One of the most important things we learned during our hands-on time with Bayonetta 2 at E3 2014 is that it's a case of "If it isn't broken, don't fix it." The gameplay feels very similar to the first game, and all of the mechanics are still in place. I was able to hop in and use the skills I picked up from the Xbox 360 version of the original game with minimal adjustments.
Bayonetta can attack with weapons on both her hands and legs, dodge attacks to activate Witch Time, and perform lengthy and complex combos that juggle enemies or activate powerful Wicked Weave finisher attacks. Even Bayonetta's animal transformations from the first game are back, including the bat swarm and panther run. A new move is the ability to transform into a snake when fighting in an underwater area.
Mechanically, the biggest addition to the gameplay is the Umbran Climax. As in the first game, building up a combo without taking damage builds up your magic meter, which you can spend to perform Torture Attacks. If you max out the meter, you can spend it to activate Umbran Climax, which is basically the Devil Trigger from the Devil May Cry series, if a bit less flexible. When you activate it, all of your attacks are amplified and do significant amounts of damage for a short period of time. Many attacks also gain a hugely increased area-of-effect and the addition of Wicked Weave attacks. This is very similar to the special "full power" mode that Bayonetta would use during boss fights in the original game, but you can now activate it during any fight. Umbran Climax only lasts a short period of time but allows you to dominate the battlefield.
We also got some hands-on time with some of the new weapons. The new butterfly-themed bow is amazing to work into regular combat. You can use it up close or at a distance, and it feels more impactful and powerful than most of Bayonetta's regular gun attacks. There's a pair of feet-mounted flamethrowers that could be swapped from flame-based attacks to ice-based attacks by rotating the control stick — without feeling like a retread of the Durga from the original game. There are also dual blades and giant hammers that you can use to slice, crush or mutilate your foes.
As always, Bayonetta 2 revels in excessive and over-the-top action. The few demo stages we were able to try were packed with dangerous enemies, many of which looked like bosses but were minions. Battles involved running up collapsing buildings to growing wings and flying around to smash everything in your path. The highlight of the demo was the fight against the Lumen Sage, one of the game's big baddies. It's very reminiscent of the Jeanne battles in the original Bayonetta, where you fought an opponent with skills that are similar to Bayonetta's. The fight starts off slow and gradually intensifies, with both fighters summoning giant monsters, battling on a collapsing bridge atop a volcanic pool, and both characters eventually fusing with their respective monsters and entering a Punch-Out style minigame to end the battle. It was fast, furious and remarkably fun to play; it felt like the best moments of the previous Bayonetta game.
Story-wise, Bayonetta's best friend and sometimes-rival Jeanne has been whisked away to Hell, and Bayonetta must rescue her. Along the way, she meets a mysterious young boy named Loki. There's relatively little else known about the story, but it seems that Bayonetta 2 will feature a more active supporting cast than the last game. This may be connected to the announced co-op feature, Tag Climax. This online mode allows Bayonetta and other characters to team up to take on swarms of enemies. Jeanne is the only confirmed alternate playable character, but Loki was shown to be playable in one of the trailers, so it's a safe bet he'll join the lineup. There's going to be a touch-screen-controlled method, likely similar to the one-handed automatic mode from the first game, but we didn't get a chance to try it out.
A particularly nice feature about Bayonetta 2 is that the Wii U release comes with a full port of the original game. The original Bayonetta was never available on the Wii, which makes it odd that Bayonetta 2 is exclusive to the Wii U. During our hands-on time, the Wii U version of Bayonetta runs as well as the game ever has, and it's certainly a big step up from the lackluster PlayStation 3 port.
In addition to containing all of the content from the original game, it will also include a series of exclusive costumes based on famous Nintendo characters like Link, Princess Peach and Samus Aran. The costumes have a pretty significant cosmetic effect beyond changing how Bayonetta looks. Using the Hero of Hyrule costume introduces Zelda sound effects and visuals into the gameplay, such as transforming Bayonetta's sword into a replica of the Master Sword. All three costumes have different cosmetic effects that give the game a Nintendo-themed feel, if a distinctively M-rated one.
Bayonetta 2 is looking like quite the package. It's one of the finest action games of the last generation, and it'll come bundled with a sequel that has the potential to surpass it. Our brief time with the demo was incredibly exciting, as it drove home the fact that Bayonetta 2 has a great grasp on what made the original game fun and exciting, but it adds new weapons, moves, and an online cooperative mode. It all serves to potentially elevate Bayonetta 2 above its predecessor when it hits store shelves this October.
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