Technology - 91%
Presentation - 94%
Design Theory - 90%
Gameplay - 92%
Story - 88%
Value - 92%
It’s cards on the table time. This reviewer never actually liked the original Bayonnetta and couldn’t understand why people adored it. Whilst undeniably stylish, it was saddled with an unlikeable main character, overt and pandering objectification of the female form and instant death QTEs which came from nowhere. In every way it was a ridiculously exaggerated version of Devil May Cry which pre reboot was starting to suffer from a lot of the same issues. Oddly though, the sequel is actually a deeply impressive game.
Yet on the surface, very little has changed. Everything has been tightened up and improved, whilst the ridiculous need for loading every time you picked up an item has been removed. Likewise, unexpected QTEs have been utterly excised. No-one doubts that they were impressive and innovative in Resident Evil 4 but their proliferation in titles following this bordered upon maddening. This is especially true of games like Bayonnetta which are underpinned by a score attack mechanism. It’s annoying to put in a platinum medal worthy performance in combat only to then be killed because you missed an input in a cut scene. Using a continue to try again then affects your performance meaning that the only way to salvage your score is to quit and try again. Thankfully, Bayonnetta 2 sees none of this nonsense. Here, QTEs only appear when the player has deliberately triggered them meaning that there’s a lot less grinding of teeth.
This slightly more forgiving nature is at the core of what makes the sequel such a vast improvement on the original. Bayonnetta demanded perfection whilst its sequel merely encourages it. In the original, a single mistimed dodge against some enemies could see you launched into the air before being juggled into a combo that either killed you outright or left you with a sliver of health. And this was a far from uncommon situation which could be avoided only by never being hit. In other words, you could never make a mistake. This was compounded by the fact that, albeit rarely, the camera would sometimes let you down and there was no way to anticipate an off screen attack.
Whilst the sequel still wants you to aim for perfection, it’s far more forgiving of failure. The window for dodging is a little wider and even if you miss, the follow up attacks can also be dodged meaning that you aren’t going to be killed outright for a single mistake. Off screen attacks are also clearly telegraphed, meaning that you always have the chance to react. This makes everything easier for complete novices, yet the complexity and challenge is still there for purists. With the elusive Pure Platinum award only being granted for the perfect combination of never taking a hit and still killing all enemies in the fastest possible time, perfection is encouraged instead of being enforced.
Yet make no mistake, this is still a challenging game. It might be a little easier and more forgiving than the original but it still demands skilful play. Especially at the higher difficulty levels where enemies hit a lot harder. Yet it’s never unfair. Nor is it anything short of thrilling.
Cut scenes showing balletic battles where the characters effortlessly dodge one another’s attacks before launching into their own merge perfectly with gameplay that does exactly the same. There’s little you see in these scenes which you cannot do in game. It’s always been jarring when a cut scene shows a host of epic action only to then have you run around a boss in a circle waiting for a weak spot to appear. Here, last second dodges and countering in an over the top manner with delayed combos are as eye popping to watch as they are electrifying to play.
The weapons available all feel refreshingly different from one another offering a huge variety of combat opportunities. The fact that you can also mix them up or swap between two presets mid combo makes it feel organic rather than forced. In fact, it feels like you’re making your own combinations – especially since there’s no single set of button presses that covers all situations. Using whip attacks to control the crowd before laying into them with speedy blade strikes and then swapping into heavy hammer crushes and launchers in preparation for a ludicrous aerial combo or over the top torture attack just never gets old. And you always feel as if you could still do slightly better.
This is also true of the recurring boss fights. Your battles with the Lumen Sage call upon exactly the same skills as when fighting standard enemies but his status as your equal and opposite means that he can dodge and counter your attacks leading to a tense game of dodge and counter dodge. As such, despite the fact that you fight him on numerous occasions, these are fights to relish and look forward to instead of feeling repetitive.
Meanwhile Bayonnetta herself seems to have actually gained some humanity. She’s still a cocky, female Dante but there’s a moment in the penultimate chapter where the mask slips for a moment revealing a fragile side. A single word does more to define her true nature here than the rest of the OTT script combined and it’s surprising and effective. She becomes someone to warm to rather than just tolerate and given her character in the previous game, that’s quite an accomplishment and a welcome development.
The same however cannot be said about the obvious and overt sexualisation which although dialled back considerably from the original game still results in a lot of T & A shots as well as some ludicrous sections where new pathways have to be, well, pole danced into existence.
There’s no problem with games being campy and given the OTT nature of the title it’s not exactly out of place but it still feels as if the game falls a little too far into the cheap and tawdry side for its own good.
Although the story mode is a little on the short side, there’s an absolute wealth of additional content and challenges to be unlocked whilst new characters and equipment can utterly change the way you play the game encouraging repeat plays at the higher difficulty levels. In fact, as soon as you complete the game, all you want to do is play again – either to try out your new toys or just for the simple addictive pleasure of playing on. Since these new items can both help or hinder, those still looking for a challenge can deliberately handicap themselves if they so desire. Want to swap powered up attacks for a temporary mech suit? There’s an accessory for that. And then there’s the ridiculous volume of costumes including some surprising Nintendo cosplay options.
It’s here that the seemingly contrary pairing of Bayonnetta and Nintendo finally makes sense. A Samus costume grants you a chargeable arm cannon and morphball attacks, a Link costume gives you the ability to block any incoming attack while a Princess Peach ‘inspired’ number doesn’t change the gameplay but sees Bowser’s fists replacing the normal demonic attacks whilst the halos are replaced by gold coins. There’s even a hidden Chain Chomp weapon for those willing to complete the higher difficulties. Whilst some of these abilities can be obtained by equipping a particular item, there’s no doubting that the cosplay options are a lot of fun. In fact, that really goes for the game as a whole. It’s just pure, unadulterated enjoyment from start to finish.
If there was one minor criticism with the gameplay it would be that the game really could do with a Street Fighter IV style mission mode – even if just to learn the finer art of delaying combos to follow dodges. However, since all of your combos can be practiced at will outside of the main game or even in the loading screens, this is a minor complaint at best.
Considering that the changes made are so minor, this is an astonishing improvement on the flawed original and you really will lose huge chunks of your life trying to perfect your performance or in experimenting with new weapon combinations. As such, this reviewer is forced to make a staggering confession. Considering how much I disliked the original, I love this game. And even if you hated the original, Bayonnetta 2 demands to be played.