So I had this plan to review Bayonetta 2 for the Wii U, I finished the game, enjoyed it, but wasn’t blown away by it. All due respect to other news outlets, but there’s no way in hell the game is a 10/10. Well that was last week, and since it came with the original game, I figured I could play it more or less for context. I think I got in over my head somewhere along the line because now the line is blurring between the original and the sequel, so I thought I’d give my thoughts on the Bayonetta experience as a whole, rather than giving a review of the second.
First off a confession: I’m not really a fan of Platinum Games. I know they came from Clover Studios which was a division of Capcom. I couldn’t get into Viewtuful Joe or Okami, Mad World just got too repetitive and Wonderful 101 was more confusing than anything. I can’t say that any of these are “bad” games, just that for whatever reason, I didn’t like how they were put together. I’m personally not a fan of “over the top” kind of themes (hence why I’ve never been a Tarantino fan), and anything that’s grinding or repetitive tends to turn me off as well. Pacing is an issue for me, I like to be able to play a game for a longer period of time, much like yelling in music, it loses its effect if it’s overdone.
So knowing all that, why did I try the game? Well, any game that gets a 10 in a review catches my eye. I didn’t exactly expect to agree, but there had to be something interesting about the game to get a reviewers highest recommendation. In my book a 10 is not a perfect game, but rather a game that is as well made as it can be, a game that even if you aren’t usually a fan of a genre or style that it can still win you over. Also the game dropped to $40 and I’m collecting for Wii U, sue me.
So what do I think of them? Well it’s complicated, but I thought I’d start with the theme. As someone who has been gaming for a long time I must say I found Bayonetta’s religious themes rather interesting. All too often we see the same military, or horror themes, not that there’s anything inherently wrong with using a common theme, but to have something that tries to do things differently is always welcome. The closest game I could compare to Bayonetta is El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metaron, which, if you’ve never played is more “out there” than it is over the top. You are constantly attacked by angelic creatures (who are somehow evil?) and you must defeat them with your witch powers. Said powers using your hair for special attacks and forming beats to eat the angels, turning into other animals and acrobatic feats. It’s pretty obvious the developers were going for the wow factor and in many regards they accomplished their mission.
Throughout your journey you’ll run into quite a few interesting characters. There’s Luka who seems obsessed with following Bayonetta around and finding out more about her, Jeanne, Bayonetta’s sister who acts as more of an antagonist in the first game and a damsel in distress in the second, Loki a young boy with powers, is trying to get to Fimbulventr (despite not remembering why), Enzo who mainly only serves as comic relief, and Balder who is a Lumen Sage. This is bare bones version of course, but the story is not nearly as deep as it presents itself. It’s surprisingly coherent but it plays recessive role to the action, which is clearly the focus.
The combat system is fairly straightforward in both games. You have a punch and a kick buttons which are mostly what you’ll be using for combos, there is a dodge button on ZR which if timed right before being it will activate “witch time” where everything slows down for a few seconds and you can get in a nice combo or two. Both games put a good amount of emphasis on this mechanic even to the point where some enemies (particularly bosses) can only be hit in witch time. I find the first game is far more demanding on timing but you get a longer window in witch time. In general I find the combat satisfying, it’s not overly complicated and allows for free-form combos, it even gives you a list in the loading screen so you can practice. Even though your abilities grow by way of purchasing weapons and techniques I still prefer Ninja Gaiden’s combat system, but Bayonetta’s doesn’t disappoint.
When you aren’t in combat you are generally exploring the environment, which unfortunately, doesn’t feel often enough, particularly in the second game. In fact I would say you are either just finishing a fight or just about to get into another one, it has about as much action as Ninja Gaiden or Devil May Cry. This is a shame too because Bayonetta 1 has some really great slower sections that I wished lasted longer. About half way though the game you go into what appears to be a European village but you can look up and see space. This outwordly feel is only enhanced by some ominous music. I feel like this is proof positive that action games can be more immersive than they are.
Graphics are quite impressive. Obviously the first game was developed on last gen hardware and came out in 2009 in Japan so it shows it’s age, but still by those standards it’s hard to complain. I really enjoyed looking at all the scenery. In addition to the European Villages and spacey themes that I mentioned, you’ll see water sanctuaries, fire sanctuaries, heaven, forests and castles as well. The second game however is far more impressive. It’s decidedly more colorful with larger environments. It may be thematically more of the same, but I really liked seeing what they were able to do with the better tech of the Wii U. And even though it would probably look better if it was developed for the PS4 or Xbone, it’s hard to deny that it would look at home as it is on those consoles. The framerate is buttery smooth on both games as well.
My biggest gripe with the overall experience is the difficulty. The first game in particular is brutal on normal, some enemies can kill you in just a few hits. Bosses can feel insurmountable. I realize that these kinds of games are meant to feel challenging but when I don’t feel like I have a fighting chance that’s an issue. Most of the time I got the lowest score because I had to use 5 or more continues you can use healing items but your score gets lowered for that too. There’s cheap shots aplenty to. You can, thankfully, lower the difficulty without starting over, but still, I don’t think I should have to do that due to unfair hits. The second game fares better in that regard but is really uneven, I put it on easy for a bit because I was running into difficulty spikes but then on easy I felt like they were just handing me gold and platinum medals. I changed it back to normal later on.
The rest of the games though I feel like is quite solid all around. If you love these kinds of over the top action games, and are good at them, you are in for a treat. I’ve already sunk 10 hours into the second game and 5 into the first. I didn’t feel quite right about giving it an overall score because I feel like I can’t look at the games from an objective standpoint. There is an undeniable quality here: both Bayonetta 1 and 2 are great action games. The original lays a fantastic structure and has a better feel to it, but the second, despite being more of the same, feels like a significant enough evolution that it justifies a revisit to the world.
If nothing else I’d say that thus far, this has a unique experience, I don’t feel like I’ll forget my time with either game any time soon. I enjoyed the break from the sea of shooters that are still far too common, and even the bright and cheerful Nintendo games leave me wanting more mature themes. I somehow feel like these games are meant to be gauntlets of sorts, that you are meant to feel like you climbed mountain and accomplished something rather than just reaching a high score. And that’s okay too, The Last of Us felt like that and it was amazing. And while I am leaving this page as unfinished, it’s because I’m not done with the journey. I just thought I’d share those feelings mid journey, so I can come back later and tell you how rewarding it was to reach the end.