When Bayonetta was confirmed as the final character in Super Smash Bros. on Wii U and 3DS, I couldn't help but be amused. Here's a character that's spent two games torturing and spanking (literally, at points) angels from heaven and demons from hell. When a combo move is achieved her outfit made of hair leaves her body to form a giant fist or boot, and she's the heroine of games that have sparked fairly heated debates on the portrayal of female characters - some say she's a powerful woman that is dominating and self-confident, others argue that she's merely a juvenile male fantasy.
Well, we can definitively say she's a Smash Bros. character, or soon will be at the time of writing. She's also the star of one of the Wii U's best exclusives - Bayonetta 2 - and naturally of its predecessor, which is also available on Nintendo's system. Both games are critically acclaimed, and rightfully so, but have endured tough market expectations to the point that Nintendo had to step in to fund the sequel - thus securing exclusivity - when SEGA decided it wasn't a sound investment.
Both are also classic PlatinumGames experiences, and that's partly why I love them. With the Smash Bros. Bayonetta DLC due in February I'm taking the opportunity to play them both again, and remembering just why I keep recommending them to anyone on the fence. In a modern gaming world that's often focused either on accessibility or on making games so dense and complicated as to demand complete dedication, these sit somewhere in the middle. You can play them for 30 minutes after a lengthy break and have fun, or you can devote a couple of solid gaming weeks to them and master combos, clear difficulty settings you previously thought were impossible and have a blast.
I still feel that the sequel is the stronger of the two, though recall being accused of blasphemy when I said as much in the process of reviewing both titles. The first game is excellent nonetheless, though, especially as, lest we forget, it was only PlatinumGames' third game, and its first in the HD era. It has a darker visual style than its successor, and the combat at that stage was slightly trickier and more demanding in terms of the timing required. Witch Time is tougher to trigger, combos are effective but not as deadly, and the overall mood is a little more sombre.
It's terrific, though it's evident in Bayonetta 2 just how far the developer has come, and its willingness to take the exuberance of the original and dial it up. Between the two games the studio had produced the likes of Vanquish, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and - of course - the brilliant The Wonderful 101. Across those games the studio further honed its approach to action (in diverse ways) but also improved its technical capabilities with increasingly handsome visuals. All of that shows in Bayonetta 2, with gorgeous art design, tight controls and an almost ludicrous sense of scale. Both titles have scarcely believable set pieces, but the Wii U exclusive pushes the boat out in a big way.
As a character Bayonetta is, of course, ideally suited to Smash Bros., as she's a character that primarily fights in melee attacks. Much is made of the four guns she wields - or other weapons, as can be customised - but the joy of the game is in the visceral combat. Finding the rhythm of combinations and late dodges - in order to enable the slow-mo Witch Time - is engrossing, potentially exhausting. The easy difficulty settings allow for more automated attacks and an easier ride, but the fun for me is tackling the harder difficulties and chasing improved mission rankings. I can't be happy with a load of silver trophies against levels in my profile, can I?
When armed with a Wii U Pro Controller the controls feel - pretty much - perfect. To observers I've been told it can appear to be button mashing, but the pyrotechnics and combo bonuses on screen show that it's simply an electric pace. I'm not always a fan of action games that require such intensity, yet the systems employed in these titles - light and heavy attacks, optional gunplay - are beautifully structured; it feels natural.
My hope is that all those that buy the Bayonetta DLC for Smash Bros. consider adding both Bayonetta 1 & 2 to their Wii U library. Terrific value for money - especially with some of the deals to be found online - and carefully crafted, there are few games as audacious and exciting as these two. I expect I'll be playing them for years to come.