Platforms: Wii U
Developers: Platinum Games
We laughed until we cried when we first heard that Bayonetta 2 would be a Wii U exclusive. Here was an undeniably niche game -- an excellent game, but quite possibly the very definition of a niche game -- tethering itself to a rather niche console, it seemed. It's an enormously unlikely sequel in many ways, that now finds itself tethered to the last console we would have chosen for it; but Bayonetta was ever a game that went beyond our wildest dreams and imaginings with its outlandish,outrageous design , and the Best Combat System Ever Made. Ever.
How on earth do you open that up to a wider audience on a console that's the successor to a white box of casual, family gaming fun? The answer, it would seem, has been found in the form of a touchscreen game.
It seems almost perverse, utterly wrong at first, to be able to perform all of the Umbra Witch's moves ad motions with swipes of a finger along the Wii U's GamePad screen. After all, Platinum's supremely fluid beat-'em-up preached an almost symbiotic relationship between players' hands and the game controller: it was a deliciously challenging feast for the fingers, a balletic symphony of weird Revelatory rewards for playful dexterity. True, there were easy control options for those more interested in the spectacle than the intricacies of the dance itself, but this is something else.
You can use the standard sticks and buttons interface at any time, of course, and Bayonetta 2 has lost absolutely nothing in the generational jump, gaining what feels delightfully like 60 fps. But novices and newcomers will be drawn to the touchscreen, which comes in two flavours -- easy and very easy -- and essentially allows you to poke and prod and swipe and tap your way through angelic and demonic foes.
Time a swipe away to roll and dodge an enemy attack at the last moment and you'll naturally go into Witch Time. Get in enough attacks of your own (you just tap on an enemy to engage them), evade those of your opponents, and you'll fill up a gauge that allows you to unleash an Umbran Climax that powers up your abilities and helps you to let down your (Bayonetta's) hair. She might have nipped into Toni & Guy for a bit of a restyle, but Bayonetta can still turn her hairdo into all sorts of weird and wonderful objects and appendages, from giant stiletto heels and smashing fists, to enormous demonic beasts and disgusting torture chambers. Whilst cartwheeling atop a moving jet plane, naturally.
Yes, the Torture Attacks are back. Hit the prompt with your finger when it pops up and, depending on Bayonetta's position in relation to her weakened angelic foe, she might summon a guillotine, repeatedly kick her assailant in the back until they fall into the apparatus, and then click her fingers to make the blade decapitate them. The iron maiden made a nicely unpleasant return, and we're pretty sure that we racked at least three beasts to death. One poor angelic centaur found itself plonked onto a demonic treadmill with gnashing, snarling saws and spikes at the end. It didn't last long. When using the touch controls, you'll have to hammer the Megaton button in the screen as the Torture Attack animations play out for the most explosive results.
It feels like cheating in a way, like I'm cheating on the memory of the first game with its fresher, newer, sleeker sibling that's all about touching and stroking and accessibility and...let's stop there.
But it's an option; that's all it is.I like the fact that it's there. We like choice.
Fire up the classic control scheme, though, and Bayonetta 2 comes alive and proves to be just as satisfying and rewarding as the original game. Discovering attack chains and combos naturally once more is truly joyous, with deft flicks of the stick dodging assaults, slipping into Witch Time, deliberately crushing someone with a hairy boot, and juggling two other foes with your trusty dual sidearms. Embrace the combos and you realise/remember that the joy of controlling the Umbran Witch is that you are handed all of the tools and supreme mastery over the action: every victory is yours to savour, and every step backwards is down to player agency that can be studied, refined, and reattempted.
Nowhere is that more true than when it comes to the final boss of this demo. Fresh from kicking angel butt from the back of a plane, Bayonetta unleashes a demon -- striking a nude pose as always -- in order to defeat a giant, baby-faced angel who's caught them atop a moving train, but after proving victorious the demon then appears to turn on her and drags Jeanne (yep, she's back too) down into Hell. Bayonetta isn't too pleased about this, but the demon goes and wraps itself around a nearby skyscraper and so our hero has to run up the massive building, backflip through the air with little regard for gravity, and kick some hairy demon face in.
It's frantic, furious stuff and it's incredibly easy to lose track of what's going actually happening onscreen. Dodging attacks to perfection is key, and making the most of Witch Time, capitalising on Umbran Climax wherever possible is fundamentally necessary. It gets close, really close, to being game over, but we make it through by the skin of our teeth, and Bayonetta finishes the demon off in suitably ridiculous and graphic fashion.
A guy over my shoulder lets out a long breath (as do I, my heart is pounding), and simply say, "I have no idea what just happened, but I know it was awesome."
No truer words were spoken.
This is it. The first Wii U game I've played that I absolutely must have. This is the first game that I can say without a shadow of a doubt, I will have in my hands on day one. But I'm a Bayonetta fan and a Platinum Games acolyte. This was always going to be the case. What's interesting is that Platinnum and Nintendo have perhaps found a way to expand on that, which is important given the exclusivity of the title. Bayonetta 2 can't be expected to shift consoles beyond a certain crowd, but it shouldn't prove as insular nor as potentially alienating as its predecessor. The true thrill will come, of course, from embracing that combat system, but if the touch interface brings in a new crowd, that's only a good thing. Some will come for the spectacle, some will come for the skill, hopefully all will end up loving both.