There is an annoying tendency for over-explanation at the beginning of games.
Their systems and designs have matched the increasing complexity of the supporting technology and too many titles feel the need to smother the player in quickfire instructions, explanation of (at that time) meaningless upgrade systems, and careful point-by-point tutorials to test that we are indeed ready to experience their masterpiece. This, though, can be totally counter-intuitive and and actually drain away that initial excitement that bursts out with the tearing open of cellophane covers. Sometimes, it can even totally flip the balance; I’ve actually fallen asleep midway through one of the bloated Assassin’s Creed tutorials, and I’ve got a special peeve with any racing game that forces me to race in strictly defined ways for the first ten minutes.
Of course, there needs to be some kind of escalating system where the dynamics of the gameplay are drip-fed to the player, but the mistake too often made is assuming that we need that handholding the second we get past the menu screen. First impressions are everything, and it’s often better to dazzle before dealing with the button-mapping minutiae, especially in a title that has sold itself on excitement and bombast.
And that’s where Bayonetta 2, the new Wii U exclusive developed by the absolutely wonderful Platinum Games, expertly shines, because the opening five minutes are chaos. Pure, beautiful, context-free chaos.
One tap past the menu screen, one moment of loading (where you can briefly play around with random button combos and watch Bayonetta’s glorious animations), and suddenly you’re on a chuck of broken floating architecture, set against a swirling sky, fighting hordes of golden enemies with a woman in red providing support. For a second, you wonder if it’s an introductory video, often used as a way of showing how you’ll be playing when you stop being useless. But, no. The enemies attack and suddenly you’re there, in the middle of a fight for your life. Every button becomes and adventure – I wonder what this one does – as you cut a swathe through the huge, exquisitely-designed angels determined to bring about your demise.
The reason you know they’re angels is because the game has started talking to you. Over the sound effects of your actions, on top of a fantastic opening theme that in itself builds wonderful tension, a sombre voice-over brings you up to speed in the space of five or six sentences. There are Witches, there are Angels, there is Heaven, there is Hell, there’s a struggle. This, of course, gains many levels of detail in later levels – along with some more careful combat explanations – but, at this point, it’s a perfect introduction. In fact, it just stops short of being too much – the precise fighting that Platinum is famous for, the rousing score, the cinematic voice-over, the graphics that are quick to convince you that the Wii U should be mentioned in the same breath as the PS4 and Xbox One. It’s expertly conceived and balanced.
The Wii U may not be held in as much esteem and the rest of the current generation but the news that Bayonetta 2 entered the UK charts at number 7 gives slight hope for the systems’s future. Nintendo, also, have done themselves a huge favour by rescuing the Bayonetta brand from abandonment, with the almost universally glowing reviews matching the love coming from fans of the first game. The growing SQUEEE when, in the second level, it opening with SEGA, then NINTENDO, then PLATINUM etched into its world is enough to forever erase the fanboy fights of the nineties.
And hopefully this could lead to even more Nintendo-funded Platinum sequels – it’s time for a Wii U exclusive Vanquish 2. Please.