While it's a release that'll perhaps be battling the odds to make a major commercial impact, Bayonetta 2 will arrive as a Wii U exclusive on 24th October in the West, joined by an enhanced port of its predecessor. The new entry arrives as a relatively unique arrival, one of few dedicated action games of its type in the current market and undoubtedly a stand-out in its genre; it's been the recipient of critical acclaim, and was only one notch below perfect in our own review.
There's much about this franchise that helps it to distinguish itself from contemporaries, primarily Bayonetta herself. Producing a named hero to drive a franchise is a task rarely undertaken, simply because the development team in question must back themselves to successfully create a figurehead compelling enough to carry an entire IP. Platinum Games isn't a studio that seems to concern itself with too much self-doubt, however, and has brought us a character that is loved by many and attracts a share of criticism. In an era where so many key franchises are named after a 'universe', made up of many locations and featuring interchangeable casts, it's refreshingly bold.
It helps that the approach of Platinum Games, and Hideki Kamiya in directing the first title, was simply on producing a strong scenario above all else. Platinum Games' terrific blogs, covering the first and second game, give a little insight into the process — the following excerpt is from an entry from concept designer Ikumi Nakamura, titled The World of Bayonetta.
When making a game with Kamiya-san, the world view isn’t particularly locked down, so it is a fun experience. We can change how things are with each and every stage. However, there were a few things thematically within the Bayonetta world that were constants – Angels, Witches, the Sun, the Moon, etc. These motifs were unshakable. However, as we proceeded through the stages, we got excited creating the changes in architecture and culture that accompany them.
While we've been struck by the mix of European and fantastical architecture throughout these titles, we come to Bayonetta herself. A reason for the diverse opinions on her as a character is that she's a mass of contradictions — she's a sexy character that's constantly flirting with the game camera, with an exaggerated physique and hair that covers her body and promptly disappears when summoning demons. Yet she's also incredibly powerful, the focal point of the story with almost complete psychological and physical control over anyone and anything, be they a range of male characters or enormous screen-filling demons. Her relationship with Jeanne across both titles does bring out a softer, more vulnerable side, with the plot across the two entries also humanising her further. Interpretations of Bayonetta as a character sway between some analysis that she's a strong female figure, to others that decry her as a mere male fantasy — the middle ground is perhaps safer and closer to reality.
A key part of the brand is its unique look, and with Bayonetta as the heroine designer Mari Shimazaki followed a core brief from Kamiya-san — the following is from a blog post entitled Designing Bayonetta, focused on the first game.
When we started Bayonetta, our director, Hideki Kamiya, asked me to design a character with three traits:
1) A Female Lead
2) A Modern Witch
3) She Uses Four Guns
...When a female character appears in an action game, her limbs often seem thin and short. That is why I tried to make her more appealing as an action game character by adjusting her proportions and extending her limbs.
Glasses! This was something that Kamiya-san really pushed for, as he was aiming to differentiate Bayonetta from other female characters and give her a sense of mystery and intelligence. Of course, I think it is just because he likes girls with glasses.
Conceptually, we were also looking to make Bayonetta “fashionable,” and I designed her so that this sense of fashion came through in all the little details, not just the glasses.
It's an interesting brief, while the description of designing the legs does address that part of Bayonetta's look. As for the sequel redesign, it reflects the same designer's desire — along with those leading the project — to evolve the character:
Bayonetta’s overall theme this time is “Solid.”
She’s still wearing black, and I think her shorter hair gives her a generally more masculine look. While her design in the last game focused on curves, this time we see more straight lines. All of her accessories follow this, except her glasses, which I gave a slightly softer design.
...Taking a step back and looking at how Bayonetta’s design turned out, I realize we went in a direction completely opposite from the last game. That also makes me think Bayonetta’s new look is possible because of her previous one, and will stand out because of that contrast.
I think she gives off a different impression than before, but still owns the name Bayonetta.
While Bayonetta fulfils her responsibility of carrying the IP, as we've suggested previously this is an evolving series that defines its unique approach in a variety of ways. While the first title had a muted palette and an overtly gothic approach, the sequel features brighter tones yet retains it sense of extraordinary design, clearly drawing from a variety of sources of inspiration, be they art, architecture or the vivid imaginations of the design team. Part of the appeal of Bayonetta 1 & 2, from our perspective, is that regardless of console or genre preference it strikes with such a clear sense of purpose and style as to set itself apart. It's not the only over-the-top third person action experience in the gaming world, but it feels like the only one of its specific type, which is not something that can always be said of many titles out in the market; we can often say X is just like Y, or is clearly inspired by Z. That's not so easy with Bayonetta.
Like Bayonetta herself, these games are a mass of delicious contradictions. The story is full of almost impenetrable lore yet is also easy to follow, while the combat can be intensely difficult while also being instinctive — extraordinary set pieces can still be boiled down to the core gameplay, regardless of the pyrotechnics on screen. What shines through is Platinum Games' crystal clear vision in turning these contradictions into a cohesive whole. We talk of the evolution — and in our view improvement — from Bayonetta to Bayonetta 2, yet they are best experienced in order as part of a growing series. In fact, we wholeheartedly agree with Hideki Kamiya's following advice from his Scenario Writing in Bayonetta 2 blog entry.
We have inherited the same Bayonetta flavor from the first game… no, that’s not quite right. The truth is, the two stories are inextricably linked; they are two sides of the same coin. For those of you who will be entering the world of Bayonetta for the first time, I highly recommend you play through Bayonetta before jumping into Bayonetta 2. To those handsome individuals among you who have already played through the first game, it wouldn’t hurt to play it again as a refresher.
Bayonetta 1 & 2 are both valuable parts of the gaming scene, in part because they spark debate but primarily because they're exceptions to the mainstream gaming rule. They shun a variety of design norms, which is their greatest strength.