What's the best title to have come from PlatinumGames? My own answer changes with the wind - sometimes it's the just about perfect third-person shooter Vanquish, other times it might be the outrageously eccentric Wonderful 101 - but when it comes to the purest expression of what the industrious Osaka studio is about, then there's only really one answer. And that's the brilliant Bayonetta, of course.
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Five years ago I asked Atsushi Inaba, one of Platinum Games' co-founders, about the dire prognostications many in the west made about the state of the Japanese industry. "I don't like it when people lump Japanese developers all together into one group," Inaba answered. "Frankly I think it's a joke. What do these people know? [...] There are tons of terrible western developers, just like there's tons of terrible Japanese developers. To lump studios together in great masses misses the point."
It seems like ancient history now, but you may recall that Nintendo introduced Wii U as a system designed to appeal to both casual and dedicated players alike. One of its first moves in wooing the core player was to resurrect Bayonetta 2 - a game that was all but cancelled before Nintendo moved in to save the day. Calling to mind the Capcom 5 announcements for GameCube, the Mario maker commissioned Platinum Games to develop two new titles for its fledgling system: The Wonderful 101 released on Wii U last year, while Bayonetta 2 arrives next month, continuing the system's positive momentum that began with Mario Kart 8 and gathered pace thanks to a strong showing at E3. While Nintendo's own titles have a universal appeal for all players, Platinum's latest release is something very different, coming across very much like a love letter to the core gamer.
I loved Bayonetta. The 2009 original was a whirling dervish of a brawler, throwing out a hundred punches every which way, with every single one of them hitting the spot. It was Platinum's technical brand of fighting sped up into an absurdist blur, every bit as inventive as a Tokyo EAD Mario game where new ideas and preposterous set-pieces are thrown in as quickly as they are thrown away. It makes sense, then, that the sequel has ended up on a Nintendo platform.
I still adore Bayonetta. As sharp as a scythe and with putdowns that slam down with the sharp crack of a pistol-equipped boot, she's a phenomenal character: strong, empowered and not about to take any crap from any of the dolts that surround her. In Bayonetta 2 they're as roughly drawn as before; Enzo, Rodin, Luka and now Loki, a child with silver white cornrows and an accent that sounds like an Etonian who's spent their gap year in the West Indies, are a quartet that toe the line between vulgar caricature and parody, and you can feel Platinum playing heavily towards the latter. Bayonetta's a game that puts as much energy into sending up other games as it does into its combat, and it's an odd, frequently foul-mouthed concoction. Not every swipe lands at the target, though.
Bayonetta 2's pretty much everything you could expect from a sequel. I've played through a significant amount of the whole thing, but am only allowed to tell you about the opening third. Know this, though: the combat crackles as satisfyingly as before, the jokes fall flat just as often and the narrative that drives the whole thing, well frankly I haven't a clue what's going on. The energy, though, is remarkable.
The best game presentation I've ever witnessed? Bayonetta, no question. Bayonetta back at E3 2009.
A group of us were led into a weird portakabin setup on Sega's portion of the convention center floor. Inside we found Hideki Kamiya sat by himself below an enormous HD TV. On the table next to him was a small bottle of hand sanitiser and a 360 controller. We took our seats. The lights dimmed. The screen flickered to life. A colleague of Kamiya's came in and started to play.
Cue ten minutes of absolute carnage. Angels exploded, the sky bled crimson tears, heaven itself seemed ready to come apart. The colleague sweated at the controller; Kamiya's only contribution took the form of an occasional glance towards the screen, and then a purse-lipped nod. To himself? To us? To the wider universe, in recognition for having successfully contained such a thing as he had conceived and then created? Nobody spoke as far as I recall, and then suddenly it was all over. Kamiya smiled grimly, arms folded, and we all filed out. Blinking back into the light, a friend said to me, "Did you understand any of that?"
Nintendo's retreat from the very public PR war of the E3 press conferences turned out to be a more literal one than we might have thought. This morning in Los Angeles, the company replaced its traditional stage show first with its Nintendo Direct live stream and then by inviting press to its stand before the show floor opened to play six key Wii U titles and meet their creators.