Bayonetta 2 Review!

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Bayonetta 2: Bringing sexy back!

Playing sequels to beloved video games can be a bittersweet experience. Or just bitter. Sometimes the experience isn’t any better or worse than the first; only a chance to revisit the world and characters. Or, as is more often the case, the sequel somehow manages to be a gigantic step backwards for the series. Many, many games with a 2 in the title were huge disappointments for me: Xenosaga Episode 2, Devil May Cry 2, and God of War 2, just to name a few.

But not Bayonetta 2.

No, Bayonetta 2 looks at its predecessor and says, “Bitch, please! I can do everything you did, but do it bigger and do it better.” And it delivers. Bayonetta 2 is a massive success in my eyes. It’s most definitely my new favorite action/beat ’em up  game, and a strong contender for Game of the Year here at Hardly Hobbies. Steve-O and I were smitten by the game within the first 5 minutes. And unlike The Evil Within, B2 upheld our excitement and enjoyment for the entire campaign and then some. We enjoyed B2 enough to keep going back, again and again, to plow through harder difficulties and unlock trophies. Er, “Bewitchments.” My bad.

Now to give supporting details to my indulgent Bayonetta 2 worship. Going immediately from the remastered B1 to B2, it’s clear that a lot of work went into making B2 a smoother, brighter, and more fun experience. Even on the wimpiest next-gen system, B2 is absolutely gorgeous. The colors are vibrant, the scenery and enemies detailed and original. The framerate was smooth as can be. While playing, you’ll forget you aren’t playing on a PS4 or XB1 with the crisp details and beautiful colors. I can’t stress how well-designed the creatures (especially bosses) and scenery are. The music is as fitting as in the first. Although, to be fair, I didn’t like the poppy battle music as much as B1’s “Fly Me To The Moon” cover.

The other most impressive aspect of B2 is the pacing. While B1 felt slow at times, with a lot of down time in pretty linear areas, B2 has little-to-none of that. I’m bewildered at how they managed to create a game that felt like it quickly hopped from epic boss battle to epic boss battle, while still incorporating loads of collectibles to seek out for upgrading health and magic.

About those epic boss battles. Here’s the bigger and better I was talking about earlier:

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I bet you thought I was going to insert a picture of Bayonetta’s boobs. 

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Time to play “Where’s Bayonetta?”

I mean, really, look at the size of those! Bayonetta is barely a blip on the screen! But thanks to the incredible design and vibrant colors, you won’t hardly feel lost. The enemies and the protagonist all have colorful and (usually) well-telegraphed moves to help sort things out. Epileptic seizures notwithstanding. Anyway, our favorite Umbran Witch is more than capable of dishing out the hurt on these bad boys with her flashy magic and weapons. Both of which have returning favorites and new features. I don’t want to spoil too much, but the weapons in Bayonetta’s arsenal this time around are so. much. fun. With the exception of the Kafka bow, we had a hard time deciding which weapons to equip on the two sets you’re allotted. We switched out and experimented a lot more than the first game. AND YOU CAN EQUIP SWORDS, WHIPS AND MORE ON HER FEET! And yes, that merits all caps, because the combos Bayonetta pulls off with swords on her hands and feet are nothing short of beautiful.

In terms of magic and abilities, not a whole lot has changed. Witch Time is still here. Torture and climax attacks still exist. The most apparent addition is “Umbran Climax,” AKA “Devil Trigger Mode.” When her magic bar is full, Bayonetta can enter Umbran Climax mode to unleash a crazy barrage of attacks (all customized to the weapons she has equipped) and her health bar slowly replenishes itself. As  humorous as the torture attacks are, there’s nothing as satisfying as unleashing your favorite combos with your favorite weapons against a particularly annoying foe.

If you’re a Bayonetta veteran, expect a lot of the same general battle mechanics. This game is pretty unforgiving if you don’t abuse dodging and Witch Time. I did find B2 to be a bit more forgiving than its predecessor. I didn’t die nearly as much while playing normal mode. One big decision factoring into this is the removal of a lot of the poorly-timed QTE from B1. When I played B1, I remember yelling “I pressed the jump button!” more than once, yet half the time it didn’t register. Very annoying, and thankfully absent from the sequel.

Think what you want about the sexualization of Bayonetta, but I feel as though that sort of took a backseat in this game. Not in the “We’re with Nintendo now, we have to be family friendly” way, but more “It’s already established and done, so we’re gonna make a few nods to it and be on our way.” Because, trust me, when it’s there, it’s there. Her outfits speak loudly and clearly to that. There’s some funny cutscenes supporting that as well. As a sequel, they didn’t have to beat us over the head with already-established themes. Thankfully, they spent more time and energy on the battle system, graphics, and game modes.

The story isn’t anything to write home about. Though the implications it makes towards the first game are interesting. All the main characters have returned, some in more glory than others. Luka and Enzo are quite clearly only thrown in because they have to be. Rodin and Jeanne are the only ones with much significance. Jeanne’s new look (longer hair and a decent mascara job) is great, but certainly doesn’t compare to Rodin Santa!

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 Thought I was joking, didn’t you?

The newest cast member is Loki. He’s annoying, obnoxious, and has bad hair. So I’m not even posting a picture of him.

One small complaint that I have, and it’ll only really resonate with those who wanna go all “completionist” on this game, is the lack of a “Restart from last checkpoint” feature. It didn’t occur to me until we were trying for some of the achievements that it was a frustrating oversight. I also wish the game menus allowed you to track your broken heart and broken moon pearl collections as it does for crows and journals. Seriously, why do it for some collectables and not the others?

We also played a lot of tag climax and made sure to unlock all of the verse cards. Until finding a good way to grind halos online, we used it to acquire some quick cash and play around with unlockable characters.

In closing, aside from begging any and all Wii U owners to purchase this and support the franchise, I have to share Steve-O’s crowning achievement. Like its predecessor, Bayonetta 2 has a crazy hard fight against Rodin to unlock a special weapon. Not only did Steve-O beat Rodin after some practice, he got a Pure Platinum rating! It truly was a thing of beauty. This was the one time I wish the game was on the PS4, so he could hit the “share” button and brag. And if I’m remembering correctly, it was with at least one alcoholic beverage in him. Do I or do I not have the best gaming partner ever?

Bayonetta Revisited!

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Strike a pose, Madonna!

Despite how annoyed and butthurt a lot of Bayonetta fans are about the sequel coming out on the Wii U, I am eternally grateful to Nintendo for publishing it. They went above and beyond, in fact, because for the price of one game, you actually get the first Bayonetta remastered for free! Suddenly, I had a perfectly viable reason for replaying Bayonetta instead of tackling my huge game-to-do list.

Not that I should need a reason, as Bayonetta is one of my favorite games EVER.

Instead of being mad about Bayonetta 2 being only on the Wii U, you should take a moment to worship at Nintendo’s feet for releasing it; and also bow to Platinum Games for remastering the first Bayonetta. Why? Well, see for yourself:

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I mean, really, do you need further explanation?

How freakin’ hilarious are these? Special care went into the Link and Princess Peach costumes. When Bayonetta is wearing these, they can also affect battles, item drops, and environmental factors. The Zelda treasure ditty plays whenever she opens treasure, for example. Bayonetta’s halo currency turns into rupees when she’s cosplaying as Link, and Mario coins if she is Peach. But the absolute best thing is when her Weave hands and feet turn into Bowser hands and feet! Bowser growls and all. These Nintendo-themed costumes are available right from the get-go, too! No need to play the game multiple times or grind for currency. It’s the perfect incentive for people like myself who’ve played the game before and want a refresher.

I also wanted to test Bayonetta through my rose-tinted glasses of adoration. The game is a few years old, after all. Has it held up against other action/beat ’em up games released since then?

Well, I can’t say I’ve played very many games fitting those genres lately. There’s the DmC reboot, and God of War: Ascension. I also played Dante’s Inferno, but I don’t recall if that was released before or after Bayonetta.  However, none of that matters because I still think Bayonetta reigns supreme.

The character herself is hard to beat. It’s hard to find an over-the-top witch who stylishly kills angels for a living, all the while taking complete ownership of her sexuality and never succumbing to annoying Damsel in Distress gender tropes. She’s always winking or blowing kisses, but it’s in a way that I can’t help but chuckle because it’s like she knows she’s playing with her audience. And Luka… She’s always playing with Luka.

There’s the presentation as well. I absolutely love God of War for the Greek mythology references and monster designs, but they don’t hold a candle to the angels Bayonetta spanks and punishes for her day job. Like most other aspects of this game, their designs are crazy and over-the-top. Some of them are downright freaky; which is impressive, given that they still manage to resemble angels. Twisted, demented angels, anyway. The enemy designs are great, the battle system is familiar yet refreshing, the visuals are sharp, the music always matches the situation (The Fly Me to the Moon cover is quirky and catchy) and really… the entire presentation is fabulous. It’s obvious a lot of thought and care went into this game.

I don’t have a lot of gripes with Bayonetta, but one small one would have to be the character designs. Love the enemies and bosses; hate the character’s clothes and hair. Specifically Bayonetta, Luka, and Cereza. Man, Bayonetta & Cereza have terrible hairstyles, and Luka’s scarf is gag worthy. I’ll admit he rocks the skintight leather pants ALMOST as well as Bayonetta does, but I hate the rest of his outfit. Rodin’s style is fitting (what’s up with the unlaced boots?) and Enzo is, well, Enzo. Bayonetta’s main outfit is fitting. Form-fitting, that is. But some of the expensive alternate costumes are underwhelming. We mostly stuck with the free Nintendo ones. Most offensive is Jeanne’s make-up. In a game saturated with cutesy butterflies, blowing kisses and pole-dancing, nothing bothers me more than this. Take a close look at that clumpy mess!

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Seriously, I can’t decide if she let a 3 year old do her make-up or she used mascara from the dollar store.

I also really enjoy the battle system in this game. It’s accessible and not too difficult to reorient yourself with if you haven’t played in a couple of days. This is always a big win for me. Yet it also has a much deeper level of complexity that more skilled and patient gamer can access. There are many abilities and accessories up for purchase that enhance your experience to increase the customization. Tend to be a little slow with the dodge button? Pick up the Bat Within ability. Want to be able to quickly zip across the battlefield to an enemy? Pick up the Stiletto (AKA-Dante’s Stinger ability). The player is able to sample every ability before dedicating the Halos to purchasing it, saving us from the disappointment and frustration of spending 30K on an ability only to hate it or have trouble getting the combo off.

I was so happy to have a chance to replay this game (I owned the 360 version and no longer have that console). Upon replaying it and coming to the realization that it still is just as good, if not better, than newer offerings in the genre, I implore everyone with a Wii U to purchase Bayonetta 2. It’s packaged with this gem, so you really have no excuse not to! Seriously, what’s not to love?

Steve-O and I have a couple of hours into Bayonetta 2 so far (Spoiler: It’s freakin’ amazing) so stay tuned for our review of the sequel!

The Evil Within

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                           This is actually foreshadowing your experience with a few chapters of the game.

So, October has come and gone and we’ve since put the flagship horror title behind us. The hype for this game made it sound too good to be true. The creator of Resident Evil, free of Capcom’s bumbling clutches, at the helm of a brand new survival horror IP! The best survival horror game in almost a decade was sure to be upon us, right? That’s what I wanted to believe, anyway. Unfortunately, this year has been a grim reminder that buying too heavily into hype is a recipe for disappointment and The Evil Within was no different.

Possibly the most frustrating thing about The Evil Within is that it fluctuates so wildly in quality from one aspect to the next. It covers its basics adequately enough; your controls are clunky and somewhat unresponsive, as is custom for the genre. Despite the fact that your character is a seasoned detective, he has pretty awful firearm accuracy. Again, par for the course. The sprint mechanic could be a bit more believable (seriously, Castellanos? I’m pretty sure I’ve seen seventy year old emphysemics who can hold a sprint better, and they’re not even outrunning a crazy-ass box-headed butcher!), but I understand and even begrudgingly appreciate that it was a necessary limitation to create tension.

You’ll encounter more than the lion’s share of scripted one-shot-kills. I’m guessing this was to further create a feeling of helplessness, and in small doses it would do just that. However, when every chapter has at least one big baddie who will instantly delete you when you get within handshake distance, it doesn’t enhance the fear factor of the encounters. It’s just the established norm, and a little bit obnoxious. Take out half or three-quarters of my life bar and I’ll be more afraid, personally; not only is it fearsome, its fair. It will cause more apprehension in addressing the fight because I’ll blame myself for the death over a cheap gimmick. Certainly give some enemies and bouts of misadventure the instant-kill approach to keep us cautious, but every third room doesn’t have to have one.

Your pool of resources and ammunition is scarce enough that we aren’t venturing into action “horror” a la RE5, but rarely will you find yourself hanging onto that last clip for dear life. The game incorporates an upgrade system which smacks of drawing in the RPG crowd, but being a leveling fan in general, I wasn’t too put off by the idea. The horror game market has been so bastardized in the past decade or so that it’s difficult to get too bent out of shape over it. However, I will say that the inclusion of currency (in the form of green slime…yuck) and enemies that drop ammo often make the decision of fight or flight for you. “I’ve only got two bullets and a match to kill these three enemies but what if they drop shotgun shells?” This is more a statement on the evolution of horror games, but the inclusion of mechanics like this kind of killed the panic and flee options of some contemporary horror games.

Similarly, the story is pretty middle-of-the-road. You play as Detective Sebastian Castellanos, investigating a mass murder at a hospital. Naturally, things are not what they seem and things go south pretty quickly, with you piecing together bits of Castellanos’ angle through journal entries intermittently placed throughout the game. Without spoiling anything, veterans of the genre won’t be raising many eyebrows to plot reveals. Things begin to make a bit more sense after the pivotal reveal near the end, but nothing worthy of accolades. You certainly don’t grow attached to your character through dialogue, as Castellanos is as boring and one-dimensional as they come. His character takes no risks, shows little emotion or reaction to his circumstances, and doesn’t even try to cover it with awful one-liners. Leon may have been obnoxious in RE4, but at least he was an identifiable person and not a walking archetype. Oh wait, Castellanos says the F-word a few times. Eeee-dgy! Shena and I resorted to giving him the personality of a drunken stepfather, never without a beer bottle in his hand, who never opens a door when he can kick it down; consequences be damned. Still better than what we got from the game.

Now that the neutral stuff is out of the way, lets get to the great stuff! And the worst stuff! Because they’re the SAME GODDAMNED THINGS. The atmosphere, the mood, the designs. The game has some beautiful, terrifying models, and the creators of those models should be proud. Take your run-of-the-mill fodder enemy. Sometimes they look amazing! A corpulent bag of meat, wrapped in barbed wire with probably an entire houses’ windows worth of glass embedded in his everything. I don’t want that thing anywhere near me! You’ll come across a glaze-eyed plain farm girl, except she has a twelve inch railroad spike embedded in her skull (for some reason, head-shanking her with your dinky little pocket knife still instantly kills her). Some guys don’t have jaws, but bloody maws nonetheless.

But then, there are some people that are just…people. Boring, normal but oh no, he’s got a kitchen knife, shit’s getting real now. Or, worse yet, they’re wearing a porcelain mask in an uninspired attempt to look creepy, and it prevents the first headshot from killing them. More on that later. For every visceral, beautiful-in-that-horror-game-way enemy you come across, you come across two or three who’d be just as at home at a bus stop.

But the design of their bosses are top notch. In my opinion, this is the game’s chief redeeming feature. If you’ve seen the trailer for the game, you’ve set eyes on the freaky four-armed lady:

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Yep, that’d be the one.

She is equal parts terrifying and grotesque when you get a good look at her, and her entrance is just amazing. She easily finds herself in my top 5 boss designs in horror gaming. Hell, likely in all gaming. If they had treated every enemy with amount of thought and care given to not only her model, but the shocking brevity in her graphic introductory scene, we’d have a much more successful horror experience. While other bosses don’t quite reach her level, they don’t disappoint; gargantuan trollish creatures with posts embedded through their shoulders attack you with anchor-like grappling hooks. A legion of mangled corpses and monstrous limbs utterly destroys a parking garage as it searches for you. Even the iconic Box-Head, who I initially wrote off as a Pyramid Head knockoff, is appropriately menacing in his simplicity. For the record, his appearance is justified when you view models in the post-game Model Viewer and are given a bit of backstory on not only him, but all enemies in the game.

Similarly, the setting is oftentimes spot on. Your safe haven is often glossed over in an eerie green light, making your only comfort area unsettling at times. Dark rural villages often feel as foreboding as they look, while sewers look as disgusting as they should. Despite its general graphical under-performance, the gratuitous pools of blood you sometimes find yourself thrown into can be stomach wrenching. The final areas of the game are amongst the most bizarre I’ve seen. With a few exceptions (most notably, boring villagers and chainsaw maniac du jour), the game fared remarkably well visually.

Despite all this, there were times where I couldn’t be more forcefully ripped out of the atmosphere. This is easily my biggest frustration with the game, and why it’s unlikely I’ll be playing it again a few years from now unlike my semi-annual returns to Heather and James’ Silent Hill journeys. It’s indicative to me of an industry that flat-out does not learn from its mistakes. I’m of the common opinion that the melding of genres since Resident Evil 4 has reduced the quality of big budget horror games by trying to be something it has no rightful place being; a god-damned cover based shooter. It starts in Chapter 7, where you’re carrying out business as usual until you come across an outdoor area where the not-zombies are manning harpoon turrets. So you have to duck behind cover and throw grenades into their turret boxes before you get rained on. It didn’t sit well with me, but I thought little of it. Later on, as we approached the end of the game, we encounter a post-apocalyptic city where we have to fight SWAT team members with fully automatic machine guns and bullet proof armor. What part of that is horror, exactly? Critics couldn’t have roasted Resident Evil 5 any harder for taking that approach; why in God’s name would you subject the fanbase of a brand new IP to that, after branding the FATHER OF SURVIVAL HORROR all over your ads? Sure enough, an hour later we were on the back of a jeep, firing a mounted turret at swathes of enemies.

And that, ultimately, is why I can’t recommend the Evil Within to people looking to recapture that old horror feel. It’s falling in to the same trappings that led us to where we are today, and it’s only on its first installment. I may be being a little harsh on the game, but that’s only because there are areas and moments where it really shines, shows its potential. Moments where you see a four-armed deformed monster explode out of a pool of blood and can’t put enough rooms between you and her. Moments where you watch this unstoppable behemoth tear his own head off so that he can possess one of the boxes in the same room as you.

But then, you go duck and weave through a goddamned SWAT team firing machine guns, sprint to the back of their Humvee and unload on them with a turret, and the magic is lost.