Bayonetta 2 has come out at a really interesting time for videogame culture. In amidst the turmoil of #gamergate, Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, and the general call for more female empowerment in the games industry and within game stories; in struts Bayonetta, swaying her hips suggestively like the pendulum of a leatherbound grandfather clock to declare that a new powerful lady will be taking centre-stage. It’s fair to say the community is divided on Bayonetta. Is she a representation of female sexual empowerment and ownership? Or is she another example of a hyper sexualised fantasy figure pandering to the male gaze of the perceived core audience? These aren’t simple questions to answer and as a heterosexual man my opinion on the matter shouldn’t be valued anyway. But what I can tell you is this; Bayonetta 2 is the most exhilarating fun I have had with a videogame in years.
Bayonetta 2 is a third-person, high-action combat game with some very light exploration elements thrown in for good measure. Each level is broken up nicely into a string of fights with a few minutes of optional treasure hunting and secret discovering in between to break up the action and provide some much needed breathing room. The fights themselves are intense, fun, and highly rewarding to master. Combat is made up of stringing together a range of combos that utilize the punch and kick buttons, as well as timing dodges perfectly to trigger “witch-time” which slows down the fight around you and allows you a few seconds to score some free attacks. As you successfully dodge and land attacks your magic gauge builds up, which can allow you to perform the high-damage dealing torture attacks against a single enemy, or enter “umbra climax” mode which super-charges all your attacks for a short amount of time. The combat is quite simple to learn, yet very difficult to master, and the game does a very good job of edging you towards “mastery” by making the fights incrementally more challenging whilst providing you a rank and score after each battle so you can measure your progress. Couple that with a range of unlockable weapons and equipable items, each with a very different pace and feel, and you have a fluid and intense combat system that rewards experimentation and personal improvement. There is always a reason to keep playing Bayonetta 2 and repeat that age old gaming mantra “just one more go”.
For returning fans of the original Bayonetta you will find very few changes to the core mechanics and presentation of the game in the sequel. There’s a few tweaks here and there, some cool new enemy designs, and a few cuts from some of the weaker moments from the original (there’s nothing as bad as the arcade-style shooter level from Bayonetta). It’s more of what you loved and less of what you didn’t, and Bayonetta was such a rare gem in the first place that it never felt tired or worn out to play through a sequel that chose to revel in the original rather than revolutionize it.
Narrative-wise Bayonetta 2 has an intimate and interesting relationship with the original. The Bayonetta 2 story plays around a lot with the concept of time. Without wishing to spoil too much it manages to loop back around and weave itself into the narrative of the first Bayonetta in a number of ways that are intriguing and rewarding for fans who have taken the time to familiarise themselves with it. The story starts out with Bayonetta doing her Christmas shopping with her maybe-friend-maybe-girlfriend Jeanne when Angels attack the city and in the resulting fray that breaks out Jeanne has her soul dragged into Inferno by demons. So Bayonetta must travel to the Gates of Hell in order to achieve the impossible and reclaim Jeanne’s soul before it is devoured. Along the way she becomes entangled with a young boy called Loki who has the mysterious ability to manipulate the “remembrance of time” and is being feverishly pursued by angels (Bayonetta’s eternal foes). It soon becomes apparent that Loki is of much more cosmic importance than what he initially appears and Bayonetta is once again forced to re-explore her family history as the lovechild of a forbidden romance.
Overall the plot is functional, but mostly unimpressive and serves more as an excuse to explore the games’ characters and combat; which are undeniably the two biggest strengths of the game. Bayonetta herself is such a slick, smooth-talking, badass that it’s incredibly hard not to find yourself in awe of her at times. Bayonetta’s relationships with other characters is always fun to see, with the best being her relationship with Jeanne; which is complex, playful, and respectful. Like a good Holmes and Watson pairing, the two characters play off of each other in a way that is truly a pleasure to watch. It’s just a shame that these moments aren’t a little more frequent in the overall story and that so much time is dedicated to pairing Bayonetta with Loki, who is by far the least interesting character in the game.
All debate about sexualisation and male-gaze aside, the game is breathtakingly gorgeous. The enemy designs are all immaculate and fascinating. Angels are a mixture of godly majesty, statuesque beauty, and menacing otherworldliness whilst the inferno demons are grand, twisted and savage. A lot of the returning characters from the original have been redesigned in subtle ways that make actually make them look slightly older than they did in the original, which was a clever little touch for the game to have. All the locations are beautiful as well, if a little familiar at times if you have played the first game. It’s not exactly a big problem but there were a few sections in the latter half on the game that felt almost copy-pasted from the original, albeit with different enemies to fight. Once again the music in the game is a strong suit, however I do find myself missing that rendition of “Fly Me to the Moon” that was almost iconic to the original Bayonetta soundtrack. The new song is still great and this is probably just me being a bit clingy, but it’s a shame they didn’t slip it in the soundtrack at least once.
It’s really very hard for me to coherently express all my thoughts and feelings about Bayonetta 2 in a single review, which you should take as a very good sign. It is truly a magnificent game and has earned a very special place in my heart as one of my all-time personal favourites. As far as I’m concerned this is a rock-solid reason to own a Wii U, especially when it can be bought bundled with a reworked Wii U edition of the original. Bayonetta 2 is a must-have game for anybody who enjoys button mashing action with complexity and depth. Just so long as her controlled sexuality doesn’t bother you.