Osaka's PlatinumGames is rightly regarded as one of the finest stables of action games around. From Vanquish to Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance to Nier: Automata, its record is full of exemplary, exhilarating projects. But perhaps its finest production is one that only a relatively select few ever got to play.
The studio's witchy hack-and-slasher, Bayonetta, was a critical darling in 2009, the recipient of countless close-to-perfect review scores—but it didn't do the numbers that either its publisher Sega, or Platinum itself, was after.
And when Sega's parent company, Sammy, demanded that a focus be placed on producing proven sellers, it looked like there'd never be another release featuring the high-kicking, angelic skulls-cracking Umbra Witch who gave the game its name.
But then, in stepped Nintendo. The makers of Mario mightn't seem likely bedfellows for a game featuring a bucket-load of blood and guts and gratuitous profanity—not to mention a lead character whose own hair is her outfit, and can be temporarily shed to form weapons—but here we are.
Bayonetta 2 came out in 2014 as a Wii U exclusive and is, for my money, Platinum's greatest hit 'em where it hurts explosion of histrionics yet, and an essential title for Nintendo's outgoing console. As a system exclusive, though, it sold fewer copies than its predecessor, well under a million worldwide.
But Bayonetta 2 is special for an abundance of reasons. It's a violent, voracious game, where cherub-faced enemies are kicked into torture devices and exploded into shimmering chunks of golden death.
It structures itself as a sequence of gated combat encounters, but threads a needle through each to produce an absolutely bananas but nonetheless strangely captivating story about gods and demons, unforeseen monsters and motherly love.
It's absolutely made with the battle-hardened hardcore in mind, players who eat up Devil May Cry-like action for breakfast. But its difficulty is neatly tiered so as to guarantee even the bluntest of button bashers has a ball throughout.
But what I love most about its moment-to-moment play isn't anything immediately to do with attacking, at all. It's the game's dodge mechanic, its so-called Witch Time, activated with a last-second skip to the side of an incoming blow.
It was in the first game, too, but it feels more generous in the sequel, that bit easier to pull off, the window of opportunity cracked wider. And when you hit it, time slows and Bayonetta can turn avoidance into aggression and whale on whatever's trying to turn her into a leggy shish kebab. It is immediately cool, compellingly kickass. Cue, those never-not-rewarding combos, all fists and feet and guns and angel guts.
The ease of Witch Time activation means that Platinum can fill the screen with spectacularly designed enemies almost off the bat, creating these incredible scenes of surreal carnage where Bayonetta faces off against a clutch of celestial soldiers on the wings of a fighter jet—and that's the very first level proper.
And if you get echoes of the arcade classic Afterburner in Bayonetta 2's flight-and-fight sections, it's not the only time it's made clear that this is as much a Sega franchise as it is a Nintendo one. "You owe Alex the Kid for the charter," announces the forever-cursing supporting character Enzo as he flies the star of the game towards its mountainous main setting. Alex the Kid, ha.
Everything about Bayonetta 2 is slick, stylish, and ever so slightly silly—even as the action intensifies, rapidly, it retains a pronounced goofiness, a breezy appreciation that it's a video game, something to be played with, toyed with, and enjoyed. Yes, turn up the heat and it can serve your arse back to you, whipped raw; but with Witch Time on your side, even the most impressively intimidating opponents can be reduced to sniveling wrecks, a good hard spanking entirely optional.
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