December 04, 2014

That's A Wrap: Bayonetta 2

warning: may contain spoilers

Today we look at Platinum's long awaited sequel to Bayonetta: Bayonetta 2! Inventive…
Jokes aside, this is the first game I've bought immediately at release in a long time. That's sayin' somethin' folks.

If' you'd like a more intense look at my first impressions, have a peek at my 8-Bit Minute blog, based on the demo. To summarize: Bayo2 sure seems like a technical upgrade from the first game, without ruining everything else that I did love. This is of particular note for the blog, because if I were to write this "Wrap" blog as I normally would, it would be virtually identical to my blog on the original title. So this time, I decided to focus on some specifics of Bayonetta 2, including some things that I more or less ignored in my discussion of Bayo1.

First let's have a quick rundown of the game's audio/visuals!
Bayonetta 2 is incredibly bright and colorful, which is different from much of the first game. The HD cinematics are absurdly good looking, and the in-between dialogue bits are very familiar, with a simple, sequel update. The graphics during combat are a bit rougher in texture, and you may experience the occasional lag or some aliasing during input-heavy moments or online play, but it hasn't affected my personal enjoyment much at all. As lovely as everything looks on an HD telly, everything is mimicked on the WiiU's gamepad, too, and looks rather epic there. Not as sharp but certainly saturated. Additionally, I love, love, love the design of enemies in these games! The angels are regal while the demons are menacing, and yet they tie together beautifully. The "costume" design of the sages is particularly exquisite.

There are also simple effects, like the bloody hands that creep onto your screen when you're dying (symbolizing being dragged to hell - a prominent effect in Bayo) which are a nice touch; an artistic way to alert you to your impending doom! The backgrounds also retain their uniform nature, allowing easy navigation but plenty of interest.

The soundtrack Platinum pieced together is once again an absolute knockout. The same style of rearrangement is used for the licensed tunes, while the original score is profound and foretelling. The reuse of Bayonetta's signature theme song reminds me of many rages past! I should probably also mention that Bayonetta now comes in Japanese! Yes, you can choose Japanese voice acting for the game if you'd like, but in an odd turn of events, I actually prefer the English!

Once again, the introduction to the story is hard to pay attention to while you're screwing around. I found the first chapter of Bayo2 a lot more modern, but I'm not sure I liked it as much as the start of Bayo1. In a nutshell, this time: Jeanne has lost her soul in a freak accident and Bayo is going to get her back! Along the way, we encounter a little pipsqueak and discover that the world is a lot more bloody complicated that we had originally thought; and the lumen sages may not all be gone after all. Or maybe they are. Or not. Or…?
The plot is littered throughout the sixteen mandatory chapters, some of which are on the short side, but they do shed light on some finer plot points, like what it is, exactly, that Rodin does, and just how much Christmas spirit he has! The cast is virtually identical to the first title, so we get to visit with Jeanne, Enzo, Balder and even Mummy! Luka is also back, and extra douchy this time 'round! Our newcomer is called Loki, 'cause that name hasn't been completely overused as of late… he takes some time to warm up to, but ends up being a pretty crucial part of the whole game, even allowing you to play as him for a short while.
When not being entertained by the plot, you're expected to explore, hunt for items - books, records, chests - occasionally blow shit up, scare the shit out of people in other dimensions, shop, concoct stuff (after you find the recipe book, of course. No one wants praline-flavored lollies) and beat up angels!
The fruits of this labor take the form of materials, which you can mix to concoct useful things from the menu, or halos, which are the currency in Bayo2. Halos can be traded at the Gates of Hell for all sorts of nifty items, including:
Lollipop power ups - Red (power boost), Yellow (temporary shield), Purple (magic boost) and Green (health boost);
A red hot shot - the "save my ass" auto-injection which saves you from a game over when you're health has fully depleted;
Midas's testament - a musical item which boosts the halo output of enemies;
Witch heart (or a fragment of) - extends your health meter;
Moon pearl (or fragment of) - extends your magic meter;
You can also purchase accessories of all different effects and new moves to use in battle from Rodin. He also keeps a stash of extra special items, namely costumes! Since Bayo2 is a WiiU exclusive, they've included some
really cool Nintendo themed costumes for Bayo, which offer fun, familiar effects. For example, if you're wearing the Star Fox costume, your guns shoot lasers instead of bullets, and your "lips" target becomes the iconic blue square. Similarly, if you're wearing the Metroid costume, Bayo takes up morph ball mode in place of panther mode - which I thoroughly enjoyed - and you can use the arm cannon as well. Since I've brought it up, yes, panther mode returns in Bayo2, and converts to "snake" mode when you're under water. I have to say controlling snake mode was easily one of my least favorite aspects of the game. In better news, you can now call upon practice mode from your chapter select screen and you're no longer forced to see it on EVERY load screen.

The game adds a few more new components, such as fighting with mechs and a rather lot of CPU co-op! While the mechs add some interest, I gotta say I'm not all that impressed. By that point in the game, you'll have spent so much time crafting and mastering your favorite techniques and weapons, and the mechs erase all of this for a clunkier, more primitive combat. The co-op fighting is a nice change of pace, however. It's fun to work with people (even computer controlled ones) that are much closer to your skill level. Speaking of fighting…

While poking around, you'll no doubt be thrown unexpectedly into battle! Again, the battle system is identical to the old game, essentially: baddies will be thrown in the ring with you left and right, and you have to eliminate them all to move forward. As before, sometimes the baddies will drop their weapons for your use - a limited time offer! - and you can access items from your D-pad. The game also introduces the new 'umbran climax,' which, I don't know about you, but I live off of. Basically, once you've powered up your magic meter, you can instigate an umbran climax and unleash much more powerful attacks than before.
You see the empty spots? That's because I skipped some fights or sections.
After each fight (verse) you're presented with a medal, and at the end of every chapter you'll see a summary of your work and get a corresponding award. Medals and awards come in stone, bronze, silver, gold, platinum and pure platinum, which I'm sure you realize are congruent with "you really, really suck" up to "you need to up the difficulty". Your score is affected by the amount of damage you take, item use, time and whether or not you completed every verse in the level. And as always, long combat scenarios are rewarded with long cut scenes with another chunk of the story!

In my playthrough, I decided to place much more emphasis on the exploration of weapons and combos than I have in past playthroughs of Bayo1. While farting around in levels, you'll come across fragments of old records which, when pieced together, you can offer to Rodin in exchange for some fancy new weapons. In addition to your default 'Love is Blue' guns (I liked Scarborough Fair better...) you can upgrade to: Rakshasa, a pair of giant-ass swords; Alruna, a whip; Kafka, a fancy bow-and-arrow weapon; Chernobog, a giant, three-bladed, mechanical scythe; Undine, essentially flamethrowers; Takemikazuchi, the most complicated hammer you will ever see; and Salamandra, the sexiest footwear accessory ever: chainsaws. There is an additional, very special weapon you can acquire if you're willing to put in the work, but for spoiler's sake, I won't tell you what it is!
My personal favorites are the Chernobog for hands and Salamandra for feet. I find the Chernobog adds an absolute ton of power, especially against bosses, and Salamandra - as I've already said - makes for the coolest footwear ever, and comes with a few handy footy? combos.

Sadly, there is no awesome 'Arcade Attack' mini game in Bayo2, but there are still some other side quest-y things to do. Like the first game, Bayo2 offers additional verses in the form of Muspelheims.
This is the Alfheim's younger brother. This time, I made it my mission to find and conquer all the Muspelheims, which reward you with useful items like witch hearts and moon pearls. The Muspelheim takes the form of a multicolored portal, and upon entering, you're taken to small area where you'll have to fight enemies. This is not only a timed battle, but the "mussys" force you to overcome other challenges as well, such as defeating all the enemies with their own weapons, only attacking during witch time, or not using witch time at all, to name a few. Some of these are very difficult, particularly at the beginning of the game, but it does offer you the chance to boost your skills with no penalty. You can attempt the mussy as many times as you like, but once you've defeated it, the portal will disappear until you replay the chapter - in which case you'll receive a much less substantial prize.
There is another sort of mini game you can find in many chapters. Sometimes while looking around, you'll come across what appears to be a chest - or "final resting place" of a witch - only it'll be transparent and unable to be destroyed. These are the resting places of witches in other dimensions. Not to worry though, you can instigate the Remembrance of Time and chase down the 5 pieces of the chest to reassemble it. This has to be done in a short period of time and using a few different techniques. That said, I found most of these surprisingly easy to accomplish.
Another quest the game offers is collecting crows. In many levels, you'll encounter crows with a red aura, but as you approach them they fly away. You'll have to discover the secret to catching the crows to reap the reward: stamps for miiverse. Yeah.

Lastly, you can screw around in your menu which is still very similar to Bayo1, but slightly improved and pretty straight froward.
Weapons> Where you can equip two sets of weapons, A & B, from your wheel on the right page.
Accessory> Where you can equip up to two accessories.
Items> Where you can choose three items for your D-pad shortcuts, use items, and view your recipe book which will take you to the concoct menu.
Books 'n stuff> Where you can view the journals and notes you've collected along the way, as well as study the different angels, demons and summons you've experienced on your journey. There is also a book that tracks your progress with Muspelheims, record collection, your crow collecting, and "bewitchments" which are essentially the game's own achievement system.
And since we're talking about it, here's the game menu:
Story> Access story mode.
Tag Climax> Access online mode.
Umbran Tears of Blood> View most of the crap listed under "Books 'n stuff".
???*> Hmm…
Options> Edit game options.

And what is this online mode, you ask? As you progress through the game, you receive 'verse cards' which are used in Tag Climax. There, you can pair up with a friend, stranger or CPU and take down the monsters contained within the cards. You must work within your own character profile (whichever save file you choose to work from) and you're assigned a letter rank based on your success in Tag Climax. If your partner has fewer cards than you, you can only choose cards they've acquired, so beating the game first is a good idea. Tag Climax also offers you the ability to wager halos against your cards, and whomever does the most damage during the battles will receive an awesome payout after you defeat 6 cards. If you'd like to see Tag Climax in action, watch me play with Jason from ZyroXZ2!

Since the game is on the WiiU, and has been upgraded in general, the controls are slightly different. Still very similar, and easy to relearn but with a more balanced control map:
X = punch, A = kick. B = jump, double jump, and hold to glide down from a jump. Y = examine things, when applicable.
ZL is lock on. Use with left stick for combos!
Gunfire is on X and A if you hold, as well as Y.
ZR is dodge. Double tapping it goes into panther/snake mode.
L is umbran climax, when prompted, and speaking of prompts, torture attacks typically appear on X&A, while Y is the "punish" button.
D-pad up, left and right accesses items, you'll have to hold it down for a short time.
+ is pause, while - is often the "next" button.
When playing on the gamepad, you also have access to touch controls… I gotta be honest, I totally skipped the tutorial for this, so when I switched to touch mode to experiment, I could not really figure it out. It seems tapping and holding correspond with punch and kick, and I managed witch time once or twice by drawing some swirlies, but honestly I have no idea. This is not a game in which I would employ touch controls.

Capitalizing on the game's overuse of the word "climax," difficulties are presented to you as 1st Climax, 2nd and 3rd, described as casual, familiar and thrilling. Eventually you will have access to infinity climax which is the final mode. Allow me to translate: 1st - "I like Bayonetta!" 2nd - Several moment of uncanny personality. 3rd - A broken controller or two. Infinity - Feels like Bayo1 a.k.a. suicide.
That said, the game feels easier than the first title overall, with ruthless touches elsewhere to make up for it: shortened witch time, instant reward loss if you die etc.. I just didn't find myself raging quite as much as I expected, which is saying something when you consider the gargantuan leaps in difficulty from the first game. Even finding items (like the records) was a fair bit easier in this game. Tasks like completing the chests and even the muspelheims were very manageable, too. I did notice, however, that demons seemed quite a bit trickier than angels. Curious.

I clocked a whopping 20 hours in Bayo2, which initially shocked me because many players have mentioned how they feel Bayo2 is significantly shorter than Bayo1. Then it occurred to me that I spent a lot of time screwing around and replaying chapters on the same file, so I actually have no idea how long it takes to beat the game with no distractions. For the record, on my last play of Bayo1, I put 18 hours into the game and that was without unnecessary replays or the optional Alfheim portals.

So how could they have made Bayonetta 2 better? They already fixed the menu, the camera, the save debacle, the excessive load screens… all without fucking up everything else. AND! The game also comes bundled with a copy of the original Bayonetta, previously unavailable on any Nintendo system. I can't tell you how proud I am of Platinum. I think the only thing I can complain about is the timing during battles. That is, I'm peeved that all the major (and final) battles were frequently interrupted by scenes. This is so annoying! Just when you're getting your groove on, there's a scene. In fact, I noticed that many, MANY times, I would activate an umbran climax only to be interrupted by a scene, thus negating my climax... ahem. Wow. Personally, I don't enjoy Tag Climax all that much either, but I've never played well with others...

For all you people who've been waiting for a truly great WiiU title, here it is.
  • First chapter and you don't know the controls? Don't panic. You won't be graded on this one.
  • Explore underwater, too. As long as you can see the bottom you won't drown.
  • Some muspelheims are on the difficult side. No shame in coming back later.
  • The first chapter is a great place to farm items. Replay!
  • Tired of stone awards? Stop dying. Using continues = instant stone.

* = Gallery. You have to beat the game to unlock it, but once you do you get a ton of content including concept art, digital art and all the songs from the game! Fun to poke around in.

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