Bayonetta 2

To describe the giddy lunacy of Bayonetta 2 in mere words is to do the game’s meticulous pacing and slapstick humor a great disservice. In the grand tradition of some of Japan’s most bizarre games, Bayonetta 2 throws elements of action, melodrama and humor into a blender and the resulting mixture thankfully goes down smooth. For as diverse as the game’s mechanics and setpieces can be, it is very much grounded by one unifying vision - providing the player with the fastest, most fluid combat sequences in a modern action game.

Bayonetta 2 demands your attention from the word “Go”, kicking things off with back-to-back setpieces that see the titular heroine battling angels in a disintegrating demon world and on the back of a flying fighter jet, respectively. It’s a ludicrous running start that never slows for long, as the cavalcade of memorable setpieces and superb, large-scale boss battles continues to pick up momentum like an avalanche roaring towards a decidedly destructive climax. It’s a major step up from the first game’s comparatively slow beginning hours.

The game’s flexible combo system and timing-based counters serve as the glue that hold all the insanity together. Like the first game, Bayonetta 2 adopts a freeform combat system that can turn any combination of button presses into some sort of combo move. It remains an intelligent system because it’s not daunting to newcomers; any attacks you choose to throw out will turn into fluid, fun combos. On the other hand, it means that there’s an encyclopedia’s worth of moves to learn in the game and even more to buy from the in-game shop. Dedicated players can spend hours mastering the timing and execution of certain moves, making this sequel one that nails the ever-so-elusive mantra of “easy to pick up, hard to master”.

Developer Platinum Games didn’t seem to have faith in their combat system to be welcoming enough to Wii U players, though, because they also implemented an odd touch screen combo system for those who want to forgo the use of buttons as much as possible. It makes sense that Platinum would want to open their game up to as broad an audience as possible, but without the tactile thrill of the button-based combo system, the game loses much of its appeal. The touchscreen elements feel tacked on and semi-random, so funnily enough it ends up being a more punishing way to play the game at times. Luckily, you never have to engage with the touchscreen at all, and can opt to stick exclusively with the standard buttons. In fact, you might want to forego the heavy GamePad entirely, and go with the much lighter, more contoured Pro Controller.

Platinum's second addition to the combat fares much better than the clumsy touch controls. The new Umbran Climax mechanic lets players pop off Bayonetta's visually impressive hair attacks with more frequency. By filling a meter with combo attacks, you can execute an Umbran Climax which will make all of your ensuing attacks into super-powerful crushing blows. Massive feet and fists made from hair will fly off of Bayonetta with each successive attack while the Climax is active, and it's a suitably impressive effect.

Additional layers are added to the combat by consumable items and alternate weapons, both of which can be purchased in the store. Some of the weapons repeat from the first Bayonetta, but others, like a pair of flaming saws, are unique to Bayonetta2. They aren’t the most memorable alternate weapons in all of action gaming, but they serve as strong alternatives to the standard fisticuffs and gunplay. The aforementioned saws are especially fun and brutal. With the diverse array of weapons and moves on display, there’s something to suit just about every conceivable playstyle.

Alternate costumes provide yet another tantalizing layer on the pile. You’ll find the usual options that dress Bayonetta up in various in-universe outfits, but the most memorable are all based around Nintendo franchises. A Link costume has her decked out in full elf garb and allows her to wield the Master Sword. The Star Fox costume, on the other hand, replaces her hand and foot guns with Arwing Lasers. It’s fan service done in the best possible way - one that actually influences the gameplay in an important way.

All the collectibles are nearly impossible to purchase in one playthrough. Luckily, the game provides ample opportunity to grind foes in a series of challenge rooms, each with their own unique restrictions and objectives. You’ll encounter numerous self-contained challenges hidden throughout the levels and even more await you after you finish the campaign. If you’re looking for an action game to invest in for the long-term, Bayonetta2 has got your back.

As if the 10-plus hour campaign and scads of challenges weren’t enough, Bayonetta 2 packs a full-featured online co-op mode that allows players to revisit some of the game’s highlights with a friend. These bite-sized challenges are surprisingly fun with a friend as they challenge you to tear through them in the shortest time and with the highest rating possible. The individual challenges rarely last longer than two minutes but they’re a nice distraction from the main game and you can bring all of the currency you earn online back into the single-player if you’re jonesing to try out one of those new costumes.

A positively ludicrous sense of humor helps balance out all of the action. The game’s mixture of sexual innuendo and slapstick nuttiness contributes to an unpredictable and often very funny kind of levity that you might not expect from the often melodramatic Japanese character action genre. Bayonetta’s sexuality could easily have been awkward but the way that she embraces and owns her ludicrous posturing makes it all funny in an odd sort of way. The game still has plenty of dramatic beats too, as the main story sees Bayonetta travelling to the underworld to save her dying friend’s soul, but these moments typically take a backseat to the genuinely funny jokes.

Even though the game isn’t technically impressive, Bayonetta 2’s numerous scripted events and boss battles show off a beautiful, cohesive art style that still induces awe at all the right moments. It’s colorful, it’s distinctive, and perhaps most importantly, it runs at a smooth-as-butter 60 frames per second.

If one of the best action games in recent memory isn’t enough to make you plop down 60 bucks, perhaps two of them are. A copy of the original Bayonetta is included with each retail copy of the sequel, and like Bayonetta 2, it runs at a consistent 60fps. There’s none of the hitching and technical hiccups that tainted the PlayStation 3 version all those years back.

Bayonetta 2 is a relentlessly entertaining ride from start to finish, with pacing meticulously designed to wring every last drop of adrenaline out of you before reigning things in with a quiet, humorous aside. Alternate costumes, weapons, challenge rooms, co-op modes and more await you after you’ve seen through the lengthy campaign, and a copy of the original - excellent in its own right - is included gratis. Action fans would have to be insane to pass this one up.