She's leggy and lithe, but Bayonetta is no gaming stereotype. The titular star of Osaka-based studio Platinum Games' 2009 hack-and-slasher, she's a specs-wearing (Umbra) witch with violently unruly hair and firearms strapped to her ankles. No bikini armour in sight. She doesn't so much kick ass as leave it pulped – heads don't have a chance to roll when they're exploded into chunks.
Welcomed by critics as a genuinely fresh protagonist, Bayonetta split feminist opinions. Was her take-no-shit attitude to be applauded in a culture dominated by gruff males saving curvy quarries from whatever misfortune befell them in the opening cinematic? Or did her flexible frame and frequent sucking on a selection of lollipops for power-up perks – whatever that might be seen to represent – showcase nothing more than familiar male fantasising?
Some from A, some B, basically. Bayonetta was directed by a man, Hideki Kamiya, creator of the demons-amongst-us action series Devil May Cry. But Bayonetta, the character, is mostly the work of a woman, Mari Shimazaki. Her brief from Kamiya was for a "modern female witch that wears glasses and wields four guns". Nailed it, then.
But there's no denying that Bayonetta trades in titillation. A signature move sees Platinum's poster girl unwind the hair from her body – it makes up her clothes, obviously – and using it to shape brutal attacks or summon demonic creatures. The result: briefly (nearly) naked Bayonetta.
Shimazaki's character design was adapted for game use by digital modeller Kenichiro Yoshimura. During development, he posted on Platinum's official blog that he'd been spending time aplenty working on a specific area. "I really wanted to get her backside perfect," he wrote. "I guess I am into that sort of thing."
Bayonetta's impeccable posterior was rarely in focus, though – Platinum's very best works lay on the action supremely thickly, and at their frenzied peaks become a dizzying blur of reds and blues, spilled blood and sparking weapons. They achieved a kind of precedent-setting perfection with Bayonetta – Edge awarded it 10/10, IGN 9.6, and its Xbox 360 version holds a score of 90/100 on Metacritic – but titles like Vanquish and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance have since provided comparably frenetic thrills.
But now the studio faces its toughest test yet, to deliver a winner with the most massive pressure on. Bayonetta came out with expectations set for a Devil May Cry-alike with the merest speckles of individuality, but the end product was a fantastically original work that presented never-before-seen standards of set-piece showdowns, amazing scenarios which culminated with Bayonetta – ostensibly one of the bad guys in the baffling storyline (nutshell: dark versus light) – punching the game's version of God into the Sun. Every new stage held amazing surprises. And now comes the sequel proper.
Exactly when, I can't say – when I head to the HYPER JAPAN expo in London at the end of July to play three scenarios of Bayonetta 2, I'm told "sometime in October". Its Japanese release is set for September 20th. Kamiya never anticipated that Bayonetta would get green-lit for a sequel, as while the Sega-published original was a critical hit, its sales missed expectations. Nevertheless, here we are, and it's not just Platinum's reputation on the line for part two – Bayonetta 2 is a Wii U exclusive, charged with giving Nintendo's improving (in the wake of Mario Kart 8) but still under-performing (compared to Xbox One and PlayStation 4 sales) current console a stiletto-heeled boot up the jacksie – flamethrowers, optional.
Thirty minutes with the game doesn't represent enough time to really appreciate how Platinum has evolved their heroine and her battle against the forces of light, the Lumen Sages. My guide for the session, an affable young lady who's keen for me to skip all cutscenes, what with a queue growing behind me, asks if I've played the first one. "Good, because this is pretty much the same." Which is both pleasing, as I'm straight into combos, using fists and feet and firearms to fend off the swarms filling my screen with furious melee moves, and disappointing.
Because, touch controls aside (which I don't test), this isn't making much use of the Wii U's system-specific GamePad. There's nothing as innovative as, say, Ubisoft's ZombiU, a launch title that used the Pad to scan environments, display a mini-map and an inventory. I wanted to see something more: perhaps the option to scan boss enemies to reveal weak spots, subsequently highlighting them on your main screen. You can play Bayonetta 2 off your telly, on the GamePad, but like its predecessor, this is a visually vivacious experience best viewed big.
There are changes. No Sega involvement means the music's lost its breezy, cheesy charm. Bayonetta now has short hair, not that it makes her beasties any the less massive, as a battle with one gone rogue, Gomorrah, showcases impressively. Cosmetically, the Wii U handles the heat – the game moves slickly at 60fps, with character models finely detailed. One part of the game is evocative of Venice, waterways prominent in the environment (within which Bayonetta can transform into a serpent – on land, she's still a panther). Quick-time-prompted torture attacks remain, and are as gorily agreeable as ever – Nintendo hardware hasn't been soaked in this much crimson since another Platinum effort, 2009's Wii-only MadWorld.
Fans of the first game will slip easily enough into the beats of Bayonetta 2, then – but Nintendo loyalists may feel that Platinum haven't done enough to engage with the Wii U's controller, as they did for the stylus-at-the-ready cartoon carnage of The Wonderful 101. Bayonetta represented something previously unseen at the time. As fantastically fun as my preview of its sequel is, and it really is a joyous half-hour, I can't help feeling we've done this dance before – albeit not on the back of a jet screaming through a city's high-rises, combating heavenly centaurs, and then riding the roof of a runaway train while being chased by an enormous robotic-deity-thing. I'll give them that.
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