Nintendo may have rescued it from the cuttingroom floor, funded the rest of its development and published it as a Wii U exclusive, but Bayonetta 2 is still a Sega game. It’s something that’s made clear from the opening minutes, when the logo of Nintendo’s one-time rival adorns a taxi-top billboard, and of which you’re often reminded, since Platinum continues the first game’s line in Sega homages. Indeed, splash-screen logos and borrowed costumes aside, on the face of it this is as far removed from the Nintendo house style as it’s possible to get, a hyperviolent tale of a sexualised protagonist whose modesty is covered only by her own hair; who sashays, strips and pole dances; and who shouts “Fuck off!” at the end of combos.
And yet Bayonetta 2 is in many ways a perfect fit for Nintendo, with its bright blue skies, its easy charm, its relentless procession of ideas and its immaculately tuned controls. And as the sequel to the best game Platinum has ever made, it sports a best-in-class set of combat mechanics that ensure it is as welcoming to the uninitiated as it is frighteningly deep for old hands. Newcomers can merrily button mash their way through the lower difficulty levels and still be made to feel like the most powerful being in the universe. Almost every combo string in the game, whether planned or improvised, ends with a Wicked Weave, a screen-filling, hard-hitting attack performed by a demon summoned from the Inferno below and given form by Bayonetta’s hair. Other games in this genre hide their greatest prizes behind a skill barrier that may take dozens of hours of study and practice to surmount. Bayonetta 2 simply asks that you keep pressing buttons.
The rewards for doing so are greater than ever. As before, landing attacks builds a magic meter, which can be spent on Torture Attacks, during which our heroine summons guillotines, iron maidens and demons to dole out heavy, bloody damage on single opponents in exchange for a spot of button mashing. Fill the magic meter entirely, however, and you can activate the new Umbran Climax mode. Here, health recharges, every normal attack is a Wicked Weave, and combo enders hammer everything onscreen. It adds yet another layer of dazzling spectacle to a series that hardly lacked for it already, and that looks even better now on Wii U.
It’s not the increased resolution that strikes you, but the vibrancy of it all: this is a riot of colour even during its quieter moments, as you guide Bayonetta across the planet, down to its infernal underworld and even back in time, jumping from a bustling New York to the depths of Hell, from a sun-baked mountain city to the bowels of a gigantic demon. By turns Bayonetta 2’ s world shimmers and glistens, crumbles and pulsates, enthralls and horrifies. And when the feet and fists start flying, it’s something else entirely. Load up the first game, even in revamped form, and you’ll be struck by how grainy and washed-out it looks, and begin to wonder if its inclusion with the special and First Print editions is meant to show how far Platinum has come.
Yet in a way, what Platinum has done best is turn back to the past. In the five years since Bayonetta’s Japanese debut, the Osaka studio’s work in this genre has seen it dabble in online brawling with Anarchy Reigns, riff off Saturday morning cartoons with The Wonderful 101, and rescue Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance from development limbo. None have come close to recapturing Bayonetta’s magic, and Platinum clearly delights in being back in control of its finest creation. The influence of its other games can be felt occasionally – it reprises the slow-motion shot of a blade narrowly missing the protagonist’s chin that it used and reused to the point of fetishism in Rising, for instance. But this is Bayonetta, a riotous, spectacular work of the highest order of camp, one that’s always ready with a lascivious wink and a knob gag, even when the fate of the universe is at stake. There is still nothing quite like it. There are stumbles along the way, admittedly, but the only thing wrong with Bayonetta 2 is how closely it adheres to the original game’s formula. It is a CPU and GPU upgrade away from a game that came out in 2009, with many of the same weapons, items, enemies and even sound effects. That might be more of a problem if the genre had moved on in the past five years, but no studio, not even Platinum itself, has even come close to pushing it. Only a fool would meddle with Bayonetta’s magic, then, and instead the developer has wisely focused on ironing out the original’s few kinks. Those sudden, mid-cinematic, instafail QTEs are gone, and so too is the shooting minigame between missions. Enemy weapon pickups are now a bonus rather than a penalty, bound to the button that fires your pistols instead of the one that swings the weapon in your hands. Pacing has been tightened up across the board, the Sega homages no longer outstaying their welcome, and the cutscenes, while still many, are a good deal snappier.
They’re as full as ever of oddballs too. Platinum’s bizarre love of cultural stereotyping has become so frequent that it is starting to feel like it is the first bullet point on the studio’s mission statement. Returning to the supporting cast are Rodin, the soultalking African-American merchant, and Enzo, the dumpy, half-witted Italian-American who ends every other line with ‘Fugeddaboutit’, whether apropos or not. They’re joined by Loki, a young man of indeterminate non-white descent whose British accent was seemingly voiced by someone who has never set foot in the UK, but spent a couple of days binge watching episodes of Game Of Thrones and Downton Abbey before giving it their best shot. Yet these little slips are much easier to forgive in the context of a game that delights in its own