Without any doubt in my mind, I can say that Bayonetta was the single best action game of its generation--I've said as much before. Tough yet fair, over-the-top and honest about what it was, Bayonetta delivered demanding and rewarding gameplay. It was all killer, no filler, without a single box-pushing or tile-sliding puzzle to distract from a rich and ruthless combat system that rewarded practice, style, and precision.
The hair-wielding witch is back in Bayonetta 2, a Wii U-exclusive sequel that feels like more of the same... but really, comparisons to Bayonetta are among the highest compliments you can afford a 3D action game. The game's story is inconsequential--Bayonetta and Jeanne's Christmas shopping is interrupted by a bunch of angels, and Bayonetta goes on a vicious voyage of vengeance all in the name of rescuing her fellow Umbran Witch. Along the way, there's a bunch of stuff about a god trying to revive himself and a masked Lumen Sage (more on him later) and some place called Fimbulventr that everybody talks about but isn't really all that important. Much as I love the insanity of the cutscenes, they can run a little long, so thank God for that "skip cutscene" option.
Truth be told, you don't play this kind of game for the story, you play it for the game. From the cryptic sepia-toned opening to an absolutely bonkers prologue that sees Bayonetta fighting atop a fighter jet, onto a moving train, then fighting a massive beast climbing up a skyscraper, Bayonetta 2 starts off strong and keeps raising the stakes until you're surfing on a waterspout and engaging in a high-flying fistfight with a light-wielding priest at the literal gates of Hell. The game is always about the next fight, but levels reward you for wandering off the beaten path, giving you more money and healing items to increase your arsenal of moves. If you're not exploring, though, chapters can feel kind of short, and some chapters are just a single boss fight and nothing else. I cut through sixteen chapters (not including the prologue) in about ten hours while skipping most of the cutscenes, with minimal postgame content short of some challenge levels and New Game+ to unlock everything.
Combat is still as refined and spot-on as the original, letting you equip most weapons to either Bayonetta's hands or feet for a huge variety of combo possibilities. Want to wield two pistols, with giant swords attached to your feet? Great! Or would you rather wield a thorny Kurama-like whip with flamethrowers attached to your feet? Even better! Mix and match weapons to create two switch-on-the-fly fighting styles that suit you best. Both Angel and Demon enemies die in the same way (a severe overdose of gun/melee injuries), but new varieties of enemy take advantage of bad habits picked up from long hours playing the original Bayonetta--shield-bearing enemies can knock you off-balance, some enemies' attack speed has been adjusted, and high-level enemies can do multiple attacks before you trigger Witch Time.
The real high point of the action comes in the constant duels with the Masked Lumen Sage, who regularly attempts to kill you and probably will if you're not ready for him. Fighting this guy is like fighting yourself--he matches your tempo and ferocity, he can counter your counters and easily fights at the same over-the-top level. One minute it's a crazy one-on-one martial arts duel, and then it's a f**king Godzilla battle with massive summoned spirit beasts that controls like Rock'em Sock'em Robots. Barely surviving a match against him is an incredibly satisfying feeling... it's nice to have a worthy opponent in a game.
Even working off technically last-gen hardware, Bayonetta 2 still looks great, with an awesome sense of aesthetics, style, and fun. Unlockable Nintendo-themed costumes are more than just mere palette swaps--dress up as Princess Peach, and you summon Bowser's fists during attacks while defeated enemies drop coins instead of halos. Dress up as Link, and you get to block with the Hylian Shield and strike back with the Master Sword, while defeated enemies drop rupees. There are even more cool visual and gameplay-related extras all thankfully unlockable through actual play and in-game money, making each new addition to your wardrobe feel more like an accomplishment instead of just buying it as DLC.
I'm never a fan of unnecessary online multiplayer in predominantly single-player games, but Tag Climax at least works within the limits of the genre and how die-hard fans play the game. Two players work together to battle a room full of enemies, and whoever gets the higher score wins. It's a great way to earn a lot of money, and you can get even more cash if you bet on your victory by raising the room's difficulty. Custom item setups are greatly preferred over Bayonetta's standard loadout, and there's a total of four unlockable characters to use in Tag Climax. Protip: use the chainsaws.
Regarding Bayonetta 2's difficulty, I ran into the same problem I had with Dark Souls II--I got so involved in mastering the first one that the second didn't offer as high a challenge, but Bayonetta 2 is still a fierce action game that demands excellence. Playing through on normal difficulty, I only died four times--once about halfway through when I wasn't paying attention during a QTE, and another three frustrating deaths against the ludicrous final boss. Bayonetta (or by extension, Platinum) die-hards should start on hard, while most action fans will have a bracing challenge on normal. But what about players who aren't as insane as the average Platinum/stylish action fan?
There are some pretty smart options in this sequel: the now-standard Automatic Mode lets less-experienced players enjoy Bayonetta's insane action with more basic controls, while touch controls on the Wii U Gamepad let you control the action with a swipe of your finger. A friend of mine who's a total newbie at action games tried both out, and found Automatic Mode easier to handle compared to touch controls--touch controls don't really give you a picture of what you're doing, and Automatic Mode felt more fluid. Also, she never actually dodged once in her time playing, but liked how every now and then the game would auto-dodge attacks for you. Bayonetta 2 doesn't let up on hardcore action fans, but is more than happy to let less intense fans have fun too.
I think it's fair to talk about this game's sexy side, or how it just takes things too far sometimes. Bayonetta is a character whose sexiness is so over-the-top that it wraps around to hilarious instead of disturbing, but there are people who won't like the constant innuendo and suggestive scenes. While there is no graphic or overtly sexual content at all, it's still a good idea to keep more sensitive friends and family away from this game if you don't want them to catch a glimpse of Bayonetta killing enemies while pole dancing or to see the excessive attention paid to her ass bouncing up and down as she rides a centaur-like enemy. It's kind of amazing that this is one of only six M-rated games ever published by Nintendo.
Bayonetta 2 is almost perfect to me. It has brilliant, replayable action that rewards mastery instead of just handing you everything on a platter like so many other games today. Minor aesthetic changes like getting to fight demons along with the first game's "angels," fresh new additions to the arsenal and movelist, and reasonable (and optional!) concessions for newer players make this the action game to play. In addition, buying the physical copy gets you the original Bayonetta on Wii U, so it's double the game for your sixty bucks. Platinum's on a hot streak with Nintendo--first we get The Wonderful 101, now Bayonetta 2. It's starting to become a pattern--even when Platinum slightly stumbles, it comes right back with an absolute masterpiece so you know what they're really capable of.
+ Nonstop high-caliber action that never lets up, and never expects any less than your best
+ You're always doing something new--racing to save someone, a vicious aerial battle, fighting on and inside a waterspout...
+ Tag Climax is a smart use of multiplayer in a genre that really doesn't need it
+ Great options for less-experienced players in the form of Automatic Mode and touch control
+ Tons of unlockables--a greater feeling of accomplishment and mastery as opposed to simply buying DLC
+/- Innuendo and sexual content is ridiculous to the point of parody, but can be a bit much for some--don't play this around your parents
+/- Cutscenes are hilarious and incredibly fun to watch, but can run a bit long--just let me play the damn game already