Bayonetta 2 Review: Bombast Incarnate


Platinum Games has made a name for themselves delivering a particular brand of outrageous bombast. Whether it’s the manic firefights of Vanquish, the emulation of Kojima-esque insanity in Metal Gear Rising, or the visually singular Madworld, Platinum’s output oozes style. The Bayonetta series fits nicely into this pattern, aiming to deliver an action spectacle with a near-unparalleled level of explosive propulsion.

With the recent re-release of Bayonetta 2 on Switch, a whole slew of players, myself included, finally have the chance to experience this truly weird video game. Luckily, the gameplay entirely lives up to its developer’s pedigree, delivering an experience that rivals the other character-action greats like DMC and Ninja Gaiden. The combat in Bayonetta hinges on the “witch-time” mechanic, a slow-motion state which allows Bayonetta to wail on her foes. Witch-time is triggered when dodging an enemy attack immediately before it lands. This is made easier by the fact that she can interrupt her own moves with a dodge at almost any time, giving the combat a snappy and attentive feel. Unsurprisingly, it also looks stylish as hell when you leap out of harms way at the last moment, kicking off a slow-mo ballet of death that leaves your enemies decimated. Despite the fact that the screen is almost always filled with a sea of enemies, distinct flashes and a decent amount of telegraphing signals enemy attacks enough to avoid things from feeling totally overwhelming or unfair.

While the dodge mechanic is the centerpiece of the combat, the combo system is where creativity comes into play. While it can be fairly difficult to tell the difference between the different permutations of light and heavy at first, many have clear purposes. The three hit sequences are ideal for enemies that recover from witch-time quickly, while the longer multi-“wicked weave” combos are better for stunned or slower enemies. Launchers allow for aerial combos, and these launchers themselves can be comboed into. Some sequences even result in blasting enemies across the combat arenas. Each of these techniques offers different methods of crowd control, a necessary tool given the streams of enemies on the attack. Ranged weapons can be used to keep the combo meter going, and can also be used during a dodge to maintain a sequence of attacks. Unlockable moves add additional complexity, such as an uppercut that carries enemies into the air which can be jump canceled out of any combo. While this system can feel somewhat overwhelming at first, mastering its ins and outs is far from necessary. Like most character action games, button mashing is permissible on the default difficult. But those that dedicate the time to optimizing things will be rewarded with a complete sense of domination, propelling their battle grades to impressive heights. My personal favorite was comboing into a launcher, performing part of an aerial combo, canceling out of that combo with an uppercut, and then finishing with a final aerial combo.

Beyond their trademark for responsive action, Platinum is also known for their iconic sense of style. In the case of Bayonetta 2, the divine struggle between angels and demons is backed by appropriately grandiose set pieces. Gigantic creatures let loose streams of destruction that blast through the world, forcing feats of acrobatics to survive. Impressively, most of these cinematic moments work from a gameplay and presentation perspective. Instead of just using quick-time events to present the guise of interactivity, most of these sequences use the previously described core mechanics. In essence, it becomes a playable bombastic anime. This sense of style extends to the aesthetics, taking loose inspiration from the Old Testament and The Divine Comedy. The enemy designs, inspired by angelology and demonology, are a visually imaginative take on the hierarchies of angels and demons and Heaven and hell are rendered as appropriately nightmarish or transcendent. Exploration of the world is rewarded with resources, weapons, and challenge missions. While hiding these challenge missions behind exploration feels like a good way to offer optional rewards, it feels odd that the weapons are tucked away in the world’s crevices. Different weapons and weapon combinations leads to different combos and special moves, which can make substantial differences in gameplay. The result is that it feels less like you’re being rewarded for exploring, and more like you’re being punished for not.

While the bombast works from a gameplay perspective, the plot buckles under the weight of the never ending stream of outrageous happenings. In Bayonetta 2, our protagonist sets out on a quest to save her friend Jeanne, whose soul has been sucked into the depths of Inferno. However this simple ‘get from point A to point B’ story is stretched over hours of gameplay. A classic and annoying video game plot device is employed, in which you arrive at your destination only to be set back time and time again. The presentation of the story is also jarring, cutscenes mixed in with sequences of 3-D rendered still frames dubbed over by dialogue. This technique is not only ugly, but also puts the weight of the storytelling on the inane dialogue. It also features not one, but two annoying comic relief characters, and a whiny kid. The only redeeming factor here is Bayonetta herself, a weird combination between a warrior-witch and a burlesque dancer whose strong presence marks an unfortunately rare female lead in a video game. Unfortunately, even this feels bungled at times, occasionally devolving into outright fan service as in her closing credits pole-dance.

Story flubs aside, Bayonetta 2 is another strong title by Platinum, and a great entry into the character action genre. The combat has a elegant flow, utilizing the easy to learn but difficult to master combo system. Its sense of style and place cohere to make for an entertaining thrill ride that consistently reaches insane new heights.

Rating: 8.6/10

Image Source: Kotaku


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