If you’re a Bayonetta newbie like me, Bayonetta 2’s combat might feel a bit odd to just jump into. Whereas Devil May Cry is about maintaining and diversifying your offense, and Ninja Gaiden is about locking down your defense and striking when you have a chance, Bayonetta 2 keeps the player constantly evading.
Perhaps it was my old DMC instincts kicking in, but at first I figured it wasn’t worth my time to use the pistols attached to each of Bayonetta’s limbs to fire bullets. I tried to mash out punch and kick combos to send out “Wicked Weaves” (giant limbs summoned by and made of Bayonetta’s hair) at my enemies as fast as I could. I’d only dodge when I really had to, staying on the aggressive so I wouldn’t have to worry about incoming attacks. This speedy, bullet-free tactic left me chipping away at individual enemies for far too long, dropping combo multipliers, and generally having a miserable time.
I realized the importance of dodging when I realized that tapping down on the D-pad would make Bayonetta perform a quick taunt and enrage her foes into attacking. A well-timed dodge engages the enemy-slowing “Witch Time,” which gives you ample time to start a combo on whatever fool you just dodged, and I shortly discovered the best combos in Bayonetta 2 are slow and deliberate in the midst of all of the chaos surrounding you. I know that sounds counterintuitive when you’re dealing with tons of angel centaurs and giants that use two flaming morning stars at once, but stay with me here.
Bayonetta can equip two sets of two weapons at a time, each set containing one weapon in her hands and one on her feet. Holding down either the punch or kick buttons will extend Bayonetta’s attacks in a weapon-specific way. For instance, with her standard set of pistols, she’ll unload bullets on whoever she was attacking; with Bayonetta 1’s elemental claws, she’ll lay down a bomb; and with Bayonetta 2’s triple bladed mechanical scythe, she’ll launch the blades off as projectiles. While holding down an attack button usually keeps her in place, these attacks extended attacks allow you to increase and maintain your combo multiplier.
Dodging while holding an attack button sprays bullets everywhere as you evade and allows you to continue whatever combo chain you were in the middle of pre-dodge. Combat is less about speedy elimination, and more about eking every little bit of damage out of each attack and dodging in a way that maximizes your Witch Time. Playing this way also gave me insight into the intimidating combo list the game showed off at every loading screen, as the more I drew out my combos, the better I understood each attack’s utility.
Once you wrap your brain around the core of combat, battle becomes a violent, unending dance. You move from enemy to enemy, evading as much as you can while concentrating your main blows on one tough enemy before sending groups flying with wicked weaves. Things just get better when you mix in accessories that open up new abilities, such as one allows Bayonetta to perform Street Fighter III-style parries.
That having been said, Bayonetta 2 is more than just its combat.
Bayonetta 2 feels like an action-adventure more than a pure action game. Yeah, it sounds like a petty distinction, but there’s a big difference. Lots of action games in recent years have lost their sense of place. Games like Metal Gear Rising, DmC Devil May Cry, and Ninja Gaiden 2 have you fighting everywhere from office buildings to rivers of blood, but they just seem like different backdrops to kill things in front of. They’re pretty much strings of combat arenas. That’s fine, of course. They’re still great games, but they don’t really feel like adventures. Bayonetta 2 does, not only when it briefly changes genres to put you in control of a horse or a mech, but through the detail of the world itself.
The areas in Bayonetta 2 have character, whether you’re walking through a marketplace in a flooded city, staring down a massive demonic barrier surrounded by floating rubble, or tearing through hell on horseback, the game’s locations feel distinct. The enemies, currency they release, and even the way Bayonetta breaks the magical barriers that lock her into a certain area for combat is different depending on where you’re fighting. Angels are wrapped up in gold and Greco-Roman sculpture, whereas demons often look sleek, onyx, and mechanical. Little things like that make the world of Bayonetta 2 feel rich in a way I haven’t felt in action games since the days of the old Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden Black, and makes your time with the game feel like an actual globe-hopping adventure. While this richness doesn’t exactly carry through to the story (which sees Bayonetta trying to save her friend Jeanne’s soul from the depths of hell), it justifies where you’re going just well enough to add a bit of weight to your changing locations. The fact that the environments have character just adds weight to the spectacle when things inevitably go crazy.
Text is not the right medium to describe the ludicrous spectacle of Bayonetta 2. It’s the kind of game that will start a fight in a water spout and end it in heaven. The kind of game where you fight an enemy so big that it can hurt you with its eyelid. The kind of game where your fight with mysterious masked double-sided spear user is interrupted so you can play out a boxing match the giant demons you and he summoned. The kind of game where chainsaw shoes are a legitimate and practical weapon. It revels in showing you things you’ve never seen before, all the while peppering its world little references to Nintendo, Sega, and Platinum titles. Every time you think a stage’s action has peaked, the game one-ups itself, and it’s just as fun to watch as it is to play.
There’s nothing else like Bayonetta 2, and I’m having a hard time imagining that we’ll see something that matches it anytime soon.
Food for Thought:
1. The only thing I don’t like about this game is the battle music. It fits the character, but the weird hyper electro-jazz tends to grate on my nerves somewhat.
2. There always seems to be something more to unlock, whether it’s a character, costume, ability, challenge room, or stage for the online co-op “Tag Climax” mode.
3. I liked the fact that Bayonetta 1 gave me a number of alternate Nintendo-based costumes from the beginning of the game. I had to buy them in Bayonetta 2…
4. On that note, if you haven’t played Bayonetta 1 before, there are story beats in 2 that lean heavily on the first game. While I think the second game is easier to jump into than (it’s less punishing if you use items or die and has a better story) than the first, I would recommend playing Bayo 1 to have slightly more of an idea of what’s going on.