Fried Take - "Bayonetta 2" (2014)
It was somewhere between riding a flaming unicorn through the underworld and surfing on a jet through hoards of angels and demons that something hit me. Throughout my entire playthrough of Platinum's much-anticipated Bayonetta 2, there was not an instance in which I felt the game peaked. Most good modern games have a peak moment, a moment where everything works and the experience is a breathless, exhilarating thrill ride. Everything after that, nothing is quite the same. Yeah, the rest of the game is good and all, but it never reaches the crescendo that one moment managed to hit. It's unreasonable to expect that most games would be good throughout the entire thing, though. After all, barely anything can be entirely good, through-and-through, right?
That's what I thought, anyway. But Hideki Kamiya and company have proved that assumption wrong for the first time in many, many a year. There is no downward spiral in Bayonetta 2, no definitive "this is it moment." That sensation of peaking, of a dramatic climax, begins when the first cutscene appears, and only lets up when the last credit rolls. The whole game is a non-stop thrill ride that constantly trumps itself, what with the ridiculous set pieces, gawdy comedy, flawless controls, fantastic aesthetics... the list goes on. The point is, Nintendo has put out not only put out my top contender for Game of the Year, but perhaps a modern classic as well.
You would be fooled to think that by the plot. Not that it's bad, per se, but like everything else on display here it is a display of utter ridiculousness. Bayonetta's former rival and now bestie Jeanne has her soul dragged to the depths of the underworld, and the titular witch has to go all Dante's Inferno and rescue her. But there are complications, like a Yugi Motoh wannabe complete with a pyramid necklace and magical cards, and the fact that both demons and angels are now attacking the stylish witch. Within the first few chapters, everything about the narrative goes completely off the rails (if there were any rails to begin with) in the best ways possible, and the player is just supposed to accept the insanity inherent in the narrative and roll with it.
|The cheeky Nintendo costumes all change the gameplay in some way.|
A lot of this is due, in part, to Bayonetta herself. Some people have some issues with her characterization and portrayal, and I honestly understand that. There are some points of the game in which she's blatantly sexualized, and a post-credits pole dance sequence is a bit on-the-nose and lacking the fun punch of the dance sequence in the last game. "Good" objectification is still objectification, and it should be acknowledged. But do I feel like this is a harmful depiction of a woman? No. Not in a million years. Bayonetta is actually one of the most fiercely independent, in-control leading ladies in gaming, and that sentiment is only backed up by this game. All of the men in the game are forced to play second-fiddle or fill the "support role" that women are usually relegated to in modern games, and to me, that's a pretty cool thing.
On top of that, here's a woman completely in control of her sexuality, and literally wielding it as a weapon. We live in a society where women are frequently made to feel awful about displaying their sexuality, made to live in fear of expressing themselves. Bayonetta is a fictional character, but I feel portrayals of women like this are important. It can serve to remind smaller-minded men that women can be fierce, in-control, and independent. So while I acknowledge that some aspects of her portrayal can fairly be criticized, I feel that it's good to have female characters like this... just so long as there are other, non-sexualized female characters (Amanda Ripley, Noriko, Rubi Malone, or the modern Lara Croft, for example,) to supplement her.
|Bayonetta is still hyper-sexualized, but still a better female character than most gaming heroines.|
What I think struck me most about the gameplay here is the way it feels. Recently, I played the much-lauded "Shadow of Mordor" and found it to be a boring, monotonous clone of other, better games. But the most egregious error, I felt, is that I was constantly aware that I was pressing a button. At no point did the barrier between me and the player-character break, and eventually, I gave up in frustration thanks the mindless repetition that punctuated the experience. Not so with Bayonetta 2. Yes, you have to learn button presses and combos, but when you're executing them, you almost forget you're playing a game with a controller. It feels like you have control over Bayonetta's limbs, that you're in the game, dodging and slashing and shooting. Out of all the games I've played since I started gaming over a decade ago, I can count the ones that made me feel this in control on a few fingers. In terms of that illusive feeling of being truly immersed in a game, Bayonetta 2 hits that perfect sweet spot.
The beautiful graphics help with that sensation of being sucked into the game world. I've said this before, and will say it so long as people denounce the Wii U as an underpowered console for kids, but this system is capable of producing some beautiful visuals. Some of the most "next-gen" experiences I've had, graphically, have come out of this system, and this is coming from somebody who owns a PS4 and a moderately powerful computer. It's not about fidelity or resolution or pixel count; it's about the imaginative landscapes rendered with bright colors and unique set pieces. Bayonetta 2 is one of the most beautiful games I've ever played, even if it doesn't have 1,293x anti-aliasing or consistently 60 FPS, but because it actually feels like the developer put some thought into. Compare this to the supposedly "next-gen" games coming out this month that all look suspiciously like the same grey-and-brown tripe we've been getting served for the past few years. Processing power means absolutely nothing if you can't put it towards anything original and cool-looking, and Bayonetta 2 drives this point home with gusto. It's pretty and imaginative, simply put. Enough said.
|Everything is over-the-top and ridiculous, even more than the first game.|
Every moment in Bayonetta 2 is a peak, a high note. In turn, the entire game is a high note for video games, and the only game this year that I feel is worthy of my highest, unreserved praise. It's a must-have, and with the original bundled in, it's a steal.