Bayonetta 2 is definitely one of the best games I've played on the Wii U, and it has certainly garnered its fair share of awards and praise from critics and gamers alike. But there are a lot of things about the game that have been overlooked, both good and bad.
First of all, let me say I was a big fan of the first Bayonetta, and that the sequel was one of the principal reasons I purchased a Wii U. I think it's a shame that no hack and slash game has really reached the depth of combat that Bayonetta and Devil May Cry 4 presented all those years ago. Metal Gear Rising and DmC were both candidates, but failed to provide a complex system for different reasons. The only game that came close was The Wonderful 101, but that game is really in a genre of its own and is hard to compare to a conventional third person action game. These games were a huge part of my "gaming upbringing", if you will, so this lack of competition within one of my favorite genres made my anticipation for Bayonetta 2 that much higher.
First off, the story of Bayonetta has never been its strong point. The plot of the first game was confusing and typical, and that is more or less the same case with the sequel. For any other game this would be a big point deduction, but its clear that intense action setpieces and gameplay were the driving force of development, and the story is really only there to push things along. The opening to Bayonetta 2 is also one of the best I've ever experienced, far surpassing the original's drawn out tutorial. Where the story in the sequel fails in comparison to the original is the lack of quirky humor. We never see Bayonetta having a dance-off with an angel, and Luka (one of the funnier characters in B1) has been made secondary in favor of Loki, who lacks any personality and only serves as a plot point. This was disappointing to me, because I found the first game genuinely funny at times.
One thing that makes developer Platinum Games shine in today's industry is their focus on difficulty. Selecting "Normal" on a game bearing Platinum's logo is often the equivalent of harder difficulties on most games. But considering that most people playing Bayonetta 2 will have already played the first, the normal difficulty felt surprisingly easy to me. For example, I actually got the maximum possible trophy (Pure Platinum) on one of the bosses midway through the game, the first time I fought him! For proof, I posted it on Miiverse a day after the game released:
Anyone who's played any of the developer's games knows that one usually only achieves a Pure Platinum ranking through laborious memorization of enemy patterns, mastering the combo building, and doing all of this quickly without taking damage. As in, not the first time you fight the boss. The problem with me just switching to a harder difficulty is that the next-up "Hard mode" assumes I have already beaten the game by throwing enemies from later in the game at me in the first level. So for once, the difficulty in a Platinum Games title is not very well balanced. The game still comes off harder than most these days, but I didn't get the feeling of reward that I appreciated from the first game.
The combat, for the most part, is a natural evolution of the combat established in the first game. Added is a new "Umbran Climax" mode which basically lets you unleash intense power at a wider range after you build up your magic gauge. While I think this is a good addition, I noticed that the torture finishers from the first game took a definite backseat to this new feature. Using a torture attack now doesn't impact your combo meter at all, which makes it pretty much useless if you want a good combo score. I think this is unfortunate because the torture attacks clearly had a lot of creativity invested, only for them to be made a very unfavorable option. Another thing that bothers me about the new combat is the ability for all medium-sized angels and demons to break your combo outside of Witch Time and Umbran Climax. This greatly lowers the combo potential on these monsters, and forces you to use an accessory that lets you enable Witch Time by choice if you want to maintain any style while you fight hordes of enemies.
The game's graphics are excellent, given the platform. The art style will definitely help the game age better than most, and the story takes you through a much better variety of locations than the first. Unfortunately, the framerate is not exactly great. The Wii U enables V-sync by default to disable screen tearing, and this in turn causes the framerate to stick much closer to 45fps rather than the target 60. Personally, I'm not nearly as susceptible to screen tearing as I am rocky framerates so I don't feel like the switch was preferable. The game still looks pretty good, with lots of gorgeous effects and decent character models. Also, there's a lot of influence on cool colors like blue and purple, which is awesome!
The first Bayonetta was directed by Hideki Kamiya, while the sequel was directed by Yusuke Hashimoto. I am a big fan of Kamiya's work, and for the most part his vision was fulfilled with the sequel. All except for one important piece: the final boss. I'm not going to spoil anything, but let's just say the final boss of the original Bayonetta remains one of the greatest of all time and retains a high spot in many top 10 lists for final bosses. It's epic, and the scale is insane. At first the sequel's failure to succeed it disappointed me a lot, but you need to look at the big picture as well. The sequel goes for a more even dispersal of epicness across the entire game, and in that way delivers far more memorable bosses than the first game did. If you want a real competitor to Bayonetta's final moments, play The Wonderful 101, another Kamiya game.
Lastly, one thing that I see a lot of reviewers neglect to praise about Bayonetta 2 is the incredible soundtrack. I never saw any nominations for the OST which clearly had a lot of work put into it, and I think that's a real shame, because the music often brings most of the intensity and epicness to the boss fights of the game. To top it all off, the developers took some influence from another Platinum title, Metal Gear Rising, and added a touch of dynamism to the boss fights. As the boss progresses through various stages, the music will shift in tone to reflect this. While it isn't incorporated as well as MGR, I think this is a feature Platinum should continue to incorporate into their games. Sample of the soundtrack:
Bayonetta 2 is easily one of the best games of 2014, and on the Wii U overall. I'm very glad that Nintendo decided to bring this game back from the grave. I hope more people decide to buy it across the Wii U's lifespan, because it's not very often a game that raises the bar of its genre comes along nowadays.