Anyone who bemoans the alleged lack of strong lead female characters in games hasn't come across Bayonetta. Frankly, she makes Lara Croft look like a prissy little wuss. Bayonetta is a witch, for starters, has guns built into her high heels, can transmogrify her hair into demons (hair which, otherwise, is employed to clad her nubile body in a sort of leather stripper's outfit) and sprouts butterfly wings when she wants to glide. From one point of view, she's a male fantasy, but from another - given that she kicks the ass of everyone she meets - a potential feminist icon. One thing is for sure, though: she rocks.
The original Bayonetta title back in 2010 was one of those classic underground games, which provided the cognoscenti with an awful lot of pleasure, yet never became a mainstream hit. And the same fate seems likely to befall Bayonetta 2, since it's an exclusive release for the unloved but perennially underrated Nintendo Wii U. But it's the source of some major bragging rights for maverick Wii U owners - especially given that Nintendo, in a fit of generosity, has thrown in a definitive version of the original game for free.
Bayonetta 2's general format doesn't deviate from that of its predecessor, so the gameplay will be familiar to anyone who played the likes of Devil May Cry: third-person action-adventure mayhem, with Bayonetta able to punch, kick and shoot, except the game's key mechanism involves stringing attack combos together, so that she launches special attacks which might take the form of a giant swinging demon arm or shapely fishnet-clad leg.
Also key is the concept of Witch Time: Bayonetta's evade move to perfection, where the screen acquires a purple wash while time temporarily slows down, allowing you to avoid incoming attacks and set-up combos. You have to employ Witch Time much more in Bayonetta 2 than the original game, especially against the multifarious bosses.
As you nail the combos and build up Bayonetta's magic meter, you acquire access to ever more elaborate special attacks, most notably torture ones which employ all manner of medieval instruments to glorious effect. And she finishes off bosses by summoning giant demons, which again often induce a chuckle - the giant, hungry toad being our personal favourite. This time around, you get a couple of chances to even operate the demons as they slug it out with their angelic counterparts.
A visual feast
The first thing that strikes you about Bayonetta 2 is its insane visuals. At times you might describe them as lurid, but they are quite unlike anything else ever seen in a game. The general ambience of the game-world is gothic enough, but when the enemies come into play, proceedings fly right off the end of the gothic-ometer and into some new reality - or, more rigorously, unreality - which could only originate in the fetid imagination of a Japanese developer (in this case PlatinumGames, something of a dream-team of veterans) at the top of its game. If escape from the mundanity of the daily grind is what you seek in your gaming, look no further than Bayonetta 2.
Story-wise, Bayonetta 2 is as bonkers as its predecessor, with Bayonetta essentially on a quest to spring her friend and fellow Umbran witch Jeanne from hell, a journey that involves picking up various hangers-on and characters to whom there is more than meets the eye. This time around, she fights the forces of darkness (nominally on her side) as well as those of light. We're pretty sure there's some sort of moral parable in there about the balance of good and evil, but it's impossible to pin down precisely amid the general wackiness.
More or less every moment of Bayonetta 2 is a joy to play. If you like mini-bosses and bosses then it's unmissable because there are vast amounts of them, and there are odd bits of platforming and collecting to do.
Rodin is back with his Gates of Hell bar, from which you can buy power-up delivering lollipops (which you can also craft from their raw ingredients), new moves and weapons. As you accumulate different weapons, you can equip them to effectively change Bayonetta's fighting style.
Environmental weapons are much less prevalent than in the original Bayonetta, so you really have to master your combos. But the combo engine is so gorgeously honed - it goes way beyond similar ones found in the likes of Devil May Cry - that you will be more than happy to do so. If we had to quibble, though, we would point at some cheesiness in the early cut-scenes, but even that dissipates later.
Bayonetta can descend into a nether-world to take on enemies against time constraints, earning useful goodies in the process, and there's a co-operative mode which is also competitive - you and a mate take on enemies, but the game notes who takes them out with the most style and efficiency. As your performance is rated on every encounter, there's a vast amount of incentive to replay completed chapters. And then there's the whole of the original game at your disposal (presuming you ignore the pointless "solus" version).
Bayonetta 2 is certainly one of the best games you will be able to buy this year so, in a way, it's a shame that it's a Wii U exclusive. But anything that introduces people to the plentiful charms of Nintendo's criminally misunderstood (yes, we acknowledge that Nintendo never adequately explained it) console should be cherished.
It might be deemed a bit racy by some - both in the suggestive visuals as well as mad on-screen action - but that's exactly what we've come to expect from this series. It doesn't flinch, sticks to its roots, yet develops gameplay into a masterclass of button-bashing combo-earning brilliance.
Once again, Bayonetta will likely remain the secret heroine of non-conformists and those in the know. Because Bayonetta 2 is perhaps the best game you'll never play - unless you're enough of a non-conformist to own a Wii U.