When you play videogames for a living, it’s easy for your brain to become overwhelmed with information. Review copies, preview builds, downloadable demos, hands-on time at events, gameplay trailers, developer interviews—at a certain point, so many elements about so many games are rattling around in your head that all you can focus on is whatever you have in front of you at any given moment.
I loved the original Bayonetta—but that was over three years ago (by the time I finally got around to trying it), an eternity given how many other games I’ve played since then. As much as I enjoyed what Platinum Games had put together, time had caused me to forget just how much. Bayonetta is one of the best, most well-crafted action games I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing, the new standard by which other stylish action games should be compared; Bayonetta is one of many great games to come out of that console generation; Bayonetta was a pretty good game, thinking back. Timed moved on, and my thoughts slowly transitioned from one line of thinking to the next.
It wasn’t long into playing Bayonetta 2 that I remembered why I’d come to have such strong feelings for Platinum’s Umbran Witch. The gameplay on display here—born in the original, refined even more this second time around—is just so utterly fantastic. I don’t believe “perfect” can ever exist in our hobby, but for me, this is the closest to perfect any fast-paced action game has ever come. I’ve played so many similar-styled games where combat felt dull and repetitive after a while, or the player’s attacks flowed together nowhere near as smoothly as Bayonetta’s do, or boss encounters weren’t as well thought-out—and yet Platinum’s team makes it all look so stupidly easy. During the entire eleven-and-a-half hours it took me to conquer Bayonetta 2’s main storyline mode, every battle was just as enjoyable as the last. Never once did Bayonetta’s attacks feel unpolished or repetitive. Every instance of phasing into Witch Time—the momentary slow-motion effect that happens when successfully dodging an enemy’s attacks—felt as empowering and cool as the first.
I never would have said the original Bayonetta’s combat needed any fixing or additions, but Bayonetta 2 then adds a new feature—Umbra Climaxes—that I now couldn’t imagine living without. Previously, as Bayonetta’s magic gauge filled, she could spend some of that meter to unleash high-damage Torture Attacks on the angels and demons that dared oppose her. Now, in addition to those, she can break into Umbra Climaxes, where she summons her demonic minions to unleash a barrage of deadly combos. While Torture Attacks pause the action to focus on one specific target, Umbra Climaxes integrate straight into your regular combos, letting you continue to go after one or multiple enemies—while also gaining back a bit of life with every successful hit.
Bayonetta 2’s pacing and focus also get some upgrades, resulting in an adventure that feels tighter, more focused, and—with the exception of one chapter that I thought fell a little flat—stronger than before. (And good news for those who played the previous game: While vehicle and flight segments are back, they’re much better than before—insomuch as they’re actually enjoyable now.) Right from the start, the story kicks into high gear, as angels attack New York City while Bayonetta is dragging her rotund information broker, Enzo, around on a pre-Christmas shopping trip. Of course, our heroine jokes about the event as she whisks through the sky standing atop a jet plane ripping countless warriors of Paradiso to shreds. Unfortunately, Bayonetta’s nonchalant attitude gets the better of her; when one of her summons goes awry, her best friend Jeanne’s soul ends up being dragged to Inferno. What starts as a rescue mission turns into a fight for the survival of all of mankind—quite an escalation from the first game’s focus on Bayonetta fighting to figure out who exactly she is and what her place in life is supposed to be.
At this point, we know who Bayonetta is—and above the gameplay or story or setting or giant bosses or epic battles that put your skills to the test, she is the heart that gives the entirety of Bayonetta 2 life. I know there are some mixed opinions on the character and her presentation among people out there, but all I can do is speak to my own feelings on Platinum’s go-to girl. Bayonetta is smart, strong, sexy, and sassy—all the best “S”es—and while some of her moments could be taken as sexist or demeaning if only looked at on their own, as a whole, I see one of my favorite characters in gaming. This is a woman who not only kicks ass better than any man in her world, but who does so on her own terms and without any shame in who or what she is. There’s never a time when Bayonetta is marginalized or weakened for the benefit of another character, nor is there a moment where I don’t adore her and her attitude. Bayonetta 2 also did something I was certain it wouldn’t be able to do—it convinced me that a short-haired Bayonetta can actually be a good thing.
There was then another surprise waiting for me here: Tag Climax. A two-player mode—in my Bayonetta? It’s true, and it’s surprisingly good. A pair of players face off in a cooperative-yet-competitive six-round enemy-rush mode, where each entrant can bet halos—the game’s equivalent of money—and then win or lose the pot depending on how they did compared to their partner in each round. Does Tag Climax have the longevity of other auxiliary multiplayer modes like those in, say, Uncharted or Splinter Cell? Probably not, but it’s still a nice bonus to go along with all of the other unlockable goodies that await you while playing (of which there are many).
When Bayonetta stands before a giant three-headed angelic beast or a menacing robotic demon from the depths of hell, the fight isn’t just about being difficult—it’s about the push to get into that zone where you can attack, dodge, counterattack, switch targets, and do everything else it takes to stand tall at the end of the battle without a scratch and be rewarded with a perfect score bonus. That, in so many ways, is what Bayonetta 2, its titular protagonist, and the series’ gameplay ethos are all about. What lies on the surface isn’t all there is to Platinum’s efforts—there’s so much more to see, so much more to do, so much more to experience, from its opening cinematic until you’re fighting your way through the game’s end credits.
So, yes, Bayonetta 2 isn’t perfect, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t one of the finest-crafted, most enjoyable, and most charming action games to exist out there. Bayonetta herself, however—I’ll never tell her she’s anything less than 100-percent fabulous.
Filled with amazingly tuned combat, countless larger-than-life moments, copious amounts of legitimately challenging boss battles, interesting locations, lovable characters, and one of gaming’s most unforgettable heroines, Bayonetta 2 retains the crown as the standard for which all other stylish action games should strive to achieve. And, if you missed the start of the series, you get the original Bayonetta bundled in for free—making this some of the best action gaming $60 will ever buy.
M - Mature
|Bayonetta 2 is available on Wii U. Primary version played was for Wii U. Product was provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.
Mollie got her start in games media via the crazy world of gaming fanzines, and now works at EGM with the goal of covering all of the weird Japanese and niche releases that nobody else on staff cares about. She’s active in the gaming community on a personal level, and an outspoken voice on topics such as equality in gaming, consumer rights, and good UI. Check her out on Twitter and Mastodon.