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Bayonetta 2 [Wii U] – Review

Bayonetta 2Bayonetta 2 was released for the Wii U a few weeks ago and it follows up 2010’s Bayonetta in spectacular fashion. Platinum Games refined the formula of the original and managed to top it in every way imaginable. During the course of my playthrough, it was apparent that I was enjoying my time with it considerably more than I did with the original. For a while it was hard for me to determine how much of that was attributable to the knowledge of the gameplay systems I carried over from my recent playthrough of the original. It was definitely a factor, but this game had enough chutzpah to keep me entertained for its duration. Continue reading Bayonetta 2 [Wii U] – Review

Bayonetta [Wii U] – Review

Bayonetta
Looking back, this game made reference to many Nintendo, Sega, Platinum, and Clover games.

Bayonetta 2 looks nuts. I’m dying to play it, especially after reading Kotaku’s month-long coverage of it in the period between its Japanese and North American launches. Before jumping into it though, I had to familiarize myself with its predecessor. Thankfully Nintendo, Sega, and Platinum Games thought ahead and bundled the 2010 original with the sequel. I’m woeful to admit that I didn’t play Bayonetta when it originally released. Or even years later, when I’d see copies at GameStop for less than ten dollars. That’s not to say I wasn’t a fan of it from the moment it was announced. It was developed by Platinum Games after all.

The studio has been one of my favorite game developers since their 2006 inception. I feel this way because the studio’s spiritual predecessor (Clover Studio) was also on that list. Together they’ve created so many stellar games, including, Vanquish – easily one of my favorite action games of all time. It’s easy to laud the work the studio and its creators have architected. Well, maybe The Legend of Korra excluded, but that’s a budget licensed title… So, of course I was ready to play Bayonetta when I purchased it two Fridays ago, and the game was quick to set the hook.

Bayonetta is crazy. She wields four guns - two of them on her feet!
Bayonetta is crazy. She wields four guns – two of them on her feet!

Opening in a graveyard, the camera weaves around tombstones engraved with the introductory credits. Eventually, director Hideki Kamiya’s is reached, and it’s unfortunately being urinated on by Bayonetta’s stubby Joe Pesci-like partner, Enzo. She’s performing burial rites for a colleague, in the process summoning a group of atrocious angels. As they descend to Earth, her tough man acquaintance Rodin is resurrected and she begins wailing on the monsters while an extremely candy-coated, techno-infused version of a 1950s jazz standard plays in the background. In the process, Enzo flails around and Rodin tosses her ludicrous amounts of handguns which she burns through in a comical sequence.

I knew to expect this type of zaniness and there was a lot of it, but the game didn’t maintain this spirit 24/7. There was a long stretch where I wasn’t fully compelled to continue on. I was partially turned off by lackluster rising action and a dearth of interesting set pieces. For what seemed like hours after the mind-boggling introduction, there was little narrative development. As she suffered from amnesia, the game was mostly about Bayonetta searching for who she was. Three more characters were introduced during this middle period (Jeanna, Luka, and Cereza), but the storytelling focus turned heavily towards textbooks that illustrated the background history on the setting and characters. This wasn’t always pertinent information to her quest.

On top of that, I was struggling with the combat system. I wasn’t to the point where I was going to rage quit, but I definitely had the rage. There were many reasons for this. Firstly, dodging just before being attacked triggered Witch Time. This slowed down the enemies and was absolutely crucial. When I battled groups of enemies, my focus couldn’t remain on a single enemy and as a result, I couldn’t activate Witch Time consistently. I’d get a beating for being unable to do so. Secondly, I couldn’t jell with the combo system. I played this game for hours and relied almost entirely on mashing the punch button. In this regard, I damned myself by not experimenting more, but the game seemed so harsh, as if it was punishing me for doing so. I went so far as to purchase a Wii U Pro Controller, thinking it may alleviate some of my issues.

Performing specific combos resulted in massive hair attacks. Yes. I said hair attacks.
Performing specific combos resulted in massive hair attacks. Yes. I said hair attacks.

Eventually though, I began to figure it out. That process began by learning to use healing items. My perception of the game’s difficulty was lessened because of this. It proved to be a huge boon too, as dying over and over had become incredibly demoralizing and rage inducing. Likewise, I saved up enough money to buy a few accessories from Rodin. Two in particular were very helpful. The first activated Witch Time whenever Bayonetta was struck, allowing me the opportunity to retaliate in a big way. The second was a great defensive item. If I pushed the analog stick in the direction of an enemy as it attacked Bayonetta, she would counter. This helped prevent enemies from breaking combos and allowed me to set the pace of fights – not the enemies.

At the same time, the characters were developing more and the narrative was coming together. Luka, and Cereza’s contributions to Bayonetta’s story had become clearer and they became more than just a quick cutscene distraction here and there. She had also regained full understanding of who she was and how she interfaced with her doppelganger, Jeanne. The boss fights were stacked towards the end too. Boss fights were always enormous set piece affairs, one of the game’s highlights, but they were fairly infrequent during the meat of the game. With the characters and narrative coming together and having finally figured out how to enjoy the game, I did.

The game's set piece boss fights were definite highlights.
The game’s set piece boss fights were definite highlights.

Bayonetta had a stringent three act format in my experience. Not just in the narrative. I’m able to easily look back and chart my enjoyment into three sections. In the beginning, I was awestruck and intrigued. Well into Bayonetta’s quest for self, my interest had waned as the story was failing to captivate me entirely and the combat was growing frustrating. However, everything turned around as I began to take advantage of all that was available to me and as the story components were falling into place. My time wasn’t entirely enjoyable, but honestly, I made the game harder than it should’ve been. At this point though, I’ve familiarized myself with the concepts and implementations and will be able to take that knowledge with me as I begin Bayonetta 2. I think I’ve died enough to play it.

Just 1 More Topic E3 Special Microsoft + EA!

 

E3 2014 kicked off with Microsoft leading the charge. From their conference you could pick up the vibe that Microsoft (and it’s publishing partners) strongly believe in the future of cooperative player…who knew gamers like playing together. A few standouts were,

Scalebound (pictured at top)

Phantom Dust (remaking or sequel to late PS2 generation game from Majesco)

Project Spark, which now features 100% more Conker!

Conker Project Spark

Sunset Overdrive, Insomniac Games’ first Xbox exclusive and it simply looks amazing.

Vanquish – Review

Stylish, fast, and fun, I loved Vanquish.

When Clover Studio shut down, I was sad. I loved the games the studio developed for Capcom. Nearly everything they did was critically successful, but not always commercially successful. A little while after they shut down, many of the former employees went on to form Platinum Games, who have made a name for themselves in the past couple of years. Heck, one of the first games I wrote about here (MadWorld) was developed by them. With Vanquish, released in 2010 and published by Sega, they created a spectacular action game. Packed with an unraveling plot, fast gameplay, and variations on the genre, Vanquish is a game I highly recommend.

One of the more interesting weapons was the lock-on laser.

There’s a lot going on with the plot of Vanquish. On the surface, I was just playing as Sam Gideon, DARPA researcher ordered to rescue a kidnapped scientist. But the deeper I got into Vanquish, the more I learned about the true intentions of everyone and their interconnectedness.

Set in the future, Vanquish takes place on a massive space station, the United States’ 51st state. Seeing it’s cityscape in the background of missions was remarkable. It was fantastic to look at and did a great job of giving scale to my surroundings. The Order of the Russian Star has invaded the space station and taken over. After gaining control they attacked San Francisco with a laser and stated that unless the United States surrenders, New York City is next. Not wanting to do that, the President sends in the Marines to quell the threat, along with Sam Gideon.

Sam is a researcher at DARPA, or the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Interestingly enough, DARPA is a real agency in the United States’ Department of Defense that has made many notable developments, such as the foundations of the Internet. DARPA sees this as the perfect opportunity to test out their Augmented Reaction Suit, or ARS. This suit is quite awesome, less so is the Battlefield Logic Adaptable Electronic Weapons System, or BLADE; I‘ll talk about those acronyms and their features shortly.

The ability to boost made Vanquish feel different from other third-person shooters.

I really liked Sam. He had a very casual attitude; even with the multitude of near death experiences he had he usually remained calm. He also showed signs of altruism, frequently rescuing his ally Marines when they needed rescued. Contrasting him was Robert Burns, the leader of the Marines. He was more concerned on finishing the mission he was assigned, no matter the cost. Throughout the game the two had much back and forth banter and it was fun listening to them.

So Vanquish is a third-person cover-based shooter. But because Sam is equipped with the ARS, the game is fast-paced, something most of the games in this genre can’t cop to. You might think I’m a little masochistic when I say I liked the game the most when the odds were stacked against me, but the gameplay really excelled in these situations. In battles I was either facing a lot of normal enemies, or a few really big ones. Using the features of the ARS made these shootouts challenging and entertaining.

The first cool feature of the ARS is the boosters attached to it. At the push of a button I had Sam boosting around the battlefield at a fast clip. I could quickly flank enemies or boost into cover when need be. I was limited on how much I could do this however; overdoing it would overheat the ARS. Boosting was easy to do and thrilling in the heat of battle.

Robert Burns acts as the commanding officer of the Marines for the mission they've been assigned. Him and Sam butt heads often.

The most notable feature of the ARS however is the AR Mode, aka Augmented Reaction Mode. With a simple button combo I entered this slow motion mode, allowing me greater control of my actions and more precision. Like boosting, I was limited by the same overheating gauge on the ARS. Regulating the AR Mode and boost was necessary to overcoming the enemy threat. By the end, I had become very accustomed to triggering the AR Mode, popping off headshots, and getting back into cover without overheating the ARS.

The last acronym at Sam’s disposal was BLADE, but it’s not that great actually. I basically had one weapon, but by scanning weapons I’d find on the battlefield, Sam’s BLADE would replicate them. He can only hold three weapons at a time (plus grenades) so it’s not like I could scan everything willy-nilly and have a stacked arsenal. Personally, I preferred sticking with a machine gun and the heavy machine gun, rotating my third spot out to experiment with the other weapons. The usual suspects were present but there were plenty of weapons that had interesting effects.

An interesting mechanic involving the weapons was the ability to upgrade them. Every now and then an enemy would drop an upgrade that I could pick up. But the most frequent way I leveled up my weapons was picking up ammunition. If a specific weapon had full ammo, and I picked up ammo for that weapon, a bar would appear next to that weapon. After doing this a few times the weapon would increase a level, eventually maxing out at ten. This had an interesting effect on my strategy. I really liked the machine gun, but I would refrain from using, hoping to find ammo to level it up. As weapons leveled up, they could hold more ammo and did more damage.

I was hooked on Vanquish from the start. Watching the plot unravel kept me motivated to play. As did the chemistry between Sam and Burns; they always bickered, but worked together; it was like a buddy film. Boosting around the battlefield was a blast and differentiated the game from its peers. The AR Mode was vital to success, as was managing the ARS’ temperature, which became second nature. Weapons felt good and upgrading them also set Vanquish apart from other games. Vanquish feels like a complete package; it’s well designed and a blast that I’m going to replay as soon as I’m done writing.

MadWorld – Review

So I bought MadWorld off of Amazon for cheap and thought it was a steal. I’d always been interested in the game but not enough to pay full price for it, sorry Platinum Games and Sega.

MadWorld is a game unlike any other due to its art style. The game’s look is very reminiscent of Frank Miller’s Sin City and the game overall is influenced by comics. Having not read anything about the game, my guess is the decision for this art style was to cope for the Wii’s graphical power among wanting it to stick out and I really dig it, except that most everything blends together and it can be distracting at times trying to figure out where one thing ends and another begins. Of course that’s not a problem when blood starts spewing over everything, which it does often. This is without a doubt the goriest game I’ve ever played but it didn’t have a negative effect on me like a more realistic game would’ve.

What’s the reason for all this gore? Well, a game show is being staged and it’s being run by people who bet on

This is what happens when you cross Jack.

contestants. The contestants must survive on an isolated island that has had a virus spread across it. They can’t only survive though; they need to kill the others in outrageous fashion to score points, which is how you progress. You play as Jack Cayman, a mysterious man who is on the island. You get sponsored early on and it’s apparent that Jack has other motives for being here. Jack stabs people with road signs, throws them in spike laden dumpsters and an assortment of other gruesome acts, many including his prosthetic chainsaw arm. Early on I found the story to be the least of my concerns but as the game moved on, it’s what began to draw me in as it got more complex.

Structurally the game doesn’t change much. Each level is a confined map that opens up more and more as you get more points. Throughout the levels are all sorts of objects to inflict death with and halfway through each level, a “Bloodbath Challenge” opens up which tasks you with killing people in a single creative way for a limited amount of time. These break up the pace and most of them are very fun, and they’re all playable in a multiplayer mode. At the end of a level you fight a boss which, like the levels, adheres to a singular structure. You attack the boss some and get the opportunity to do a cinematic, motion-based super attack and then repeat. There are two motorcycle missions but these got old before they were finished. The levels get boring with a repetitive nature to them, but like I said the Bloodbath Challenges provide a nice break in between them and the boss battles are quite fun.

The soundtrack was enjoyable although the developers seemed split on a singular direction to take it audibly. Solemn music fills the menus and cutscenes which is a stark contrast to the obscene rap/rock soundtrack that takes place during levels. Although thinking about it now both types fit the setting well; the dual settings of an island with a bleak outlook to the over the top death game show. Easily one of my favorite parts of the game were the commentators, providing quips about the on-screen action, often in vulgar and funny ways and the voice acting in general I liked.

MadWorld was a cool game. The art style was striking, the story became more interesting as the game progressed and the voice work and soundtrack were well done and added to the over the top setting. There were many interesting and fun gameplay moments, specifically the Bloodbath Challenges and boss fights, but the repetitive nature of the game grew old fast.