We abuse our hands and nearly break a GamePad (again) as we play the latest three-chapter build of Platinum's witch.
Three levels, twenty minutes and a lot of pain. Bayonetta 2's newest demo build took three cuts from the game to represent easy, medium and hard difficulties. A significantly upgraded version of previously-seen Chapter 1's World of Chaos, a short explore along cathedral walls and into lakes in The City of Genesis, and Chapter IV's The Two Meet, the finale of which finally saw our already-overheated brains melt out of our ears at the shear stupidity/awesomeness that was being splurged across the screen.
It's a little hard for overexcited exclamations not to erupt involuntarily from the mouth when playing Platinum's return of their filthy witch. The first game's potent concoction of precision combat, daft enemy designs, a whole lot of double-entendre and heavenly visuals is as strong in its sequel. Want to know the definition of insanity? It's how Platinum Games make this all work without the Wii U catching fire. The booth's assistant, there to walk any newcomer through the controls, is the same guy who watched us nearly beat the Wii U GamePad to death at last year's event. "Back for more eh?" he says before wandering off. Likely to get to safe distance before we start. Knuckles are cracked, and we dive in.
You can get embarrassed at Bayonetta's overly sexualised cutscenes; we do. They're still here, camera panning lewdly over body curves, and there's a crotch shot in one sequence the context of which raises the eyebrows a few more millimetres higher than its already Spock-like position. There's a line for tongue-in-cheek dialogue and shots; Bayonetta uses that line as a pole to grind against.
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Sarah Palin comparisons have thankfully diminished as the gun-wielding witch looses the walnut whip do for a shorter haircut, but keeps the throaty voice that gives you uncomfortable flashbacks to those Channel 5's Friday night phone ads. This time she's crossing paths with a four-foot card-throwing magician (not a kid, he emphasises during one verbal spar, but he's obviously from the same cockney acting school as early-era Bob Hoskins) as both travel to the same destination.
But the journey's fraught with more Angelic attackers, and even after a game's worth of designs, the studio artists obviously still haven't run dry on ideas. Cue bosses with their heads built into the swords they carry, winged centaurs, conjoined cherubs and even a tease into a whole separate (demonic) book of enemy types. Platnium's plumbing the depths of Hell for the sequel it seems.
We've still the two pair weapon sets, toggled through the shoulder button. Face buttons cover jump, shoot, punch and kick, combo chains altering to suit what arsenal you're decked out in. In the demo we try a pair of katana blades, and the bow.
The first has a significant area of damage when you work Bayonetta up into a whirlwind spin in one fight flow, while the latter offers ranged shots that are fired faster than you can blink, Bayonetta shifting between ludicrous poses with each pull of the string. We reconnect with the simple pleasure of holding down the kick button at the end of an attack chain to unload a barrage of shots into an angel's face from our heel guns, or juggling an enemy in the air by repeatedly hammering the triggers of our hand cannons.
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For all the issues with the hyper sexualisation of its lead, Bayonetta 2, as with its predecessor, cannot be faulted on its combat. It's a genre pioneer and the best in the field, for the smarts of both the camera work to keep track of you at all times and offer a clear field of view around you, and the visual definition between different elements on the screen. You're never not clear what you're doing, where you are, or what your options are for the next clearly-signposted attack. And when those strikes are split-second, the game could easily crumble if everything wasn't polished to the ninth degree.
So when something's so, so good, you notice any blemish. And we notice one on Bayonetta 2. The first game always panned out during combat, giving you a wider view of the surrounding area. A few times during our play with the sequel, the camera's nearly buried in the creases of Bayonetta's leathers. Close proximity so far due seemingly from either the smaller arenas we're fighting in, or because we're tackling a 20-foot high boss up close and the developer's decision is to keep emphasising scale rather than highlighting your escape space. Why this isn't a massive concern - yet - is that we still don't feel forced to manually adjust the camera. The view still works, but the camera locations aren't as perfect as they were previously. We'll have to play a more substantial whack of the game to see if this affects combat.
It takes a look back to remind you of the leaps forward. The franchise has always been pretty (central character design notwithstanding) but looking at the first game, which comes bundled as a freebie with the Wii U title, you realise how marked the difference is with the HD upgrade. We have a quick go on a nearby demo pod with the first game, and we're a little taken back at how much of a sheen's come off the graphics. Gameplay's still tight though, and we can see us doing a double-bill of both games come release. (And nicely, Platinum have tossed in some Nintendo-inspired outfits with their own specialist attacks in as a bonus. Play dressed as Princess Peach, and your Wicked Weaves will call forth not a massive high-heeled foot, but a gigantic clawed paw courtesy of Bowser).
Here's a tiny thing we noticed. Bayonetta's second-form powers, letting her transform into a panther when dashing or exploding into a colony of bats when entering slo-mo Witch Time come perfect attack dodges, are in from the start here. At one section of City of Genesis, between running up walls and destroying cathedrals, we jumped into a circular lake. A double-jump would have taken us back out easily, and there's multiple stairwells leading back up. Yet if you double-tap dodge while in the water, Bayonetta transforms into a long-tailed water snake. One you can glide through the water, up, down or around. Maybe it plays into a longer water level later on, but if not, to design an extra form that feels so fun to control, just for something so throwaway highlights the care and attention Platinum are giving this game.
That was a cool, small, discovery. But the titanic boss fight that ends The Two Meet chapter is so batshit crazy that it had us glancing around to spot anyone we knew, just to show off what was happening.
It starts brilliantly, a white-clad spear-carrying warrior who's Bayonetta double for combat moves (with added teleport abilities) clashing with us on the ground. There's a sudden lull in the fight, and the knight calls forth a boss entity, the materialisation us makes us groan in disappointment for the first time. It's one of the early bosses from the first game, and we immediately worry we're going to be subjected to boss rushes - and ones from a game we already clocked years ago. We fear Platinum have taken a shortcut in its boss fights.
Yet that's not to be. While the entity morphs into yet another familiar face, we don't combat it. Instead, Bayonetta calls forth her own mammoth Infernal Demons (still formed out of the weave of her clothing) and the beasts duke it out in the background, as our own fight takes to the skies, as we weave between mammoth fists and arms.
With our own opponent finally downed, the camera leaves Bayonetta to focus on the Infernal Demon she'd called forth - a purple-coloured and red-eyed lady named Madame Butterfly - and the control scheme alters, simplifies: for 20 glorious seconds we take part in a massive boxing match as the two remaining creatures spar. It's ludicrous. And brilliant. We finish with a massive smile on our face even as our hands roar complaint over abuse.
Bayonetta 2's one of those rare games that we lose our professional veneer when playing, but huge fans that we are of the first game means we'll be even more careful in judging this sequel. We're expecting the best, and we're hoping Platinum can deliver. Even if it means we have to fork out for another Gamepad because our original one is turned to dust by the end.