Games Review: Bayonetta 2 (Switch, 2018): Cranking the absurdity dial way up

Boy, Bayonetta 2 is … a lot, isn’t it? There’s so much going on with this game that I barely know where to start talking about it. Maybe let’s start with the fact that its been re-released on the Nintendo Switch and go from there.

I missed the Bayonetta train the first time around, exhausted by the idea of playing another brawler in the tradition of games like Devil May Cry and the more recent Castlevania‘s. It’s easy to dismiss Bayonetta 2 as atypical pervy Japanese fan service but I genuinely think that would be doing it a disservice. I’ll come back to this in a second.

The plot of Bayonetta 2 sees the titular Bayonetta enjoying a bit of Christmas shopping a few months after the conclusion of the first game. During a particularly wild battle with a group of Angels that interrupts her otherwise perfectly lovely day, her friend Jeanne is snatched by demons and dragged into the Inferno. Bayonetta, thoroughly incensed, heads to a fictional mountain in the Middle East called Fimbulventr. strides through the very Gates of Hell themselves determined to get her friend back.

I feel like I’m going to struggle to convey the speed and intensity of Bayonetta 2‘s gameplay so, to give you an idea, here’s what happens in just the prologue and the very first level with a handy-dandy video embed. If you’ve never played Bayonetta before, I highly recommend you watch it so we can get on the same page here.

If you feel like your brain is a pile of spaghetti bolognese after that, I don’t blame you.

In its way, Bayonetta 2 is a kind of absurdist masterpiece. Everything it does — every character, every line of dialogue, combat mechanic, enemy design, every level, every story beat — is viewed through a heightened, high-energy, hyper-sexualised abstraction filter.

It’s easy to look at Bayonetta herself as a character built from the ground up to give horned up dudes something to look at as they mow down wave after wave of demons, but again I think the game wants you to look deeper. Modeled upon real life actor Penny Drake and distorted just enough that she resembles almost no woman to ever actually live, Bayonetta’s every action revolves around her not just embracing her sexuality (distorted though it may be) but using it to destroy her enemies. Her clothes, a leather catsuit, are actually made of hair (I think?) that begins to fray and loosen around her as she racks up combos and multipliers. When she unleashes devastating finishers or power attacks they are referred to as Climaxes. She initiates every battle with sexual innuendo and even her walk cycle has the confident stomp of a model on a runway.

Developer Platinum then ratchets the absurdity up another notch by attaching guns to every extremity Bayonetta has. If a pair of revolvers in-hand weren’t enough, she has another two strapped to the back of her six-inch heels because sure, why not? This allows Bayonetta to leap and cartwheel about the battlefield, spraying bullets in every direction no matter what she’s doing.

Not content to have its heroine be the most absurd component, Bayonetta 2 goes the extra mile and makes everything around Bayonetta even crazier than she is. People drive cars up walls, scream at each other in casual conversation. One guy wears a Santa suit for literally no reason at all as far as I can tell, and Bayonetta’s happy to conduct a conversation with him as though he isn’t a complete lunatic.

On the Switch, Bayonetta 2 is as much of a weird romp as it ever was. It runs as well as it did on the Wii U (yes, this was one of the very few Wii U exclusives if you can believe it) and performs admirably in handheld mode. The controls are tight and easy to get to grips with. If anything, the worst part of playing Bayonetta 2 in handheld mode is the looks you get from people watching over your shoulder on the train as she twirls about in a Sailor Moon transformation sequence full of filthy innuendo.

Bayonetta 2 is fast, fun, willfully strange and I think it has a lot more on its mind than most would give it credit for.

Score: 8.5 out of 10
Hightlights: If you want absurd, you get absurd; Shooting guns from your feet is surprisingly satisfying
Lowlights: Some may find the combat a bit grindy after a while
Developer: PlatinumGames
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Available: Now

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch with retail code provided by the publisher.