so to achieve a typical framerate of 60 FPS. What this translates into is a fantastic looking game on the handheld, albeit one you’ll see the cracks on a little more when you transfer to your large TV. It also happens to play butter smooth because of it, which is terribly important in this type of game.
The art design in Bayonetta 2 is improved in every way from the original, especially when it comes to environments. One of my gripes about the original Bayonetta was that the backgrounds you fought across were far more bland than the outlandish characters, but in Bayonetta 2 that isn’t the case. Instead we are treated to fantastical locations: sweeping mountain ranges to gorgeous seaside cities. This raises the game as a whole, increasing stakes to the epic fights you’ll take part in across the world.
When the game uses its in game engine for the cutscenes, the animation is fantastic. Intensely crazy fight scenes are common place, and are all shot wonderfully. However, Bayonetta 2 also brings back my biggest gripe from the original: voices over static images for some narrative drops. When juxtaposed directly against the wonderfully over the top in engine scenes, it simply feels jarring switching between them. Though this was undoubtedly made as a compromise for the Wii U, it certainly is distracting from the game’s overall quality in visuals.
Just like its sexy witch protagonist though, Bayonetta 2 absolutely oozes style in its artistic endeavors. The enemy, environment, character design, and fight animation more than make up for the shortcomings of textures and still images.
I stated in my Bayonetta review that I was initially surprised by the quality of the music. This time I went in expecting to be pleasantly engaged with the music, and the game simply did not disappoint. Bayonetta 2 embraces the same jazz-infused pop music of the original to great effect, replacing its lead track from the last one for the fantastic “Tomorrow is Mine”.
During the bigger fights “Tomorrow is Mine” might fire up, but it is juxtaposed nicely with more traditional video game music, including some amazing orchestral work in “The Great War, Land Battle”. This track would fit nicely in just about any cinematic masterpiece, with dramatic cymbal claps and heavy drum beats.
Just like the first game, the sound effects are top notch, particularly the weapon effects. Thanks to fantastic sound design, each time you smash your weapon into an enemy you can feel the weight to it. The voice acting is often as ridiculous as the plot, but none of the actors are grating in the least. There are occasions during the campaign when simply good performances are elevated to fantastic, especially when it comes to Bayonetta herself.
Every line she has absolutely oozes with confidence, except when her outer confidence breaks a bit, and we see a softer person underneath. The way the voice actress weaves between these two distinct tones throughout the narrative is impressive, and brings the whole audio proceeding up a notch.
My experience with the original Bayonetta taught me that the plot seems to be the biggest downside to these games, and I felt the same with Bayonetta 2. Though I tend to enjoy the ridiculous overtones of the game and the playful approach, the plot tends to be a nonsensical way to simply string together big baddies for Bayonetta to butcher.
The good news is that I found the characters to be far more engaging this go around, with the mysterious Loki in particular being a highlight. In the first game, Bayonetta was surrounded by her mostly bumbling male cohorts, along with the occasional demonic badass. However, in this outing the people around her tend to hold their own much more, and actually bring greater depth to the narrative because of it. In addition the plot seems to be more focused this time, with more personal motivations driving Bayonetta on as she seeks to save her friend from the depths of Inferno.
The background of the world you find yourself in is again fleshed out by optional narrative segments written by a journalist. It is up to you to decide how much you care about the reasons behind your destruction of these angels, and ultimately I feel that it is an adequate way to handle it. In this way, those who just care about beating on bad guys can do so, and those who want to know more about the world certainly can.
Where the game falls off the rails a bit is in how confusing the narrative can be, especially because time travel is involved. By the end of the game I found many things unclear to the point I thought I should search answers out online for clarity. Those answers only further proved my original assumptions: the plot simply doesn’t hold up under greater inspection.
Luckily for Bayonetta, this genre of game happens to be one where the plot is simply a by-product that exists to move the action along, and as such isn’t intended to be taken seriously. Though it would certainly be nice to have a more fleshed out narrative devoid of plot contrivances, it isn’t necessary for this type of game. What is there is a perfectly fine story, but it never reaches beyond that to good or great.
Where a studio like Naughty Dog might know how to make an engaging story, or Nintendo knows how to bring the polish, PlatinumGames knows how to put together amazing combat systems. Their crowning achievement in this area is Bayonetta 2: one of the most accessible and fluid combat systems I’ve ever encountered in a game.
Playing Bayonetta 2 is a lesson in simple inputs, but deep gameplay possibilities. There are really only a few inputs that you need to worry about: a punch button, a kick button, a jump button, and a dodge button. While each one is simplistic on its own, it is how you subtly learn to begin chaining them together that creates the backbone of the game. You can go into each fray simply mashing buttons, but as the game continues you’ll find yourself drawn to look as stylistic and cool as Bayonetta does when fighting.
As you kill enemies you’ll gain currency used to buy new moves, ranging from a ‘breakdance of death’ to transforming into a deadly bird. Again, all of these are mapped to just a few buttons and easy to pull off, but mastering where they go in your fight is essential. All of this combines to make a fluid and fun experience during every battle, while allowing people to approach and master it at their own pace and ability level.
Witch Time is the main crux of Bayonetta 2’s combat, and it is just as spectacular here as it was in the original game. Dodging at the last possible moment before an attack hits, Bayonetta will gracefully flip backwards and time will slow to a crawl. This allows you to unleash grandiose combos that will leave your enemies reeling, while looking extremely cool in the bargain.
As you dodge, punch, and kick your way through angels and demons alike, you’ll build up a meter. Once this meter is full you can unleash powerful moves, but here in the sequel it functions quite a bit differently. First off, you don’t lose meter whenever you are hit; you’ll continuously build it, regardless of how poorly you are dodging. Secondly, upon reaching the apex of your meter you can either do torture attacks to a single smaller enemy, or press LB to ratchet every swing of your weapon to 11. Suddenly your sword strikes cover half the screen, and your kicks cause huge demonic legs to spring out of portals.
This gives you even more choice in how to proceed than the original game, while also allowing you to see these bombastic moves more often. Since every weapon has a different move set and animation, you are constantly encouraged to try out each one to find what suits you best. With the new powered up meter, the different demons that power your weapons show up and it makes every single one feel unique. If you consider that you can also strap most weapons to your feet and swap between two set ups instantly, the combinations of what you can do increase exponentially.
Multiplayer has also been added to the sequel, and it is surprisingly fun to play. You can play with AI if you’d like, but you and a friend can team up with a variety of characters to destroy bosses and enemies. You’ll use something called a Verse card, and then bet halos on yourself to win. If you do, you’ll rack up currency quickly that will allow you to unlock costumes, and other various accessories. The Nintendo Switch isn’t the best system for online play, but it works and I never had any issues with connecting to another individual. Voice chat is entirely missing here, but it isn’t needed as there is no strategy needed between the two fighters.
There is something lost in the translation to multiplayer, namely strategy: every battle can be a cacophony of utter chaos. While the combat system doesn’t work as well when there are two people playing, it is a welcome mode that can further extend the hours you enjoy with Bayonetta 2.
As fun as it is to play, more Bayonetta is always a good thing.
I typically don’t replay games, especially single player ones with campaign modes. However, Bayonetta 2 continues to bring me back over and over, even though I’ve completed everything in the main experience.
This is due to the draw of the grading system: every time you complete a round of combat you are provided a medal, ranging from stone to Pure Platinum. Performing combos while avoiding getting hit will let you earn a higher medal. At the end of the level these are tallied and you are rewarded with an overall medal for that entire level. Typically doing well will reward you with more currency to spend, but there is a great satisfaction in attempting to up your score that I don’t typically find in games. Bayonetta 2 is such a fun game to play though, that I find myself wanting to constantly try out new move combinations, and continuously hone my skills.
Nintendo publishing this project leads to one giant, exclusive perk: the ability to cosplay as some of their biggest characters. The care put into these designs is obvious from a quick look: they are all lovingly crafted and animated. Not only that, but each costume adds its own flair to gameplay. In order to unlock them you can scan an amiibo, getting amusing little notes upon doing so, or you can save up halos and buy them. Either way is perfectly fine, I choose to scan the amiibo I have, but halos are easy enough to come by that you can purchase the ones you want without problems.
Not only do these costumes look fantastic, but they are functional also. Equipping the suit for Samus will allow you to fire your arm cannon, while dashing will change you into the morphball, complete with morph bombs. Changing to Link alters all of the halos dropped in game into rupees, plays the signature treasure sound when you break open a chest, and allows you to do his signature spin attack. Daisy and Peach, on the other hand, will turn your giant demonic arm and leg summons into the arms and legs of Bowser himself, and change your halos into coins. Finally, cosplaying Fox McCloud will see you equipped with little Arwings on your feets and hands, allowing you to charge and fire off the original lasers from Star Fox.
These costumes are equipped at all times, even during the cutscenes. This makes some of the more serious scenes absolutely hilarious when you are staring at a sexy Link. Between the multiplayer, fantastic costumes, and the grade system, I can see myself coming back to this game for a long time.
Bayonetta 2 is not an easy game, but it is one that rewards the players who want to put the most time into it while also being accessible to newcomers. Even the most amazing attacks are easy to pull off for a layman of action games, and I was able to pull off all of them with almost no practice.
The original game does a great job with its difficulty curve, but I feel Bayonetta 2 improves on the formula, slowly making sure you master the game and rewarding you every time you do. The normal difficulty of the game feels more balanced and less difficult than the previous iteration, though harder difficulty levels will leave you dying from one errant swing. It is an extremely well balanced game, one that pulls no punches while simultaneously making you feel like a master when you really get into the groove of dodging and releasing combos.
Beat-em up action games with adventure elements might have been a bigger genre back in the PS2 era, but it has become a dying genre. Devil May Cry may be a very close analogy to this series, buy Bayonetta 2 feels wholly unique in its execution. Everything about the game is utterly ridiculous and over the top, with a character so outrageously strong she could give Dante himself a run for his money. The tone of the game is perfectly set to embrace this crazy though, and it constantly plays with the gamer’s expectations with a wink and a nod. As you careen from set piece to set piece in a ballet of death, you won’t be able to keep a smile from your face.
In a landscape filled with FPS games and third-person open world experiences, it is a breath of fresh air to play an experience like this.
My Personal Grade: 9/10
Bayonetta 2 takes absolutely everything the first did right, and improves upon it. The game has more longevity, thanks to more functional costumes and its multiplayer mode. Environments are improved over the original, with beautiful backdrops to the chaos of combat. Somehow, the game even manages to ratchet up the ridiculous scenarios taking place while providing you with weapons that outclass anything the original had to offer.
Bayonetta is one of the finest action games I’ve ever played, and Bayonetta 2 manages to improve the sequel in every way. Step over boys, we have new action royalty in town.
Long live the Queen.
Aggregated Score: 9.2
The Mail Order Ninja Mage loves video games across every console: an assassin of fanboy nonsense. He also really loves martial arts and pizza, though that is of no consequence here. To read more of his random word soup, or to view daily(ish) photo mode screenshots from his favorite games, visit him at Home Button.
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Categories: Game Review