It’s nearly witch time, and Platinum’s Wii U sequel is in dazzlingly good shape
The opening minutes of Bayonetta 2 evoke the same sense of nostalgiatinged familiarity as Halo: Anniversary. Platinum’s sequel looks just like Bayonetta did in your memory: ferociously colourful, minutely detailed, and pin sharp. But load up even the HD version of the first game – which will come bundled with Bayonetta 2 when it’s released, though whether digitally or on a physical disc depends on edition – and you’ll find it muddy and washed-out in comparison.
Bayonetta 2 represents an astounding visual feat, then. Battles come saturated in magic effects and bloom, while enemies – who now react differently depending which attack you clobber them with – are adorned with even more decorative flourishes than before. And while Platinum won’t be drawn on a final resolution, the game glides along at an effortless 60fps. “When we were designing the look of
Bayonetta 2, we wanted people to be able to tell the first and second games apart with just a glance,” director Yusuke Hashimoto tells us. “This isn’t just through the colour palette, but also the character design and the way characters move, the setting, and many other facets of the game.”
Which explains why Bayonetta herself has had a makeover, ditching her long hairdo and warm red accent colour for a short crop and cooler blue accessories to match the game’s ‘water’ theme. This is matched with a more stylised look, trading many of her exaggerated curves for straighter lines and angles, though not when it comes to T&A, obviously.
The game’s world, meanwhile, feels simultaneously familiar and fresh. The art team travelled around Europe for architectural inspiration, taking in Bruges, Florence and Venice. “In Japan, there are places that try to imitate European style by selling pre-aged, multicoloured bricks,” lead environmental artist Hiroki Onishi writes in a blog post on Platinum’s website. “But after going to Italy, it terrifies me that Japanese people probably don’t understand how different the real thing is.” Bayonetta 2’ s environments are heavily stylised, but this research shows in its cobbled roads, ageing tiled roofs, stained glass windows and expansive waterways.
It isn’t just the visuals that have been scaled up. When the game was revealed, Platinum said it wanted players to feel like they were fighting Bayonetta’s final boss from the off. And while this sequel eases you in a little more gently than that, the spectacle of even early encounters is breathtaking. The explosive action of last year’s E3 demo – which pitted Bayonetta against all manner of angels atop the back of a jet aircraft as it
thundered around skyscrapers and azure skies – is matched in the three playable levels we see, especially during a fight with a Lumen Sage that takes place as Infernal Demons do battle in the background.
Bayonetta’s moveset has been ramped up as well. Wicked Weaves return – despite her new pixie cut – as do Torture Attacks and Witch Time, all functioning as you’d expect. But now when you double jump, your wings will stay extended until you float all the way back down to the ground. And if you double-tap dodge during the new underwater sections, Bayonetta will turn into a sea snake (you’ll still morph into a panther if you input the command on dry land), allowing her to traverse the game’s large areas more quickly than she ever could in human form. The Umbra Witch will also be able to augment her abilities by hopping into a powerful mech at various points throughout the game.
“We often consulted Mr Kamiya to make sure we were staying true to Bayonetta”
The biggest addition of all is Umbran Climax. Fill your magic gauge – which is still used to unleash Torture Attacks – and you can squeeze L to summon a succession of Wicked Weave and Infernal Demon attacks, covering a huge area. Purists worried that this will make the game less about skill or, worse, disrupt the flow of Bayonetta’s finely balanced combat should be able to take solace in Hashimoto’s insistence that the team has thought carefully about its inclusion.
“We kept in mind everything we learned from the first game when balancing the combos in the sequel,” he says. “It took a considerable amount of time, to say the least! [The Umbran Climax] system presents the player with a choice: will I utilise magic to perform a Torture Attack and concentrate on a single enemy, or will I spread my attacks over a group using Umbran Climax? Knowing when to use which adds an interesting layer to gameplay strategy.”
Despite currently being tied up with Xbox One exclusive Scalebound, the series’ original creator, Hideki Kamiya, was heavily involved in the design stages of Bayonetta 2, too.
“We often consulted Mr Kamiya to make sure we were staying true to Bayonetta, including the design of the main characters,” Hashimoto says. “We received input on the scenario from many people, both in and outside of the company, but ultimately Kamiya was in control of putting the script and story together.”
The move to Wii U also raised questions, specifically over whether such a fast-moving, reactions-based game could work as well on Nintendo’s broad GamePad as it did on 360’s famed controller. Bayonetta feels surprisingly intuitive on the tablet-like device, however, both responsive and fluid. Muscle memory still returns more easily with a Pro Controller, but we were able to achieve Pure Platinum results after only a couple of warm-up fights.
“At PlatinumGames, when you are deciding how to best make use of a controller, you start by asking what kind of game you want the player to experience,” Hashimoto explains. “Bayonetta 2 is an action game, so our number one priority was the feel of the game’s controls. Shifting to Wii U didn’t change this, so we didn’t alter the core control scheme for GamePad.”
Despite the successful translation, it’s impossible not to wonder whether Wii U was really the best choice of platform for a
Bayonetta sequel, given its subject matter. “From our perspective as the developer, we didn’t so much choose Wii U as Nintendo stepped up and chose us, which allowed us to develop Bayonetta 2,” Hashimoto says. “In other words, without Nintendo, Bayonetta 2 couldn’t exist. As a platform, Wii U has many titles that appeal to players of all ages and skills, and we’re hoping a game like
Bayonetta, which appeals to a specific demographic, will stand out as a result.”
Platinum has also provided a touch control option, which lets you tap on enemies to attack them, swipe the screen to evade attacks, and guide Bayonetta’s movement with a pointer. “The GamePad is part of what makes Wii U special,” Hashimoto says, “so we tailored two experiences to GamePad that make it easier for anyone to enjoy
Bayonetta – the intuitive touchscreen controls and off-TV play. These aren’t settings hidden in a submenu; you can switch in realtime whenever you want. Just take out your stylus and start tapping.”
While ‘off-TV play’ – which simply means playing solely on your GamePad’s screen – is certainly welcome, the touchscreen controls might sound like anathema to seasoned
Bayonetta players. Yet they’re undeniably effective, providing an on-ramp for those yet to learn all the button combos. And because they’re always on, not a selectable mode, it proves little hassle to graduate from one control scheme to the other.
But perhaps the best way to learn is by watching a master, and Bayonetta 2’ s new online co-op mode, Tag Climax, provides that opportunity. The mode is structured around unlockable Verse Cards, which you flip over to progress to the next stage. There’s a competitive streak, too, with players ranked on their performances. You’ll be able to wager the halos you earn from fighting – reaping more if you select a harder difficulty – and if you’re the best player, you’ll walk away with an even greater sum to spend on new moves, weapons and accessories in the singleplayer game, which can then in turn be used in your next online session. There will also be a selection of playable co-op characters to choose from, including Jeanne, Bayonetta’s former rival, who returns as an ally during angel battles in the singleplayer campaign.
“To mix things up, in Tag Climax you can play with characters besides Bayonetta and Jeanne,” Hashimoto says. “We put a lot of work into making this mode something special, so I hope people experiment with all the different characters and have fun playing online together.”
Further broadening the sequel’s combat options, there are more weapons to choose from this time around. We quickly gravitated to the Kafka – a bow that shoots poisonous arrows – during boss fights. Other options include the Chernobog, a giant triplebladed scythe with a built-in rifle, and a pair of katana blades called the Rakshasa.
“We wanted to design weapon types that weren’t available in the first game and had personality to them,” Hashimoto explains. “Bayonetta is the kind of action game where just holding down a button will evolve an attack – for example, holding the punch button will allow Bayonetta to start shooting after a performing a punch. In Bayonetta 2, we wanted to expand on this idea in a way that would showcase the unique features of each weapon. So with the whip, you can thrash the enemy with lashes, but by holding down the button, it’s now possible to grab the enemy and slam them to the ground.”
The included HD update of the original game features its own additions, too, in the form of new costumes (see ‘Wicked threads’) and a retrofitting of Bayonetta 2’ s touchscreen controls. You’ll also be able to use the
Bayonetta 2’s greatest success is making hands old and new feel instantly at home
GamePad gyro in some stages, which should fit rather well with chapter IV’s Space Harrier
inspired missile ride. It’s a thorough overhaul, but Bayonetta wasn’t a planned inclusion right from the beginning of the project. “We made the decision soon after Bayonetta 2 became a Wii U exclusive,” producer Akiko Kuroda tells us. “Considering that it has been five years since the first game, and the sequel is being released on new hardware, we figured there are people interested in Bayonetta 2 who have never had a chance to play the original. We felt that bringing Bayonetta to the Wii U would be the best way to introduce these people to the series.”
For all the additions, Bayonetta 2’ s greatest success is making hands old and new feel instantly at home. It feels as revelatory to pick up and play as the first game did back in 2010, and it’s difficult not to be left breathless by the rush of colour, detail and spectacle. Whether it finds the audience on Wii U to justify a Bayonetta 3 seems less important in the face of the sheer confidence of the series’ hop to a new platform, but – irrespective of the genre’s perceived high entry requirements – Platinum’s latest feels powerful enough to bewitch a legion of fans all over again.
This angel is called Valiance, and is one of the game’s more powerful enemies, functioning as a miniboss
Bayonetta possessed the curious air of an ’80s Hollywood secretary in the first game, and her new haircut only serves to heighten that association