Is Platinum the only game developer that makes good action games anymore? Recently, it seems that the quality of hack-and-slash games ranges from terribly boring, or excellent and dripping with polish. The genre may be past its peak of popularity, but if one thing makes me feel good about the state of the action genre, it’s that Platinum Games is still pumping out titles like Bayonetta 2.
Bayonetta 2 is a stylish beat-em-up action romp that will make you fall in love with classic action games all over again. The first Bayonetta hit all the right notes on its first outing, so for the sequel Platinum decided to give us more of the same. The cheeky protagonist Bayonetta is a joy, the set pieces are so ridiculous you can’t help but grin, and the pace of the gameplay is so fast that even Sonic cannot compare to this. And believe me, If you liked the upbeat jazzy pop score from the first game, the soundtrack here does not disappoint; I still have the main theme stuck in my head as I’m writing this review. The combat mechanics in the first game were so refined that it would be hard for me to point to an aspect of the combat I take issue with. Instead of changing them, Platinum upped the polish and spectacle, which means the game doesn’t sputter, you won’t feel unfairly bested by the enemies, and you’re usually fighting your adversaries in beautiful arenas or outlandish settings that only Hideki Kamiya could dream up.
The combat once again boils down to stringing together combos to inflict damage and stun lock enemies, but if you play the game on easy or normal, mashing X or A usually works just fine. While this works if you’re in a jam, weaving together stylish combo after stylish combo, dodging at the last moment to activate witch time and lay into your enemies while their frozen to get the best score is where the magic of this game truly lies. This kind of combat system invites you to replay levels you’ve beaten to get a better score, which in turn gives you more currency to unlock more moves, costumes, and accessories that will enhance your playing experience. Overall, combat feels kinetic, stylish, and satisfying.
In between battles, the environments you traverse are semi-open, with optional combat and platforming challenges scattered throughout that make exploring the entire map a good use of your time. These challenges test your grasp of the games core mechanics, and will reward you with increases in magic and health throughout the game.
The story is just as ludicrous as it was in the first game, and while listening to it can add emotion to the final battles, most of the bosses aren’t tied directly into the plot of the game, which is a shame. In the first game, most bosses you fought were at least loosely connected to the plot, and would foreshadow later boss fights or provide exposition to the player. In Bayonetta 2 most bosses just happen to be in the way of Bayonetta. However, when the cast of characters from the first game return with more bombastic writing than one could ever hope for, it’s easy to forgive the game. If you pay attention to the cutscenes at all, you will find yourself laughing hysterically at the antics and one-liners that the cast spews out, which is exactly what this game needs to balance its over the top action.
Speaking of cutscenes, I still find it weird that exciting half of the plot occurs in cutscenes and the other half occurs in slideshows. It doesn’t help that most of these slideshows are exposition dumps that are boring as all hell. You can feel the pulse of the game drop when one of these moments come up, and it’s easy to see that the team spent most of their cutscene budget on the opening sequence. Still, the story is not integral to enjoying the game, so I’m glad that the most memorable lines of the game are delivered in proper cutscenes.
Most of the problems Bayonetta 2 has are concerning its story, which isn’t a problem for most people, but there are some design decisions that I think are a little iffy. Dodging is fun and rewarding, but you have to do it frequently, which means that you will accidentally activate the panther within ability sometimes when you’re trying to dodge. I can see why they decided to map both functions to your right trigger, but the pace of the game is such that you need to dodge multiple enemies at a moments notice, and it’s always a frustrating moment when you get hit by an enemy blow that you were actively trying to dodge. There is still no way to restart an enemy encounter if you want to give it another go and not have to start the whole level over, which is troublesome when you’re trying to platinum parts of a level and have to play through sections you’ve already perfected again. These aspects are annoying, and are little blips of imperfection on an otherwise smooth combat system.
The qualms I have with Bayonetta 2 are minimal. It’s a bloody good time, with never a dull moment while you’re playing, and scores of replayability built into the game. Every component of this game is over the top, self-indulgent fun that never takes itself too seriously, and doesn’t expect the player to either. In short, Bayonetta 2 is unadulterated bliss that takes the form of a videogame, and while it has problems, they’re nitpicky problems, the kind that get squashed by the sheer weight of enjoyment that the player experiences when they play a truly incredible game.