Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Wii U review: Bayonetta 2
One of the most revered action titles of the last few years was Bayonetta, a combo-oriented game from the ex-Capcom employees at Platinum Games. With its emphasis on over-the-top demon summons, Witch Time dodge maneuvers, and an epic pseudo-religious mysticism persistent throughout, Bayonetta certainly left a strong impression with many die-hard fans of the genre. Fast-forward to 2014 and, in the most unlikely of pairings, Nintendo has partnered with Platinum to bring Bayonetta 2 to the Wii U as a console exclusive.
The first Bayonetta focused on the titular witch’s journey of self-discovery, and carried a generally darker aesthetic. This time around, Bayonetta has all of her memories intact, and as a result, has a personality that exudes confidence. Bayonetta enjoys using her magical abilities for the sake that she enjoys the position of power it puts her in over her enemies. She’s bold, unabashed, but not without a sense of right and wrong or the ability to convey compassion toward her friends and allies. Early in the sequel, Jeanne is dragged to Inferno, and as her best friend, Bayonetta is filled with determination to rescue her, even if it means facing the forces of Heaven and Hell alike. Pairing up with the young Loki, Bayonetta takes on something of a big sister role that is thoroughly entertaining – while she does not feel the need to play the part of mother hen to this magic-wielding youth, she often saves him from trouble, scolds him for referring to her as being older than she is, and teases him for his hot-headed behavior.
Visually, Bayonetta 2 is one of the best-looking games to come from the eight-generation consoles yet. While Platinum has frequently boasted impressive graphics and art styles with their games, Bayonetta 2 takes it one step further, with gorgeous lighting cascading off the water surrounding the city of Naotun and a dark haze setting the backdrop of the Musphelheim bonus challenge stages. The angels retain their white and gold color schemes, but have adopted distinct humanoid forms more befitting of their holy associations that the first game’s obsession with avian designs. The lesser demons of Hell, on the other hand, boast shiny metallic and stone textures, with more animalistic and alien features. Both carry weapons that can be picked up by Bayonetta for a one-time use in battle, and while typically offer a decent punch, they aren’t the sort of thing players ought to grow too attached to, as the primary weapons gathered throughout Bayonetta’s journey to Hell and back are the real important tools that will forge the witch’s path.
Ridiculous though they may be, there’s little else satisfying in such an unapologetic action game as skating around on chainsaw blades, break dancing while wildly firing pistols into the air, or hacking apart a circle of foes with the blades of a giant scythe. Bayonetta’s moveset can be expanded at Rodin’s bar, given that players have the necessary Halos. While Bayonetta 2 boasts a greater variety of offerings both offensively and defensively, players will have to do a fair amount of exploring and complete time-sensitive puzzles in order to boost both their magic and health gauges. The Musphelheim challenges are significantly less ludicrous than in the first game, though they are far from forgiving, and the same can be said of both the post-game Lost Chapters and gauntlet run-style multiplayer challenges. Bayonetta’s animal transformations are all made available early on, which lends the exploration angle to feel a more natural part of the whole package, and the environments incorporate some nicely hidden treasures in underwater areas or on outcroppings only accessible by taking flight as a crow.
Witch Time remains largely the same as in its predecessor, though enemy movements make it a bit easier to gauge just when you ought to dodge to initiate the limited slow-mo window to unleash an assault of attacks on foes. While this may sound as though the game is being too lenient with players, it’s quite the contrary – better camera angles and quicker response time from both Bayonetta’s attacks and dodges mean that the product as a whole controls even more smoothly than in the first outing, though the hits she does take from enemies will still whittle away decent chunks from her health bar. Torture attacks can still be used after charging up Bayonetta’s magic meter via successful combos, or can be used to fuel a number of successive powerful hits in the form of Umbran Climax, with will summon limited but notably heavier attacks from one of Bayonetta’s many demonic allies like Madama Butterfly or Malphas. The freedom to dispatch foes as you see fit makes the experience both more tactical and rewarding, as there are pros and cons to both options, and the ranking system for medals takes into account successive combos, the amount of damage sustained by Bayonetta, and the time taken to complete a phase.
Whereas some games would gradually prepare players for the most epic of boss fights, Bayonetta 2 throws you right into the thick of it, with insane clashes between goliath angel and demon summons, a surfing sequence up the side of a waterspout with the witch chasing down a higher angel, and an undersea magic missile shootout. Many of the gargantuan bosses are brought on by one mysterious Lumen Sage who is in pursuit of Loki, and who Bayonetta naturally clashes with on multiple occasions. As a successor to the handful of rival battles with Jeanne in the first game, the fights with the sage are lengthier and generally more interesting, as his spear staff forces him to rush the witch with fast slashes, while Bayonetta’s attacks are largely more ranged.
Many of the boss battle themes utilize choirs with dark and imposing voices to convey the sense of scale and urgency surrounding each of these encounters. Skirmishes with the common grunt enemies, on the other hand, are accompanied by jazzy pop numbers, with catchy vocals, the most noteworthy of the bunch being a new school take on “Moon River” and Bayonetta 2’s de facto theme song “Tomorrow is Mine”. Many of the game’s environments are decorated with Lumen and Umbran ruins, though bright blues, silvers, and golds prevail over the previous game’s darker color palettes.
Bayonetta 2 is a game that never really lets up on the gas, plowing full throttle toward the next explosive encounter. Even during the moments where you are allowed freedom of exploration, it never feels disjointed or sluggish, thanks in part to the optional enemy encounters and aforementioned Musphelheim challenges. But simply stopping for a moment to take in the majestic environments is worth a quick break in the action to admire the masterful attention to detail in the foreground and myriad of structures rendered in the background. These elements, while not necessary to make or break the experience, add just a bit more polish to the final product and chalk up a greater degree of respect and appreciation to the development team.
Throughout the main story, players will discover many journal entries penned by Luka. Some will be laid directly in Bayonetta’s path, practically impossible to miss, while others will be hidden in clever nooks and crannies like some of the treasures. Each entry offers details on Umbran magic, the history of the clans, the Eyes of the World, and so forth, adding an extra degree of depth to the culture and belief system of this fictional realm. As players trek through the main game, they will also unlock models of characters and enemies accessible in a viewing gallery. While Bayonetta 2 carries on from its predecessor with the ability to unlock extra costumes, the partnership between Nintendo and Platinum has a few extra treats to offer in the form of costumes that pay tribute to Princess Peach, Daisy, Fox McCloud, Samus, and Link. Each costume also adds slight twists to the otherwise familiar combat, such as Bowser’s fists and feet replacing those of Madama Butterfly, and the ability to roll around in Morphball mode.
Ingredients collected from the game’s many locales can be used to create lollipops that replenish health and magic, as well as grant Bayonetta temporary defensive and offensive boosts. But players who pay attention to the signals in combat and take the time to perfect their timing with dodges and counters will find they rarely need turn to these items. Bayonetta 2 is about as perfect an action game as anyone could ask for, with fluid design throughout, and a protagonist that is as much about flash and flair as she is about commanding every second she is on screen. The mysticism of Bayonetta’s world is akin to the lore of series like The Legend of Zelda, while the gameplay is a distinct upgrade from its Devil May Cry roots. Bayonetta 2 sets a new standard for action games, and is easily one of the best games currently available on eighth generation consoles.
My rating: 9.75 (out of 10)