Bayonetta & Bayonetta 2 Review
As Nintendo has released Bayonetta + Bayonetta 2 as one package we have decided to review each game, followed by the collection. Carry on reading for our take on Bayonetta, Bayonetta 2 and the pair together:
In 2009 the world was invited to meet Bayonetta, an Umbran witch with incredible combat skill and magical capabilities. She was the game’s titular character, an action spectacle with one of the greatest examples of combat ever implemented in computer games. The narrative was outrageous, the characterisation tongue-in-cheek and it was all married with free-flowing action. In the hands of a practiced and seasoned gamer it was mesmerising and full of rhythm, with a harmonic cadence capable of lending a meditative ambience to all who watched and played. Bayonetta was a masterpiece. In 2018, on Nintendo Switch, Bayonetta is every bit that masterpiece, and more.
A little bit of background and context first. PlatinumGames had formed after key developers in Capcom’s semi-autonomous Clover Studio decided to go it completely alone rather than lose the independence they had, and lapse back into Capcom’s bosom. The founders included Hideki Kamiya, the director of Devil May Cry, the classic action game with next-level combat. Bayonetta was Platinum’s third release — Kamiya’s first for his new company — and the first on Sony and Microsoft consoles.
Given the foundations the game had, it should perhaps be no surprise how it turned out. Bayonetta is the player’s avatar throughout the story and from the start she has spectacular skills. She moves in all directions on the ground and in the air after jumping by pressing B. She can double jump and hang in the air for a split second longer if you like, and attacks can be started or finished in the air, or on the ground. X lands a punch and A a kick, with Y reserved for her guns. The glory comes in combining all of her actions together to create a fabulous moveset and flowing combos, which lead to destruction and chaos all centered around the eye of the storm: Bayonetta herself.
The combat system is a model of depth. To compete on normal difficulty is something anyone can do, and perhaps that is part of the sheer brilliance of the game. If you're limited to just spamming the various attacks and hoping a combo comes off randomly, and then that combo does the business, then you will get there. It won’t be elegant, nor will it look great, but you’ll get to move through the game enjoying every single sequence and see it upping the ante every chapter; every verse. From simple demonic angels to ravage beasts and giant gods, Bayonetta will come up against foes which ensure gasps from the player before working through the various phases of the game’s cycle: amazement, wonder about how exactly you’re going to win, fear you won’t ever win and then finally absolute delight at nailing the sucker. Rinse and repeat.
You’ll get an absolute stinker of a rating though. Bayonetta is a very linear game with fifteen chapters, each separated into multiple verses (there’s a very heavy layer of heaven and hell to the story here, as well as the fact music is of incredible importance). Each verse is one set of enemies, mini-boss, boss or smallish area. This helps, you do get breathers in between the intensity of the action if you need it. Your aim in any verse is to get a pure platinum medal, but quite often you can get nothing. Each verse contributes to the overall chapter prize of some kind of statue — again platinum is your aim here but early on, or if you’re forever struggling to improve, you’ll possibly be rewarded with a stone statue.
Combat is mesmerising. Bayonetta moves so quickly and can do so much. You can just build a combo and build it some more. You mix together the punches, the kicks and the use of guns (which she has in her hands and her feet), all working together to result in something else given the right combination. That something else is often a wicked weave, or torture attack. Wicked weaves are magical blows which come typically at the end of a combo and land with some weight. Whilst Bayonetta normally uses her fists and feet, wicked weaves are typified as giant hands or feet created by her hair, using magic. Torture attacks are activated once you have a full magic gauge and done so according to button prompts. They take the form of various methods of torture dependent on the enemy and could be Bayonetta kicking her opponent into a guillotine before chopping their heads off, or perhaps plunging someone into an iron maiden and squeezing. It’s gloriously grisly and increasingly entertaining to watch.
Perhaps the most important thing about combat though is Witch Time. If you dodge an attack at the very last moment time slows for a short period. This allows you to get more hits in with no comeback until Witch Time ends. An essential skill for getting past certain challenges but equally an integral one for anybody wishing to succeed even at normal difficulty, or to get better medals and statues. Importantly, a combo can be carried through Witch Time meaning if executed properly there is no attack penalty for defending yourself — all you need do is keep an attack button depressed whilst dodging and then carry on. It’s not easy, though. None of this game is easy. It’s a significant challenge to compete, let alone win. But by golly it’s a wonderful experience each time you do.
It’s not just the actual mechanics of the game — which are so very liquid — that makes it, either. There are all manner of lovely touches which really make the holistic experience that much better. For instance each time you’re introduced to a new set of enemies, or a reoccurrence of a particularly important one, you get a short cutscene. On returning to the game there’s a piece of jolly music which always plays, reminding you that this a game, which is meant to be fun — don’t get lost in the veracity of the beastly tormentor you’re about to come up against, instead revel in the beauty of your role as judge, jury and executioner. The whole story is told with a healthy does of bombast and has an underlying element of not taking itself seriously. All of this is wrapped up in glamour and sex to make a riveting and wholly unswallowable tale — none of which matters when it’s this much fun.
This game is still amazing despite it being over eight years old, and this being a port of a game which has been ported a few times previously. The very fact it is amazing ensures it merits a Switch release but in fact being able to play Bayonetta on Nintendo’s latest hardware is a revelation. As with everything on the Switch what we’re getting is an example of superb home console gameplay which can be played on the move. Whether docked or mobile we have a native 720p resolution and a gorgeous 60 frames per second — which is almost rock solid throughout the entire game. This is important in ensuring the combat retains that liquid feel and all works, but also in just looking absolutely sensational in your hands. The preferred way to play the game is in docked mode, of course. There’s a lot of action and a lot of things going on on screen much of the time. The bigger the screen, the easier to take it all in and do what’s needed. Yet that doesn’t mean you can’t see and do in handheld mode everything you can when in docked. It works very well and whether tackling a verse, or chapter, for the first or thirtieth time (due to rubbishness or a hunt for the pure platinum medal) it all comes together brilliantly. You might find the Joy-Cons limit your abilities versus a pro controller sometimes, but only because the pro controller is clearly better to use than Joy-cons for anything.
As we do have a port of an older game here some of the design choices which were very much of the time have been carried over and perhaps don’t work so well. The main culprits are the quick time events (QTE) which can lead to failure just because you were taking in the apparent cutscene and enjoying it all, rather than waiting for a prompt to flash up demanding the X or Y button is hammered. It’s a minor point but it does jar a little and spoil the fluidity of everything. If we could ask for one change it would be for the QTEs to disappear.
With this release of Bayonetta on the Nintendo Switch the mass of console owners can experience for the first time — or again — what is still perhaps the finest action game of all time with an amazing story and exquisite combat. Being able to do this at home and on the train is wonderful and demonstrates the brilliance of the hardware and what it can do for games new and old. In this case the fact you can go and do a verse in a few minutes to better your result or a chapter when you have more time really helps and the replayability ensures it can stay on your Switch for a very long time. Bayonetta is a fabulous witch and still at the top of her game. Nothing else can quite match her - except, perhaps, herself.
The very fact Bayonetta 2 exists is a modern miracle, and a baffling one at that. It’s not because it doesn’t deserve to exist — far from it — but the fact that it looked incredibly unlikely for years and then the most left-field saviour presented themselves: Nintendo. You see, Bayonetta is the eponymous Umbra witch, a brilliantly characterised individual of rare strength, skill, dazzle and beauty. She, is, perhaps one of the top three female avatars in gaming in the way she delivers such brilliance on her own terms. Sure, many point to the way she looks and moves and question if she’s been designed for your typical thirteen-year old male gamer but that misses the real point — Bayonetta does everything she does because she is who she is and wants to be. That includes being one hell of a witch, and quite clearly the finest and most fabulous fighter in the trinity of realms.
Anyway, the fact Bayonetta is as she is and the way the first game played out — immensely delirious liquid fighting from the sexualised witch who had sardonic put-downs aplenty — is why the very fact Nintendo saved her and brought us Bayonetta 2 is a bloody surprise, to say the least. Sega, as publisher, had shelved development of a sequel despite PlatinumGames having begun work on it and many thought that was that. Thankfully, we were wrong. Nintendo funded PlatinumGames to continue making the sequel, then exclusively for the Wii U. Now it’s been ported to the Switch ahead of a third game which was recently announced. Everyone who owns a Switch, I implore you to buy this game if you can and to experience what is arguably the finest action game in existence.
The director of the first game, Hideki Kamiya, declined to retain his role on this sequel as he has tended to do across his library of games, and instead handed the reins to newcomer Yusuke Hashimoto, under his supervision. The approach taken was evidently to follow the rules of a sequel as explained in the film, Scream 2: “...observe the rules of the sequel. Number one: The body count is always bigger. Number two: The death scenes are always much more elaborate. More blood, more gore. Carnage candy! Your core audience just expects it. And number three: If you want your sequel to become a franchise never, ever…”
Bayonetta 2 is an iteration on brilliance. To that end no-one who has played the first game will be fazed at all in picking up the sequel and just getting going. Bayonetta looks different, with her new outfit and short hair-do but otherwise she is the same fighting totem with a dizzying array of moves, and setups, all of which can be added to and updated throughout the game. One fun but throwaway feature is that some of the weapons Bayonetta can get hold of during the game are Nintendo-related, for example a Chain Chomp. It breaks the fourth wall a little when you get this but you don’t have to use them — you can stick with your preferred demonic blades and guns if you like.
There is a new and integral aspect to the play — Umbran climax. During fights, and as your magic gauge fills, you’ll have the option to tap L and initiate what is a time-limited ability to just pummel opponents with multiple wicked weave moves. Effectively it’s like an Ultra combo in Street Fighter where you get rewarded with the chance to really diminish an enemy’s health bar as a congratulations for doing as well as you have done so far. It’s a big help in fights and really does let you make a good jump ahead in progress in any single fight.
Whilst this OP move obviously helps with the game’s challenge, it feels more forgiving throughout than the original. The time window which you have to activate Witch Time for instance, seems longer, or at least I was able to activate this vital slowdown of time pretty much everytime I wanted to during the whole eight hours of Bayonetta 2 compared to a hit rate of around 50% with the first. It might be that I was just more attuned having finished the first one beforehand but it feels like something more. The windows on executing specific combos were more lenient too, all adding to an easier and more accessible experience for those wanting to finish the game. That’s not to say it’s any easier to get the Pure Platinum awards for chapters and verse along the way, mind. No, what we have here is an entry-level lower to allow for more to enjoy the game, but a level of mastery as high as demanded by the skills of the top gamers.
The game’s structure is slightly refined versus the original, too. Each chapter is built up with short, sharp verses, each of which is there to provide a challenge and a variety which does not outstay its welcome, before moving on to the next. There’s less of a tendency to add to the foes rather than move onto a new set, or a new environment. The world itself is added to with some underwater sections which are few and far between thankfully (they work but they’re the least energetic of any part of the game) and a number of in-air fights. Bosses seem more plentiful which in turn means more of the massive enemies and the inventive set piece fights, which is entirely brilliant whilst being incredibly intense given they are always the most challenging moments. We have an Afterburner pastiche to go alongside the Space Harrier and Hang On moments from the first game, and we visit all three realms of the trinity in Earth, Heaven and Hell.
The story is totally awesome and fabulously outrageous. Bayonetta is shopping in a place reminiscent of New York City around Christmas time and suddenly angels attack. Bayonetta’s friend and fellow Umbra Witch, Jeanne, comes along to help but things go wrong and she dies, being dragged down to Inferno. Unsurprisingly eternity in Inferno is not meant to be a nice thing and Bayonetta decides she’s going to travel through the gates of hell to save her friend’s soul. Obviously. So begins a journey through the three worlds and time, in an effort to save Jeanne and ultimately the world. It was difficult to see how the first story could be made bigger and more brash but by jove, they’ve done it.
The game looks better than the first and runs as smoothly as you’d want on the Switch, whether in docked or undocked mode. As with the first game, if you’re able to play on the big screen do that, as with everything going on it really aids the experience. That being said, it’s not as confusing to play on the small screen thanks to its original development for the Wii U. Use of a pro controller would be beneficial here as well. I often found myself accidentally pressing R when I went to trigger ZR and Witch Time, but that might just be my fat fingers. It’s not really an issue in terms of doing well as that just meant my weapon setup was changed. It did however mean I set both load-outs to be the same so that I was able to use my preferred tools when I wanted. The amount of weapons and unlocks throughout the game are plentiful and here you can use Amiibo to gather additional resources which in turn allows you to more easily up your health bar, or gather more lollipop consumables.
Bayonetta 2 is the benchmark in action-adventure gaming. The combat design is objectively the finest you’ll find, with a supreme level of depth allied to a curve enabling the largest amount of the population to enjoy the game as is possible. The narrative is gasp-inducing and the pacing of the game such that you’ll always want to play on and see what comes next. It has a couple of minor issues by way of the underwater sections mentioned earlier and your companion through part of the game who you do control for short periods. He’s grating at times and not anywhere near as entertaining as Cereza in the first game. But these are minor issues. Neither stops Bayonetta 2 from being the masterpiece it undoubtedly is.
Bayonetta + Bayonetta 2
In this package of Bayonetta + Bayonetta 2 we have the quintessential action-adventure experience. Either of these alone is the best example of the genre you can find, with the most dazzling and comprehensive abundance of combat you’re likely to find. In combining the two the bar has been blown away. Allied to the sheer flow of the fighting itself is one of the greatest heroines in gaming, some brilliant one-liners and an outrageous pair of stories with equally cheeky moments (none of which you ever expected to see on a Nintendo console). Whilst I found the first game the better, this may well have been just the fact it was the one I was exposed to first, too. Throughout its runtime I was left with my jaw dropped and chuckling on numerous occasions. The second game didn’t quite take me on the same rollercoaster but in terms of gameplay it was tighter and faster. If you were to tackle them the other way around — and it wouldn’t be an issue to really given the stories aren’t the crux of the game — you may find the second to be superior. Really, it’s irrelevant. Both are wonderful alone and together? Irresistible. Roll on Bayonetta 3…