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Review: Bayonetta 2, the cult classic’s sequel has exceptional gameplay, but lacks story

Bayonetta 2 is a game that shouldn’t exist. It’s the hyper-violent sequel to a cult classic that met infamously dismal sales, exclusively delivered on a console most notable for candy-colored kart racers and platformers. Plus, the leading lady defies every established stereotype about video game protagonists. In a gaming industry that is seemingly plagued by safe decisions, this is the sort of title that you’d expect to be extinct. Yet in the face of adversity, Bayonetta 2 shines bright – fueled by a commitment to basic gaming pleasure and an honest appreciation of the absurd.

Bayonetta 2 is a character action game, analogous of experiences like Devil May Cry, God of War and Ninja Gaiden. Brutal, fast combat is the law of the land – with Bayonetta’s swift kicks, punches and constantly expanding arsenal of demonic weaponry delivering bloody justice to anything in her way. The basic concept is easy enough to understand – combo together punches and kicks to lay down damage, then use well-timed dodges to enter “Witch Time” – a burst of slow motion that gives you the upper hand on any foe. Every encounter is different, with the timing for perfect combos differing between foes. You’ll face off against every manner of angel, demon and beast in the book as you venture into the depths of hell. The result is a combat experience with exceptional depth, but enormous accessibility. Hopping in and cutting down enemies doesn’t take much skill at first, yet still feels incredibly satisfying. There’s even a touch-screen-focused automatic mode, though you’re robbing yourself of the experience if you don’t take full control.

But don’t be fooled. Bayonetta 2 is no casual stroll through the gates of Inferno. Levels are rich with hidden combat opportunities, and the game not-so-subtly pushes you to achieve perfect ratings in every single one. Weapons can be combined in a wide array of options, each offering unique moves that suit varying play styles and situations. Around six hours in, I found myself constantly experimenting with new strategies, styles of play and different maneuvers. I’ve enjoyed games in this genre before, but never bothered diving into the depths with them as I have Bayonetta 2. Yet, I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface. Multiple playthroughs are essentially required to nab the most desirable extras from the game’s shop, and the ever elusive “Pure Platinum” rating can be grabbed in every single bit of combat. For those inclined, this is a game that will soak up hours, days – even weeks of your life. The fact that the cult classic original is packed in for free with retail copies makes this one of the wisest $60 purchases an action game fan could make this season.

Judged by its cover alone, it’s easy to mistake the titular Bayonetta for something she isn’t. Sexuality is a core theme of this franchise, and the game’s cutscenes take every opportunity to flaunt our hero’s assets. Yet, at no point does any of this feel exploitative, cheap or offensive. It’s sexy, but Bayonetta’s personality drives her every move. Games as a medium have had a long-standing troubled relationship with conveying sexual content. At its best, a character’s sexual appeal is a coincidental effect and of great art design and sharp writing. At its worst, it’s pandering fanservice. But Bayonetta 2 is something so much more. Ideas of sex, lust and desire aren’t avoided out of a distrust of the player, or juiced as a cheap reward. It’s embraced, a part of the hero’s power – something distinctly feminine that makes Bayonetta a star in every sense of the word.

With such a phenomenal lead, it’s disappointing that the game isn’t able to deliver a strong narrative and supporting cast to match. The story is almost jarringly bland, a standard tale of heaven and hell where every character is out for revenge. Cutscenes are visually impressive, but the writing lacks all nuance. While the game’s cutscenes are well-crafted, they’re like sitting through bad anime. Characters shout back and forth for a few minutes, people start fighting and it’s ultimately unclear exactly what even happened. Everything is taken to a comic extreme. The game opens with Bayonetta fighting guardians of Heaven on top of a fighter jet (underscored by pop-jazz remix of “Moon River”) and just gets more flamboyant from there.

It’s a visually pretty game for sure, but I’ll be damned if I could tell you what any of it meant. Even if the story doesn’t stir your soul, Bayonetta 2 is an incredible time. The smooth, twitch-centric action is absolutely intoxicating – and a must-play for any WiiU owner.

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Chris Berg

Chris Berg