Preview: Exploring Black Magic in Bayonetta 2

A climax worth waiting for

When Nintendo of America's Reggie Fils-Aime revealed Bayonetta 2 at the Wii U's launch date announcement festivities, we suspect he did so with a mischievous glint in his eye. No doubt the anguished cries and wails of those that actually bought the original were expected, and Nintendo was also showing that it wasn't afraid to dip into a little mature extravagance. Despite the original being only a modest sales success, prompting Sega to step back from funding the sequel on its own, we're in the fortunate position that the game is still being made.

The opening to this sequel certainly has a redemptive approach, with Platinum Games wasting no time in throwing its arms up and saying "here it is, there's no stopping us now". Within seconds two misconceptions are quashed. This title has lost none of its edginess and borderline tasteless storytelling despite a switch of director, with Hideki Kamiya serving as a consultant. Nor has Nintendo's role as publisher softened its approach; our heroine may have a new haircut, but she still prances around in a semi-naked state during battle and throws in more sexual innuendo than any teenager could possibly desire. Within minutes the fat Italian-American parody Enzo has already dropped quite a few F-Bombs, while Bayonetta is stripping, riding a horse suggestively and whipping enemies as a "torture" move.

If any of that offends you, or you're worried that your parents may walk in on you playing the game and disapprove, then you're likely either not of legal age or won't be interested in this title anyway. The swearing part of proceedings does tone down — it's not gratuitous — though the flirty, provocative nature of Bayonetta remains. It's even been argued recently in The Guardian that our heroine is representative of a strong female character, as she aggressively controls and imposes her sexuality on those around her, while the other argument is that she's really just a fantasy character to excite male gamers. Alternatively, you may think this is all bunkum, and that you just want to play a fun, ridiculous game; in other words, let's talk about the damn game.

What's immediately striking right from the off is how visually arresting Bayonetta 2 is. While cutscenes are about par for the course, the in-game visuals and action scenes look terrific; it's a triumph of art design and well-used resources, and some sequences wouldn't look terribly out of place on Nintendo's most powerful rival systems. Some potential Nintendo influence is perhaps found in the brighter, more vibrant colour palette, meanwhile, replacing the darker approach of its predecessor. In the opening stages alone there are some stunning moments, with fantastic environments such as New York and a mountainside town with influences of Italian architecture. None of this should be a surprise, especially as Platinum showed its ability to maximise the Wii U hardware, graphically, with some particularly lovely moments in The Wonderful 101.

Most importantly for a high-intensity action game this serves up a solid framerate, with most vital moments rocking along near or at 60fps, and certainly never dipping too low; this is in marked contrast to the PS3 version of Bayonetta, though the Xbox 360 version was smoother. Quick reactions and rapid movement are fundamental to both success and enjoyment, as you jump between enemies and string together ludicrous combos, so it's clear that performance was placed high in the list of priorities. Combine the attractive graphics engine with this solid framerate, and we're immediately off to a good start.

Bayonetta's move-set remains as primarily melee combat, naturally, though there is scope for a different approach with a range of weapons. The trademark weapons set is guns, one in each hand and embedded in some daunting heels, though the shooting aspect is limited in favour of close combat. With progress you unlock additional weapons such as powerful swords and one item that's actually suited to more powerful ranged attacks; two customisable equipment sets allow you to experiment with mixing weapons between hands and feet or, more sensibly, buying a second weapon to that you unlocked to complete a set. Even in the early stages the new weapons can switch up how you play, something that will surely only expand greatly with progress, and mastering combos in the Training area for different weapon sets is a fun diversion in its own right.

It's to Platinum Games' credit that the controls for a relatively complex system feel instinctive, too. While stylus controls are indeed a factor, the physical inputs feel natural and add to the visceral thrill of the action — the punch and kick buttons (X and A) will be tapped most frequently, while Y is utilised when picking up and using temporary weapons obtained from enemies. Dodging with ZR works nicely and is vital for success, not only for staying alive but also activating Witch Time to temporarily slow down time. Charging a gauge with successful combos also opens up the Umbran Climax, a short period of time in which you wield enormous punches and kicks normally only briefly seen at the conclusion of a successful combo.

This adds a welcome layer of depth for skilled players in particular, as rapidly charging the gauge allows quicker clearing out of enemies and the likelihood of a better rating. With medals dished out after each set-piece — with Pure Platinum naturally being the pinnacle — and an overall award at the end with accompanying halos (currency), there's plenty of incentive to master the mechanics and even replay levels; three difficulty levels are also included, and we've been enjoying the middle setting, which is challenging but not overly difficult; there's scope to chop and change difficulty settings between stages, which accommodates any player while not removing that hardcore aspect for those up to the test.

Our time with the title so far has revealed two key points; firstly, there's plenty of depth and content on offer that we've barely touched upon or are forbidden from doing so, which bodes well. The second is that the experience is raucously fun so far; there's an almost childish approach to the design in Bayonetta 2, where no scenario or boss encounter is too outrageous for inclusion. Daunting scale and grandeur quickly become the norm, and even if you struggle to keep up with the slightly baffling storyline and mythos — you're a witch fighting angels, after all — it barely seems relevant; pretty cutscenes simply lead to more crazy combat, enormous face offs, entertaining and brief button mashing QTEs (quick-time events), gravity defying or opportunities to run around as a panther. It's tightly woven craziness.

This title may have taken two years to arrive since its announcement, but that time seems to have been well spent. Platinum Games cares about this project, whether the mainstream retail market does or not; that shines through. If you like impressive, fast-paced action with a hint of insanity, this should be near the top of your Wii U shortlist.

Let us know whether you're excited about Bayonetta 2, while below is a highlights video from "Prologue – World of Chaos" — there's no story in the footage, just gameplay, but don't watch if you'd rather it weren't spoiled in any way. The title is due for release in North America and Europe in October.

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