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About
Derek spends his days trying to keep up with Sonic the Hedgehog, his evenings attempting to jump as high as Mario, and his nights by sneaking into the Ninja Turtles’ secret lair in the hopes of getting some special ninja training from Master Splinter.

Among other things.

Born and raised in boring ol’ Massachusetts, Derek has felt the call of fantasy from a young age. Proudly declaring that “Reality is boring!” he strives to find new and interesting fantastic worlds with an unmatched drive. He hopes that his works will one day inspire others to explore the fantastical. He welcomes anyone on board for the ride.
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I won't say I've taken a break from Super Smash Bros (one does not simply stop playing Smash) but when not playing that, I've been playing some Donkey Kong Country Returns for the Wii. My history with this game is a bit strange.

I had rented it from Gamefly shortly after it came out (back when I had Gamefly) and played it Co-op with my little brother. I had expected it to provide a similar experience to playing co-op in New Super Mario Bros., that is, a frustrating experience where you spend more time bumping into your partner than getting through the level. But by that same token, it would also provide plenty of laughs. I was wrong.

There is laughter in Donkey Kong Country.

Firstly, in Donkey Kong Country Returns, the two characters you can choose are Donkey Kong and Diddy. Diddy is the superior choice, because he has a jetpack that he can use to hover in place. Since my little brother is awful at platformers, I let him have Diddy and decided to treat the game as playing in hard mode. But it's more like “Very hard” mode.

See, Donkey Kong Country Returns, in its latter levels, was just not designed for co-op play. You don't trip over each over so much as one person makes a jump which topples the platformer they stood on. Then the Kong behind it falls to their death. Then, since my brother was horrible, he'd die shortly after, and we would get nowhere.

Thus, Donkey Kong Country Returns became branded in my house as an evil game, full of devious traps and tricky platforming segments. We got to world 5 or 6, and stopped playing the game. I hadn't picked it up until 

I started a fresh game, selected single-player, and dove in. I'm glad I did.

Like I said above, Donkey Kong Country Returns is not designed to be a co-op game. It's meant to be a single-player experience, and that's where the game really shines. Platforming segments that drove me bonkers when in co-op now become pleasurable, if occasionally controller-smashing-worthy tests of skill.

Which is shame, because having DK and Diddy hop around together is adorable.

I'm really loving this game!

Back up a bit. Donkey Kong Country Returns is a game meant to harken back to the days of classic Donkey Kong Country. I admit with reluctance that I have never played said past DKC games, so I cannot compare this one to those. But it's a 2D platformer where you control Donkey Kong as he runs to the right and collects bananas. The story, what incredibly little there is, is that there's these evil mask things with hypnosis powers. They steal Donkey Kong's banana horde using the hypnotized animals and awaken a volcano or something. However, they can't hypnotize Donkey Kong, either because he's too smart or too stupid (BAH-NAN-NAHS). So, you take control of Donkey Kong and Diddy, as they get their bananas back. That's it, and that's all there needs to be.

This game oozes personality, and it doesn't need any dialog to do it. Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong don't talk, instead relying on grunts (and in Diddy's case, squeaks) to communicate. Everything else is through their animations. A lot of detail went into these, whether it's the way Donkey Kong bangs his chest when the level begins (which Diddy adorably imitates) or the way he looks at what he collected when he completes a bonus room. It feels very much like a well-made cartoon.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

It helps that the graphics on this game are great. The cartoon effect is used wonderfully here, creating a world that is cartoony but believable in the way that you believe an animated movie. Hold this game up to things created on the PS4 or Xbone, and I really believe this game holds up. It makes me excited to see Tropical Freeze.

Playing the game is great, but I feel like it could be better. The actual platforming is quite good, with responsive and (mostly) tight controls. You control Donkey Kong as he tries to find the barrel at the end of the level, and collect things like KONG letters and puzzle pieces as you go. You can find Diddy in barrels in the level, and in single-player, he rides on DK's back, which gets you access to his jetpack.

Where the controls aren't the best is in their insistence on using motion. You shake the WiiMote to have DK pound the ground. Fine. But you can also shake the WiiMote while crouching to have him blow things like Flowers and Candles (Banana breath, durr-hurr-hurr). And, you can shake the WiiMote while moving left or right to roll, which gives you a speed boost and is imperative to getting some tough-to-reach collectibles. For the most part, this works if it's not very intuitive. But every so often, I'll be trying to pound the ground and I'll end up rolling, sometimes right off the edge. These moments are few and far between, but the controls could be tightened. I've heard this is addressed in Tropical Freeze, and I look forward to seeing how that's handled.

Overall though, Donkey Kong Country Returns is a great, challenging platformer. Some of the levels, especially the unlockable temple ones are true tests of your skill. And that's ignoring the insane time-trials (which I'm pretty sure are impossible). But yeah, great little game. I look forward to getting all the collectibles over the next week or so before Christmas. :)

 









 

Incoming positively-charged rant about Smash. Prepare yourself.

So, after much crying, sighing, deals with the devil, and so on, I managed to get myself a Gamecube adapter for Super Smash Bros for WiiU. And holy hell, this the way the game was meant to be played! The moment I picked up my wavebird, everything in Smash just started to feel right. The buttons were right where I left them, the C-Stick was where it should be, and the triggers required effort to push down like they should.

Suddenly, I could kick butt again.

Now, if people could start paying me to...

So, yeah. I kinda sorta like Smash Bros. Big surprise, right?

I had unlocked all the characters the day I got the game, because like the milestone says, the fight doesn't truly begin until you have all the characters available. I have since tried each of them, and I find myself facing a dilemna. I like too many of them. I could see myself playing as Peach, Rosalina, Marth, Zelda, Shiek, Zero Suit Samus, Lucina, Toon Link, Regular Link, Shulk, Little Mac, Robin, and OH GOD HOW I WILL HAVE THE TIME.

This game is too good and I feel overwhelmed by how good it is.

Over Turkey Day break from work, I played little else than Smash Bros the whole time. My little brother was home, also known as “STOP PLAYING AS JIGGLYPUFF” and we spent far too much time fighting each other. He's still better than me, which I doubt is something that will change any time ever, but it makes for a great training buddy. Playing Smash with him and two level-9 CPUs brings back many memories of us hiding in the basement playing Melee until the wee hours of the morning. And even if Jigglypuff is the most annoying thing ever. I MEAN SERIOUSLY COME ON.

My favorite characters in Brawl were Peach and Marth, and while Peach is still a mainstay, I have traded Marth for the completely different Lucina. I'm willing to bet that Marth is technically better if you can master tipping (using the tip of his sword to deal more damage), but I overall prefer Lucina. I like her design, and I like her from Fire Emblem: Awakening. Plus, I like the most consistent damage.

Peach has gotten some improvements since Brawl, all of which I find welcome. She feels faster, and her moves seem to launch people farther. Her Final Smash still kind of sucks, but I think it's more useful than in Brawl.

I'm still experimenting with other characters like Rosalina and Shulk. Shulk feels pretty similar to Lucina in terms of his UP+Special and his counter, but the Power of the Monado makes him stand out. I think I'm getting the hang of when to use which power, but it's still not perfect. Rosalina is very interesting, using her Luma to great effect, and I love the character ever since the original Mario Galaxy. However, I tend to play a very aggressive, in-your-face Smash, and I don't think that's where Rosalina shines. I can dance around the battlefield, but when it comes down to the final two in a stock match, I always lose. I do, however, love talking about my “Poor, innocent, defenseless Luma” when I play as her, and crying when Luma falls off the edge or otherwise dies.

It's a fat little star for crying out loud! It doesn't even know what fighting is.

Single-player Smash is actually surprisingly robust. I've heard people complain that there isn't a story mode a la Subspace Emissary, or that there isn't an Adventure Mode from Melee. While I do somewhat miss the latter (it got repetitive after a while), I don't think the lack of story really detracts from the experience. Sure, those cutscenes were gorgeous, but I don't think Smash really needs a story. It's just Nintendo characters (and more now) kicking the crap out of each other. I think that's all it needs to be. Its gameplay is good enough to work on its own.

With that said, you have several single-player modes like Events and All-Star. Both of which are fine, though some events are more annoying than fun (who thought keeping Game and Watches off a ship could be so frustrating?). Classic got an overhaul, where you can choose your fights and to an extent, your rewards. I enjoy that. Plus, you can do it Co-Op now, which I also appreciate tremendously.

I think I've gushed enough, and I could certainly go on. But, really, if you own a WiiU, I'm sure you either already own this game or plan to soon. Get back to playing it. I'll see you online.

Of course, that's when I can do so without fearing of getting an error code. I don't wanna brick my WiiU, and since I can't find any reliable information, I'm not taking a chance.

 









And shop there too.

In the past, I've spoken in favor of GameStop whenever they came up in conversation. I've always felt that, yes, they offer you very little in exchange for your used games, but I've never felt like I was forced to accept their offer. Much like haggling on a car, they can make an offer of a dollar, and I can choose whether to accept it. If I feel it's an unfair trade, I keep my game. Done and done. I also enjoy their used games, as I've mentioned before that I have an addiction to cheap games. If it's less than twenty, it's very difficult for me to say no to interesting or high-rated console games. Sure, they have some downsides, such as constantly offering me a PowerUp rewards card (now a credit card) and their used game price inflation on stuff like Xenoblade Chronicles, but I've never really had a problem with them.

And really, the game was worth 90 smackers. 

Until now.

Allow me to set the scene. I drive by a GameStop on my way home from work. As an owner of a WiiU, I obviously want Super Smash Bros for the WiiU as soon as possible. While I don't usually pre-order things, I figured that since Smash is one of the biggest WiiU releases this year, I'd make an exception. I went online to pre-order the 100 dollar bundle, with the GameCube controller and adapter. I planned on having it shipped to store, where I could pick it up on my way home once it came out. However, it seems that the bundle was not available for pre-order, but the game and adapter (the true prize) were. So, I pre-ordered both, specified the store to send them too, and sat confidently in the fact that a pre-order guaranteed me a copy of both for 48 hours after release.

The day before, I called GameStop and spoke to a clueless girl that didn't know what the GameCube adapter was (and offered me the GameStop credit card). After speaking to a coworker, she assured me that both Smash and the adapter would be in stock that day. I told her that I would not be able to pick up the game until roughly 6:45PM because of work, and she said that was fine. So, I felt confident I would get what I had ordered.

Old memes are still relevant.

I arrive at GameStop and find a line behind the counter. That's fine—I expect a line because lots of games are being released at this time, and it's Friday. A guy behind the counter, with the line still long, announces that he's going on break, and a girl takes his place. I go up to the girl, and recognize her voice as belonging the clueless girl from the phone conversation the day before. She looks up my pre-order, hands me a copy of Smash and a cardboard belt, and begins ringing me up. “Wait,” I say.

“My adapter?”

“Your what?”

I explain that I had also pre-ordered a GameCube adapter. She takes an Amiibo and asks if this is what I want. When I say no, she looks to the guy on the other counter and explains what I'm looking for. He, of course, is helping another customer while looking at me. “We don't have any more in stock?”

“The computer says we don't.”

“Then that means it got sold to someone else.”

I could've screamed.

Pictured: An appropriate amount of rage.

He proceeds to pick up a phone held together with duct-tape and starts dialing. He begins muttering to himself that he is going to “kill” whoever sold my adapter, and while helping other customers, he calls other GameStops in the area. The woman looks at me and rings up my Smash game, saying that at least she can do that. So, I pay for Smash, and then move off to the side while I wait.
I waited for twenty minutes.

Meanwhile, another guy in line says that he pre-ordered a Smash Bros bundle online, and the girl is sent to find it. I see her dig in a drawer behind the counter, push a bundle aside, and say it's not there. The other guy, still threatening to kill an employee, holding a phone to his ear, and trying to ring someone out, tells her to look in the back. She does, and emerges five minutes later, empty-handed. “The computer says we have one,” she says. “But I can't find it.”

He digs in the drawer, produces the bundle, hands it to her, and says “It's not a console bundle. It's a controller.”

“Oh.” She takes it, and then rings it up.

Now, this is just me, but GameStop prides itself on being a store for gamers, run by gamers. Shouldn't a part of Employee Training be to know what the big releases are, and what bundles are coming out!? She looked right at the bundle, said that wasn't it, and nearly sent the other guy in line home empty-handed. I couldn't believe it.

Or odd, for that matter.

So, like I said, I wait twenty minutes. Remember the guy that took his break earlier? He comes back, and the guy on the phone says that I am missing an adapter. I hear this guy say “I'll handle it” and then marches over to me. He must be the manager, but he is also younger than me and wearing a College Sweatshirt. He says that Nintendo didn't ship them enough copies to fill all pre-orders.

“But that guy said that someone must've sold it to someone else.”

“He was confused.”

“...Uh huh.”

“But I'll give you a call when more come in.”

“Great, thanks.”

I could have pushed harder, but he shifted the blame to Nintendo, not to GameStop. Any screaming would do no good. So, I left.

I realize that there are far, FAR more important things in this world than a missing GameCube adapter. I realize that having my game but not my ideal way to play it is among the Firstiest of First-World Problems. But dammit, I pre-ordered my adapter. It was guaranteed to be there. It wasn't. I got spoken to like I was an idiot, had my time wasted, dealt with some seriously unprofessional people, and had an overall terrible experience. Plus, no compensation for my time, missing pre-order, or anything was offered to me. Nothing. Just shoved out the door so they could do more selling.

If I see a charge on my card for not picking up my pre-order in 48 hours...

Pictured: Me being polite on the phone.

At best, it's embarrassing for GameStop. At worst, it's infuriating for a customer. I expected better.

I guess that was my first mistake.

I got home, and placed a call to GameStop HQ. Turns out, they have only phone lines or live chat—no email. So, I called the phone line to complain. I got told that all “representatives were assisting other customers” and “my call was very important to them.” After a half-hour of waiting, I started a live-chat that took two tries to launch. After an hour of waiting on both the phone and the live chat, and getting nowhere, I gave up.

It's honestly less about my missing adapter now and more about the sheer unprofessionalism of the whole thing. I sent an angry email to Nintendo, because at least they have an email form to fill out, and since GameStop was likely to blame them, I thought I'd strike there as well. They at least responded, and while their advice was essentially to “talk to GameStop,” at least I got somewhere with them.

This is the absolute last time I pre-order anything from GameStop. And likely the last time I shop there. Since they can't guarantee items in stock that I pre-order, there is no reason not to order from an online retailer such as Amazon. The one advantage of GameStop pre-orders, I had thought, was getting the item I wanted that day. Guess I was wrong.

And the worst part? I got a physical letter the next day from GameStop HQ. Do you know what it was? A Credit Card offer.

Fuck you, GameStop.









So, I told myself last week that I was done blogging about Bayonetta 2. It was time to move on, I said, and despite the fact that I've played little else since the game was released, surely I had said all I could on the subject. It's a brilliant game, and after all, there are only so many synonyms for brilliant on Thesaurus.com. But, as I sat down to think of something to write for this week, I could think of little else.

So, here we are. Talking about Bayonetta 2 once again. Specifically, its ranking system.

If you've never played a Platinum Games' game (and yes, this phrasing amuses me) before, firstly, shame on you, and secondly, here is how the game is structured. The games tend to have a large number of levels, and each level is divided into encounters with monsters. The name of these encounters varies from game to game (Missions in The Wonderful 101, to Verses in Bayonetta). Each encounter has a set number of enemies to defeat, whether a small legion of weaklings or a giant boss. And at the end of each encounter, you're graded on your performance based on three simple-to-understand criteria:

  1. The length and duration of your combo.

  2. The amount of time it took to defeat all enemies.

  3. The damage taken during the battle.

The amount of points you earn in each of these criteria is then scored to give you a grade for that encounter, ranging from Stone (you suck) to Pure Platinum (you rock!). At the end of the level, each encounter's score is tallied together to give you a kind of “Final grade” for the level.

Like a report card you never show your parents.

These rankings never hinder your progress in the game, and they rarely affect anything other than special unlocks. And with Platinum Games' games being unforgiving and very challenging, it's very likely that your first foray into this wonderful world of video gaming will result in low ranks.

For some people, this becomes a kind of disheartening feature, reminding them of how much they suck at video games. I'm inclined to agree with that idea. This does show that you suck at these games. But rather than get disheartened by it, I welcome the challenge. Yes, I suck at this game now. But I'll get better.

You can play through a Platinum Games' game and entirely ignore the rankings. That's fine. But if you do, you're missing out on a whole new level of challenge and gameplay. See, these games are made to be replayed multiple times. Because, by the time you get to the end of the game, you are far better at the game than you were when you started. And if you were to go back and try an earlier level, your ranking would go up. It's a tangible measure of progress, and while you may not have mastered the game, you at least can measure your improvement.

My first playthrough of the original Bayonetta resulted in many Stone rankings. But I kept at it, and managed to get those scores higher and higher. In Bayonetta 2, I've earned almost always gold and platinums, and upon clearing the story, I went back to earlier levels and raised my ranking. Now, I learn nothing less than platinum ranks, even on higher difficulties.

It just required practice.

Look, a quote in an image. How inspiring.

Too many games, I feel, are designed to empower the player. They are designed to make you feel like a badass without doing much more than just going where the game says to and doing the thing. Their systems aren't complicated, and the game never begs you to master it. There's no challenge, because the game is too concerned with making you “look cool.”

Bayonetta 2 makes you look cool. But before you can do so, you have to master its systems. It's a game that rewards practice, and makes you earn your badassery. It's a system that keeps on giving the more you put into it.

It's a type of game philosophy I can really get behind.

Did this make sense to you? :) Do you agree with this thought process, or do you like the illusion that you are good at the game? Let's talk about it! With these posts, I'm finding that my views are more and more in the minority opinion of video gamers, something I find fascinating. Let's discuss!

 









I'd like to bring up a discussion I had with one of my video gamer friends a few days back regarding the value of a video game. Specifically, what would justify the purchase of a sixty dollar full-console experience. I was talking about how I would spend sixty smackers on Bayonetta 2, Mario Kart, Smash, Super Mario 3D World, and so on. He said that he didn't feel those were full experiences, and when I asked why, he said something very interesting to me.

“They have no story.”

Ignoring the fact that Bayonetta 2 does have a story of questionable quality, I instead chose to ask, “Why does that matter?”

“Because I'd play something like Mario, finish it, and be done with it. I wouldn't be invested in what was going on—I'd just be going through the levels. Without a story, I feel like I'm getting half a game.”

I thought that was a very interesting perspective on the current state of video gaming as a whole, and one that clashed immediately with my own. Ignoring the fact that not all video game stories are created equal, and that everyone has a different opinion on what makes a “good” story, the idea that not having a story at all could make for a lesser experience seemed very strange to me. And I think it spoke to the generational differences between the two of us.

Whippersnapper! Back in my day, we had two glorious d's. And we were happy to have'em!

See, I'm 24 years old. I've been playing games since I was young enough to be terrified of Doctor Robotnik (which is a story for another blog), and my first game console was a Sega Genesis. The first game I ever completed was one of the Sonic games (I forget which, probably 2?), and those 2D platformers were the basis of my gamer ideas.

My friend, on the other hand, just turned 18. He's never owned a console that wasn't made by Sony—his earliest gamer experiences were with things like Crash Bandicoot. Sly Cooper is among his favorites, as is Jak and Daxter and, more recently, Infamous. He talks about those games the same way I talk about classic Sonic, with a nostalgic air and eye.

The games I grew up with had very little story at all. Sonic didn't do much more than run to the right and break robots. I played a lot of platformers with a similar style, and for a long time, when I thought of video games, I thought of merely going right and navigating obstacle courses. He thought of collecting things, exploring 3D environments, and most important to this discussion, stories that defined his childhood.

And that's when Master Chief bust a cap in the mean ol'alien's ass.

This blog is not about the quality of video game storytelling (after all, I think Uncharted 3's story is a load of garbage, up there with Heavy Rain and LA Noire) but rather the idea that games need to have story as a focus, as if not having one makes for an inferior product.

I bought Super Mario 3D World knowing that there would be next to no story and wanting none. I wanted Nintendo's classic polished platforming and creative level design. I got it, and do not think the game is lesser because of it. In fact, I'd rather Mario have no story than the stuff pushed in Super Mario Sunshine. My friend would feel very differently. Nintendo games actually don't appeal to him because of the lack of story. He like Kart Racing, but would rather play Modnation Racers over Mario Kart, not because it's a superior kart-racer, but because there's a story mode.

I wonder if this is becoming a trend for modern gaming. As games strive more and more to emulate Hollywood, it seems that the focus is shifting away from game challenges such as surviving and learning the system, and instead looking more at creating interactive cinematic experiences.

Because we clearly need more of this.

I personally think that's a shame, because cinematic experiences can be enjoyed in other mediums. Movies, television, and books all can accomplish the same thing, debatedly better, than a video game could. Yet, video games can do so much more.

I know that story-based video gaming has its place, certainly. I play JRPGs after all, and really enjoy things like The Walking Dead and Gone Home. But I never felt that a game was inferior for having no story. A bad story, yes (especially when that's the game's selling point), but a game like Mario does not need a story like a game like The Walking Dead does.

So, now I turn it over to you—I've rambled and meandered long enough. What do you think? Are you more like my friend, or me? I'd love to hear from you and discuss in the comments.

 









 I'm going to do my best not to type in all caps and gush here. After all, I am a writer. I am expected to remain critical at all times.

BUT OH MY GOD YOU GUYS I FOUGHT A PRIEST WITH FLAMETHROWERS STRAPPED TO MY ANKLES WHILE HE SUMMONED A GIANT ANGEL DRAGON THAT FOUGHT MY GIANT ANGEL DOG.

I am both an adult and a professional, I swear.

Yeah, I need you to reschedule that call until AFTER Power Rangers, thanks.

I've been waiting for Bayonetta 2 for what felt like a eons. A big fan of the first game, my body was beyond ready for a sequel. I loved the world of Bayonetta—I loved how stupidly over-the-top everything was, how silky smooth the combat was, and how much the game pushed me, not only to beat it, but to master it. I put probably 40 hours into the first one, and barely scratched the surface of what the game had to offer. So, needless to say, Bayonetta 2 was a day one purchase for me. I even pre-ordered it.

And got offered a Powerup Rewards Credit Card for my trouble.

I'll admit, I felt some trepidation about the sequel. I did not think it would be a bad game, but I worried that it would be too similar to the original. I worried that there would be a sense of “Did here, done that” to the game. A more refined game, but lacking a certain Je-ne-sais-quoi that made the first all the more special. The demo reinforced this fact, because while a great glimpse of the game, it did little to convince me that this was going to be more than Bayonetta 1.5.

My fears were entirely unfounded.

I have yet to finish the game (or even get very far as of this writing because real life sucks), but it's clear to me that Bayonetta 2 knew exactly what it wanted to be. A refined version of the first game, introducing subtle new ideas and taking the action to 10. It takes what I loved from the first (Combat), drops the stuff I didn't (Angel Attack) and injects plenty of life and personality into everything. With modern gaming constantly striving to appeal to everyone at once (and lose its appeal in the process), it's refreshing to have a game where simply watching the main character speak drips personality.

Seriously, watching Bayonetta in the cutscenes is a joy, purely because of how much of her character leaks through.

WINGS.

Combat is a joy. It's similar to the system in the first game, but with some refinements. Firstly, combo inputs are slightly different. Button mashing still works fine, but a few of my old combos are slightly changed. For example, you can know kick four times in a string, as opposed to three. Punch-kick-punch still gets a wicked weave, but now punch-kick-kick does (for most weapons) as well.

Speaking of weapons, the news ones I've unlocked so far (which isn't that many), feel very distinct and useful. Whereas in the first Bayonetta, I didn't use anything other than her guns and the sword, here I want to play with everything. The only weapon I can't quite figure out is the bow and arrow, but hey, we all have our favorites.

Bayonetta controls perfectly, with barely a frame rate hiccup. Her instant-dodge is still in full-force, and just as satisfying as ever to pull off. Wicked Weaves feel great as ever, and seeing Bayonetta unleash a fury of attacks in glorious 60FPS is just icing on the cake.

The fact that this isn't the standard of video gaming is both sad and pathetic.

No comment needed.

But, I think what I like most about Bayonetta 2 is how much it feels like a video game. Which is somewhat strange to type. But, many modern games seem more concerned with telling a story, or generating certain emotions from the player. Bayonetta 2 strives to challenge, amaze, and most importantly, create fun. The cool stuff you see Bayonetta do in cutscenes? You can do cooler stuff in gameplay. It's incredible.

PLUS I FOUGHT SNAKE ANGELS AT THE GATES OF HEAVEN.

I'll probably write a more thorough write-up of the game once I get further along in it. I really think Bayonetta 2 represents where modern video gaming should be going, rather than where it is. I hope that it succeeds. And, at the very least, is remembered for how brilliant it really is.