The defining word when it comes to Bayonetta 2 is fun; it’s not trying to tell some epic narrative nor impart some meaningful lesson, it just wants you to have a good time and it joyously delivers that on all fronts. Platinum Games has gone out of its way to make a game that seems to be genuinely enjoying itself and is full of unabashed spectacle and bombast. While it may lack a certain degree of coherence and its occasional suggestive leanings might end up making some uncomfortable, the game’s heart is in the right place and it delivers fully on its fun crazy promises. For those looking for an M-rated breath of fresh air on the Wii U, Bayonetta 2 acts an insane fever dream of catchy J-lounge music, irreverent joyous sexuality, and smooth fluid gameplay and once you fall into it, you won’t want to wake up.
So we might as well start things off by talking about the story, if only because explaining it might help me understand it better. Following the events of the first game, Bayonetta (also known as Cereza) is now friends with her formal rival and fellow witch Jeanne. One day while they’re out Christmas shopping, angels attack and in the ensuing melee one of Bayo’s summoned demons gets loose and kills Jeanne. In a desperate bid to save her, Bayonetta decides to go to Inferno (read: Hell) to bring back Jeanne’s soul and cram it back into her body. In order to accomplish this she heads to the town of Noatun which sits at the foot of Fimbulventr, an ancient mountain said to contain paths to the afterlife, and from there shit goes completely topsy-turvy. By the end of the game saving Jeanne gets somewhat lost in a wash of giant monsters, jet planes, and traveling of both the dimensional and chronal varieties. Put simply, the narrative gets complicated but it’s a good kind of complicated. Bayonetta 2 doesn’t expect you to actually follow its story, just enjoy it, and with each bat-shit insane twist it loses some of its coherence but gains another burst of sheer unbridled excitement. Helping give the plot some worth though is the cast of bizarre characters who, despite spitting out pure nonsense most of the time, are genuinely odd enough to be interesting. Bayonetta and the demonic salesman/bartender Rodin may always seem like they’re having two different conversations when they talk, but those conversations are a joy to listen to because both characters are just having so much fun with their respective shticks. Same goes for the other returning characters like the semi-stalker Luka and Italian stereotype Enzo, as well as for the primary new character Loki, who is an annoying magic kid with white dreads, a hoodie, and a not-quite-right English accent. While no one ever seems to say anything that will actually help you understand what’s going on, they keep to their characters and the voice actors clearly had a great time chewing up the scenery like a pack of malnourished goats, which ends up being incredibly entertaining and more fun than if they had tried to make a lick of sense.
Of course you’re not coming to Bayonetta 2 for the story, you’re coming for the insane high-speed character action gameplay, which it’s more than happy to provide. For the most part the gameplay is the same as that of the first Bayonetta, Devil May Cry style action with a focus on dodging and counter-attacks enabled by the Witch-Time mechanic. Witch-time, for those unfamiliar, causes the world to slow down to a crawl for a few moments after a successful dodge, allowing Bayonetta to launch a quick combo at her enemies in retaliation. Skilled use of this mechanic is the crux of the game’s flow and slipping in and out of time, darting across of the battlefield, and causing enemies to explode into meaty chunks remains as ridiculously fun as it was in the past. It’s a game with a very strong set of core combat systems in place which all fall in line with that old “easy to learn, hard to master” chestnut. That said though, they do make a good effort to keep things fresh throughout the entirety of the game by varying things up from level to level. You’ll fight enemies on land as well as in the air and underwater, and each environment has a slightly different feel. You’ll clash with massive bosses, and you’ll do so while riding in/on various methods of conveyance. You’ll also receive a fair number of weapons, each of which comes with its own unique combo strings and elaborate animations. If you make an effort to play around with everything the game has offer, then you’ll find it has a surprising amount of depth, and to keep you playing and experimenting, Bayonetta 2 provides plenty of incentives. There are scads of accessories, costumes, new techniques, and even playable characters to earn and each can significantly impact gameplay, often in ways you wouldn’t expect.
Of course all the extra goodies in the world wouldn’t matter if there wasn’t a fair amount of content to play through to get them and thankfully Bayo 2 has you covered on that front. It has a healthy 8-10 hour long campaign, multiple difficulty levels to play through it on, a surprisingly deep multiplayer mode, and the entire first game thrown in just for shits and giggles. Touching on the multiplayer mode quickly, it’s an interesting mix of cooperative and competitive play that takes a curious mix-tape approach to things. Throughout the main campaign you’ll unlock “verses“, which are specific pre-determined fights represented by cards, multiplayer then consists of you and a partner playing through these verses, each choosing cards in turn until you’ve gone through six rounds. During these fights you’ll need to work together, as you’re significantly less survivable than you are in the main campaign, and making an effort to revive your partner and watch their back becomes key. But despite that necessary teamwork,, individual scores are still calculated and the person who does more damage overall and is generally more effective will get extra halos (read: currency) at the end of the match. I should also note that you can thankfully play through this mode solo with an AI partner but unfortunately the AI isn’t very good; the game clearly knows this because starting up an AI match also immediately makes the game start match-making to try to find you a (hopefully competent) online partner. The really nice thing about the multiplayer though is that it is completely persistent with the main campaign, as is the main campaign itself across all of its different difficulties, so any halos you earn just get added to the pile and any major items you get work across all modes and playthroughs on that save file. The only place that’s not true is in the included port of the original Bayonetta because it’s provided as a separate disc/download.
Now I would like to talk about the Wii U port of the original Bayonetta… I really would… but I can’t because I didn’t actually get the chance to play it. You see the review copy provided to me by Nintendo was in the form of an eShop download code and in an odd twist of fate, the Wii U’s HDD isn’t actually big enough to hold both Bayonetta and Bayonetta 2 at the same time. Combined the two games are about 29 gigs and the Deluxe Wii U can only hold about 25-28 gigs; I know it says 32 GB on the Wii U’s box, but the OS takes up more room than you’d think. Of the two games I obviously downloaded the one that I actually needed to review, rather than playing through them both in chronological order, and as such I can’t really comment on the quality of the Wii U port of Bayonetta. That said-judging by how well Bayo 2 plays-I’m sure it’s fine and frankly there is more than enough quality and quantity in Bayonetta 2 alone to justify the overall purchase. Just be aware that if you buy this game, you should make an effort to grab a retail copy or ensure that you have an external USB hard drive hooked up to your Wii U.
Getting back to the game at hand though, let’s talk about Bayonetta 2’s presentation. Both in a technical sense and in terms of sheer visual design, this is one of the best looking games on the Wii U and it really does push the hardware to its limits. The environments are vast and ornate and the levels are packed with large exciting set pieces that complement the insane pace of the gameplay. The majority of the enemy designs retain that elegant classical renaissance look that acts as a facade to their more monstrous insides and watching those disguises fall away throughout the combat remains an intriguing process. One place where the visuals do falter is in the cut scenes, which come in two varieties: full motion and in-engine stills strung together with dialogue. The full motion ones look fine; they’re full of bombastic action, strange affectations, and they keep things moving at a fair clip. The still-frame ones though just don’t fit in well with the rest of presentation; they’re fuzzy looking, they’re stilted, and seeing everyone’s hair and accessories gently bobbing around while the rest of them remains stock-still just looks weird in contrast with the rest of the game’s break-neck pace. It’s a minor complaint and I’m sure those scenes were done that way as a concession to make everything fit onto the Wii U, but because they feel like such a departure they end up really sticking out in my mind. Moving onto the music, Bayonetta 2 retains much of the original’s upbeat but not overly frenetic soundtrack, that kept things lively but oddly relaxing at the same time. Once again it is composed of an effervescent combination of J-pop and lounge music but it has a lighter tone to it compared to the slower flowing vibe of the original’s OST. Just like the original game, the soundtrack overall is represented by a classic lounge song that’s been redone in a J-pop style and which anchors the whole affair. In the first Bayonetta that role that was filled by a rather dreamy version “Fly Me to the Moon” but here it’s held by a light and breezy version of Hank William’s classic “Moon River“. Once again, the defining word here is FUN, and the soundtrack and the sound design overall, with its earnestly goofy voice acting and pleasant sound effects, captures that perfectly.
Now we have one last thing to discuss before we close out this review, and it’s a topic that is honestly a little bit more subjective than I’d like, but (thanks to a certain website that will remain nameless) it behooves us to talk about it. So here’s the question: is Bayonetta sexist? The short answer is “No, but that’s just my opinion“. Personally, I think Bayonetta as a character is actually a pretty strong female role model as she’s strong, confident, and decidedly in control. It is those traits that make her sexy and provide weight to her somewhat suggestive animations and attitude. That said, I don’t necessarily have the right equipment to be judging whether something is oppressive/offensive to women or not, so I asked my wife for her opinion. After she watched me play through an hour or so of the game, she agreed with me, saying that Bayonetta is a positive character and one to be lauded. Obviously not everyone will agree with that sentiment and that’s totally fine as every body is entitled to their own opinions, such is the joy of being human after all. Once again speaking on a personal level, sexuality can obviously be a tricky subject and in my career I’ve reviewed games that have handled it in ways that I’ve found to be grossly offensive but this is not one of those cases. In my opinion, Bayonetta is an example of a strong, proud, and confident woman; her strength isn’t defined by her raw sex appeal but rather her sex appeal is a result of her innate strength, which feels like a very positive and progressive thing.
So with that awkward bit of social culture business out of the way, let me end this review by saying that I give this game my full recommendation. While there are some small nits to pick regarding the fuzzy dialogue scenes, the semi-incoherence of the plot, and Wii U being unable to actually hold the full package of Bayonetta 1 and 2, those are but grains of sand compared to the mountain of awesome fun this game has within it. As such I’m giving Bayonetta 2 a full 5 out of 5 stars with the small stipulation that you should try to pick it up at retail rather than buying it digitally so as to properly enjoy the package as a whole.