Bayonetta 2

Year: 2014
Platform: Wii U
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Platinum Games
Genre: Action
Review Date: 12/7/15
Rating: ****

The original "Bayonetta" (2009) was a superb and highly polished action game whose virtues were lauded by fans and critics alike, but even though it turned a profit, it was considered a commercial failure. I vividly remember reading a news blurb in 2012 saying that development on "Bayonetta 2" had been cancelled, which evoked a strong emotional reaction from me. I didn't even know there was a sequel in the works, so I was overcome with a wave of shock and elation that was immediately followed by bitter disappointment at the news of its cancellation. A short time later it was announced that Platinum Games had partnered with Nintendo to revive "Bayonetta 2" as a Wii U exclusive title, which elicited the exact same reaction. This meant that I would be forced to buy yet another expensive gaming console, and one that I had zero interest in owning. But I went through with it and it turned out to be well worth the effort and expense.

The story takes place shortly after the events in "Bayonetta," and the destruction of Balder and The Right Eye has caused an imbalance in the Trinity of Realities. Something big is going down, and the end is nigh for humanity and Earth. But Bayonetta has more important things to worry about, namely rescuing Jeanne from Hell before her soul is lost forever. With Enzo's reluctant assistance, Bayonetta travels to the mystical mountain Fimbulventr, which is rumored to have access to the gates of Hell. Along the way, she meets an annoying young boy named Loki who is also trying to get to the mountain for reasons he doesn't quite understand. They form an uneasy alliance and end up helping each other throughout the game. When he's not an active participant, he transforms into a squirrel and hangs out in Bayonetta's bosom. Okay, so that's a bit weird. Luka also returns to lend a hand and offer some amusing exposition, and while he's still a bumbling buffoon, he's not the antagonistic foil that he was in the original. The big surprise is that Balder returns, but in a completely different form, and this is where the story gets confusing. This is the Balder from 500 years ago, seeking revenge in the future for the death of Rosa, Bayonetta's cursed mother. Bayonetta gets thrown back in time to the witch hunts that wiped out Umbran civilization and gets to fight alongside her mother in an Umbran combat mech. All of the time warping makes the story extremely difficult to follow and reconcile, but it's nice to see Balder's character redeemed. He wasn't always an agent of evil, and in fact, his fierce convictions and brave sacrifices make him an extremely tragic and sympathetic character.

For better or worse, the first thing you notice about the game is Bayonetta's new hair style and wardrobe. I was extremely disappointed when I saw the new character design, as it dismissed all of the iconic imagery from the original game and took away all of the deeply symbolic and sophisticated traits that defined Bayonetta as a character. I eventually warmed up to the short, choppy hair style, and it actually does a really good job of framing her face. Unfortunately, her default outfit is just awful, and her broke-back posture is a constant distraction and annoyance this time around. I don't remember it being nearly that bad (or noticeable) in the first game, so I'll have to revisit that. Thankfully, you can unlock and purchase a wide variety of alternate costumes by completing the game at different difficulty levels. Even her original costume is available, which evokes a nostalgic rush. The Nintendo influence mainly manifests itself in the costumes, which include interpretations of Fox McCloud ("Starfox"), Link ("Legend Of Zelda"), Princess Peach ("Super Mario Brothers"), and Samus Aran ("Metroid"). Each costume comes with its own unique abilities, visual effects, and sounds. They make for a fun diversion, but I prefer Bayonetta's other fashion options (the black cop uniform is especially sexy).

As far as presentation and gameplay are concerned, it's nearly identical to its predecessor. It's immediately familiar, but with just enough performance tweaks and new features to set itself apart. In many ways, the production surpasses that of "Bayonetta," but it plays it overly safe by relying on the "more of the same" principal. In fact, it feels a little over-stuffed in my opinion, and is nearly twice as long as the original game. This time Bayonetta is fighting both angels AND demons (and gods), and the large number of boss battles becomes tiresome. The game is much more enjoyable and engaging when you're exploring vibrant cities, crumbling ruins, and the beautifully disorienting realms of Paradiso and Inferno. The controls are extremely tight and responsive, and the character animations are superb. Many of the flashier moves can be difficult to remember and execute in the heat of battle, so you tend to rely on standard combos, which are perfectly adequate for getting the job done. The biggest problem I experienced with the controls is that the Wii U defies conventional logic for the "OK" and "Cancel" buttons, which led to endless confusion and numerous mistakes. The difficulty is about the same as the original, and perhaps even a bit easier, although there were a couple of areas that I actually died in (which never happened in the original).

Bayonetta's outrageously overt sensuality is toned down considerably in this outing, and her tongue-in-cheek flirtations and general silliness are almost completely absent. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it changes the tone of the game quite a bit, and radically affects her interactions with others. The writing is excellent and the voice acting is superb across the board. Hellena Taylor delivers an outstanding performance as Bayonetta, and embodies the character with an overflowing abundance of passion, strength, attitude, confidence, and charm. My only criticism would be that the characters swear a lot more, and the over-use of "motherfucker" is unnecessary and dilutes its potency. It's also worth noting that "Bayonetta 2" features a Japanese audio option, which was absent in the original. The music score is excellent and very reminiscent of the original, and also uses a lot of the same songs. Similar to "Bayonetta's" pop cover of "Fly Me To The Moon," this game features a catchy rendition of "Moon River." Bayonetta also performs a pole dance to the original song during the credits sequence, but there's no mind-blowing music video this time.

Other features that I didn't bother checking out include an online co-op mode and special touch screen controls for the standard Wii U game controller. I played the game with the pro game pad, which feels much more natural. However, having the game displayed on the other controller was a constant distraction, and I never could figure out how to turn it off. As an added bonus, the game also comes with the original "Bayonetta" on a separate disc, but I haven't played that to see if any changes were made. Regardless, that adds huge value to the package and doesn't alienate Nintendo owners who didn't get to play the original game on Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. "Shenmue II" (2001) on Xbox found itself in a similar situation and suffered dearly because the established fan base was on another platform, and newcomers had no idea what was going on and why it was such a big deal. At least it came with a movie version of the original game to help bring players up to speed on the story, but it wasn't nearly as satisfying as the actual game experience. Interestingly, a Japanese anime film came out shortly before "Bayonetta 2" was released, which was a simplified retelling of the events in the first game. That struck me as a shrewd bit of marketing to get people interested in the game and primed for playing it. It also introduced players to the Japanese voice actors that would be in the game.

I can't recommend the game highly enough, but the hardest sell is the Wii U itself. If you already have the console, then getting the game is a no-brainer. But if you don't have the console and there aren't any other compelling reasons to get one, then the decision to commit is a little tougher (and quite expensive). Of course, this wouldn't be the first time I've bought an entire system just to play one game. My long history with the "Dead Or Alive" franchise is a testament to that. Hopefully there will be other interesting titles available to help offset the initial investment, and "Fatal Frame: Maiden Of Black Water" looks extremely intriguing. That's another awesome franchise that both Xbox and PlayStation abandoned, and Nintendo was kind enough to find a home for it.