There is only one step from the sublime to the ridiculous.
“The following is a contributor post by the Mail Order Ninja Mage.”
When Bayonetta was originally released on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 I completely missed it. At the time there was so much drama surrounding how the PlayStation version ran poorly that I ended up avoiding it completely. Fast forward then to the Wii U era and the re-release of the original came packaged with Bayonetta 2, on a Nintendo platform no less. By this point I had heard how fantastic both titles were from general media, though the controversy around the sexuality of the main protagonist was often louder than the praise. I played the demo, enjoyed what I saw, but was so swamped with games at the time I somehow missed it again.
It wasn’t a far-fetched surprise that Nintendo announced the Bayonetta collection for the Switch; letting the popular title get a chance on a system that was much more positively received than the Wii U was a no brainer. The announcement of an extremely unlikely third title coming exclusively to the platform however certainly surprised most everyone paying attention. At this point I felt like the draw was undeniable: one of my favorite developers and publishers believed in this title so much that, despite its obvious mature themes, they chose to help publish a second entry and completely bankroll a third.
Regardless of my piquing interest, I still wasn’t completely convinced. After all there are so many games to play today within my limited gaming schedule that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to invest in a series I was two entries behind in, either in time or money. So it was somewhat surprising that I found myself passing through the electronics section in a big box retail store on business unrelated to gaming, and ended up purchasing Bayonetta 2, which also came with a digital code for a copy of the original Bayonetta. It was out of character for me, a last minute purchase on a whim outside of my typical specialty store channels, but I argued with my inner voice that it was such a good deal I couldn’t pass it up.
I’m very glad I listened to that voice.
Bayonetta is, at its core, a bombastic, over-the-top action game that isn’t afraid to show a little skin. The titular main character is a bombshell, adorned in extremely tight fitting clothes that also happen to be her hair, and she uses said hair to channel dark powers to summon huge demons from the land known as Inferno. This often leaves our protagonist nude, with small bits of remaining hair or adornments covering certain choice areas, as she channels her power.
You might be thinking to yourself at this juncture that that seems a bit odd, and you wouldn’t be wrong. It is an entirely bizarre choice and one that is uniquely Japanese in its thinking, one that has drawn no shortage of attention and controversy here in the US. I’ll address that controversy in my review of Bayonetta 2 and my feelings about it, as that entry seemed to draw the most controversy due to the time in which it was released.
Suffice to say for now that, though the idea is bizarre, this game embraces it entirely making the completely outlandish idea work somehow. The game never takes itself seriously, flirting with insane over-the-top scenes as much as Bayonetta herself flirts with the camera. Everything feels tongue in cheek, with a protagonist who owns every moment of it and strolls through the insanity with an intoxicating level of swagger. This makes the entire game come together with Platinum’s trademark fantastic combat to create something truly special in the gaming industry.
The 8-bit Review
This game was released over 7 years ago way back in 2010, so the visuals are obviously not as polished as current gen games. Many of the textures stand out on the backgrounds as flat and boring, with most of the attention being paid to the character models themselves. The game tries to get around some of its technical limitations by limiting what cutscenes play out in full motion, usually relegating mostly narrative background information to play out in static images overlayed with voice. These cut in and out as if they are moving to different frames of a line of film, typically leaving the images you can see in the different frames that aren’t in focus blurry with poor textures. In technical regards the game truly shows its age and judging from side by sides I’ve watched there doesn’t seem to be much visual improvement of the port itself, just barely noticeable touch ups to light and textures from the original Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions. The static scenes in particular are disappointing, especially when contrasted with the high octane cutscenes that take place in engine with full animation.
Luckily I don’t rest the laurels of my games on how pretty they are in a technical sense as I also feel that art direction needs to be taken into consideration, and in this regards Bayonetta mostly shines. While the environments can be grandiose and are home to some wonderful set pieces gameplay wise, they tend to be of a more Gothic or European slant. This makes sense considering the overarching narrative and feel of the game and I don’t dock it points for its mostly brown and grey, relatively boring backgrounds, mostly because they are meant to contrast directly with the amazing characters.
Bayonetta herself is a constantly moving piece of artwork, with the flourishes of her moves being impressive and flashy. When she jumps into the air twice she will temporarily manifest gorgeous butterfly wings, dazzling to the eye with deep purple flashes of color. All of her weapons have wonderful effects and are designed to look amazing as she tears through enemies, each feeling powerful in their own way. The angels you primarily fight are all fantastically designed monstrosities, the larger ones with creepy marble statue faces that contrast against pulsating dragon heads. All of the particle effects and flourish to the game is spot on and brings a polished feeling to the signature combat that is hard to ignore.
Though the game isn’t a technical wonder, it still stands as a testament to what good art design can do, especially since I can play it on my large TV and not be bothered by some poor textures. I’m simply too focused on the dazzling light show and amazing character work to be bothered much by it.
In particular I’m a fan of the design of the main character, owing not to her sexuality, but the play in colors in adding red streamers to her head, or the aforementioned small touches in her butterfly wings. They put a lot of work into making Bayonetta an instantly recognizable and likable protagonist, and it shows.
I didn’t expect a game about a sexy witch to have such fantastic music behind it, but Bayonetta’s soundtrack is fantastic. It has a wide range of music type, ranging from orchestral Gothic-sounding pieces to upbeat jazz numbers. Each piece of music works in perfect concert with the levels, with the star track being a rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon”. The song is used throughout the game during the biggest battles, or when the game wants to drive home that Bayonetta is a powerhouse. It also ties directly into the story, with characters singing it within the game itself, no small wonder since it is so fantastic.
This directly contrasts with cinematic orchestral themes with a Gothic flavor, like the composition “One of a Kind”.
In addition, the sound effects are top notch. When you land a powerful hit it sounds like something that would demolish a giant, weird, angel dragon. The voice work that is here can be a little uneven, but the main protagonist absolutely nails it. Bayonetta absolutely oozes sex appeal with every line, whether cheekily delivered or during more serious moments. There are times where some of the character’s bluster is dropped for a moment of levity, and the change in tone of voice really sells it.
There are a few spots where the audio didn’t line up perfectly with the game, but for the most part it was as much of a joy to listen to as it was to play.
The story of the world of Bayonetta certainly isn’t a masterpiece. It primarily exists to string together amazing set pieces, and give our high-heeled Umbran Witch reasons to keep wrecking shop. It never takes itself especially serious, though it does have moments of levity that feel odd in the greater context of the game. One minute you might be surfing on the back of a missile, and the next having a deep conversation about the fate of the world.
The basic premise of the game is that there are three realities intertwined that make up our existence, but overlay on top of one another. There is the world we know as humans, the demon’s home of Inferno, and the angel’s of Paradiso. Running parallel to the human world is the reality of Purgatorio, a land that humans cannot see where most all of the struggles between our protagonist and the angels take place. Though the death and destruction of their combat extends to the world of humans, mortals don’t know what is causing it. This is how the clash between two clans that defines the course of the world takes place without humans being aware.
The aforementioned clans are the Lumen Sages, who draw power from the realm of angels, and the Umbran Witches, who draw on the power of demons. These two clans were bestowed powerful artifacts called the Left and Right Eyes of the World. Each clan would protect a balance between the realities and the treasure of their people. That treatise was broken however, and the peace shattered. Bayonetta awakens to our modern world after a long slumber, with only vague memories of what came before. Without a real destiny she hunts the angels, turning their halos over to the demons of Inferno and in exchange they don’t drag her to their realm, the final resting place of all witches’ souls.
Throughout the game you’ll discover the truth of our protagonist alongside a greater world ending threat, of course, but the story never truly makes complete sense through the main campaign. Instead you’ll find optional texts throughout the game if you are really interested in why this vivacious librarian look-alike is destroying demons and what the world of Bayonetta is all about. Most of the more pertinent information is almost impossible to miss, but it is up to the player themselves to read through each one.
Personally I found this a fine way to handle the plot, as a good majority of gamers are likely just in it for the fantastic combat. This allows people who want to know more the chance to do so without bogging it down for everyone else. However, it does lead to an uneven narrative that never quite connects. I didn’t find every book, so after beating the game I went and double checked a Wiki page to make sure I understood exactly what had occurred. That is never a sign of a well-delivered plot, but for what it is I think it is the smallest piece of this overall puzzle.
Regardless of a few missteps with licensed games, Platinum is known for making phenomenal combat systems. Nowhere else is this more apparent than Bayonetta, which I dare say is nigh unmatched in its fluidity and accessible depth to its combat. The underlying system is simple enough: you have a punch, kick, and a dodge, that are your essential building blocks, each accessed via a separate button. Initially this allows for simple button mashing to complete larger combos, usually ending in a gigantic demonic fist or leg ripping through a portal to pulverize your enemy. As you progress through the game the difficulty curve slowly sharpens, making it necessary to begin to chain together combos through simple pauses and interchange between punch and kick.
As you destroy angels you will gain halos: your currency for the game. This currency can be traded in order to buy more complex moves that also happen to be amazingly flashy, a good example being a breakdance in which the guns strapped to Bayonetta’s heels fire off in every direction as she spins. These more complex moves can then be streamed into your standard combos for a nearly endless stream of possibilities within every fight. Each move is more fun to pull off than the last, and though you are graded at the end of each fight based on performance, the real impetus to succeed is the ability to look like a complete master of the game. Personally I’m not immensely good at Bayonetta, but watching some play through YouTube is like watching a master painter at work.
If the game stopped there it would already be an amazing experience, but you can also earn weapons as you progress that change every moveset you already know. You can strap weapons to both your hands and feet, though some are limited to being grasped in your hands, which instantly changes every combat scenario and the way you approach it. You can have two set ups ready at any time, and switch between them on the fly with a tap of the left trigger, adding even more complexity and depth to your combat. What all of this accomplishes is making every encounter a ballet of death, with true masters of the craft being able to feel in absolute control of the scenario. This is all without even mentioning one of the most satisfying moves in all of gaming: Witch Time.
At any time during the game you can tap the right trigger to do an extremely stylish and graceful backward flip. If you manage to pull this off seconds before a move connects with Bayonetta the game will go into Witch Time, slowing all enemies down for a few precious seconds as the screen is covered in a cool purple effect. This allows you to pull off some amazing combos on enemies, and later in the game is absolutely essential against faster enemies. Every single time you pull it off the combination of effects and gameplay combine to make it incredibly satisfying; narrowly escaping death and obliterating your opponent is always good fun.
Each successful hit and dodge you do will contribute to a meter that, when full, allows you to pull off powerful torture moves. Giant machines of death and torture appear out of the void, and in a button mashing attack Bayonetta can destroy smaller enemies in one hit. However, each time you get hit this meter will drop, which means that you have to always continue dodging, attacking enemies, and unleashing powerful attacks. This makes gameplay feel extremely fluid and open, with the amount of things you can do in combat feeling endless.
In between each combat arena there are areas you’ll do light platforming or puzzle solving to give you a break from combat, but these segments never drag long enough as to be unwelcome. Instead they can be a much welcome pause from the constant insanity of the narrative and gameplay in which you can catch your breath. Every time I thought I knew everything the game had to offer it would prove me wrong by providing a new ability or introducing a new type of puzzle to make your way through. Set pieces dot the entirety of the game bringing welcome change of paces and gameplay styles, before the standard ever gets old. It took me around twelve hours to beat the campaign mode, and I never once felt things drag.
As far as I’m concerned when it comes to action packed combat, Bayonetta is the undisputed Queen.
After each combat section you’ll receive an award for how well you’ve done, ranging from a Stone medal to a Pure Platinum medal. Various things factor into this including how many times you were hit, how high you took your combos, and how much variety you brought to your combat repertoire. Get hit a bunch and just spam one button, and you can probably expect a Stone medal afterwards. Each of these medals then factors into an overall score for that level, with each death and healing item used dropping your score. This is where replayability comes in.
I don’t really replay most games, once I’m done with the campaign I move on to the next experience. Imagine my surprise when I found myself replaying through large swaths of levels over and over in an attempt to get a better overall score. In this case there are no trophies or achievements to be earned on the Switch, instead I simply wanted the satisfaction of doing better because the game was always tempting me to do so. Combat is so fast and fluid it never feels like a chore, and as a player I found myself desperately wanting to match the powerful swagger of Bayonetta in all of her encounters, not just the cutscenes.
In addition to this there are a number of Nintendo themed costumes that were added into the original iteration and they are available from the start of the game. I’m a huge Nintendo fan and these were instantly appealing, but I wanted to beat the game on its own merits first. Afterwards I played back through a bunch of the levels with different costumes equipped, and I was pleasantly surprised these weren’t just slapped into the game. Instead Platinum took a lot of care to really embrace each character and really make those differences shine. When you open a chest or get halos as Link, rupees come out instead. When you are dressed as Peach the demonic arms and legs change into Bowser’s, complete with his voice actor’s guttural growls.
What all of this adds up to is a game that I can see myself coming back to far after I complete it, popping it into the Switch to go crazy on some bad guys or capture a screenshot of Bayonetta cosplaying as Link.
Bayonetta can be a brutal game, especially on the harder difficulty levels. It is a game that asks you to put some effort in to ensure you understand the combat system, even if like myself you can’t master every combo. Priding itself on huge boss battles and crowded combat arenas in which enemies don’t simply wait their turn, this is a game that asks you to pay complete attention. One lack of a dodge can take half of your life or better on a bigger move, even on normal, and two sub-bosses can absolutely wreck you with extreme prejudice if you get caught in a combo.
None of this is to say the game is cheap or unfair, every single time I died I knew what I could have done different. As you play the game you’ll find your skills slowly increasing as the difficulty arches gracefully upwards. Playing back through older levels becomes a treat because you will blow through threats you died on previously, always incrementally increasing your score.
In addition to the standard game there are some out of the way secret areas you can discover called Alfheim Gates. Traveling through these portals you’ll face an extremely tough challenge not for the faint of heart. These can range from not being able to use Witch Time to asking you not to touch the ground during the fight. I’m not ashamed to say I couldn’t complete them all, but it was always fun to try as you are never punished for doing so.
Even for people that aren’t great at this sort of game, I feel the challenge is manageable. You can die as many times as you want on each level and the only thing it really affects is your score. Checkpoints are gracious, even going so far as letting you continue mid-boss. If not for these exceptions to the challenge I might have gotten frustrated and quit playing, but I never felt horribly punished for dying. The scoring system allows people to play the game at their own level of comfort, with the people who truly want to master it receiving rewards for doing so, but without ever punishing the people who just want to experience the campaign.
We haven’t really seen many games like Bayonetta since the days of Devil May Cry, they truly are a dying breed. In today’s market, cinematic first person shooters and large open world action RPGs seem to run the conversation, with some types of games being relegated to yesteryear. Thank goodness then for PlatinumGames for bringing the insanity of Bayonetta to consoles.
Every single moment of Bayonetta is inundated with over-the-top action or often comically bombastic cutscenes. Our lead protagonist doesn’t just beat angels to a pulp, she will use a tombstone after lining them up to give them a group spanking with it, after of course declaring they’ve all been naughty boys. In the middle of a huge boss fight, Bayonetta drops her sucker at one point and uses her Umbran powers to slow time and leap between falling rocks to retrieve it, right before summing a gigantic dragon demon from her hair to turn that huge boss into a shower of blood.
This type of insanity takes place through the entire game with a protagonist who completely owns her sexuality and knows she is an unstoppable force of nature. The game is brash, openly mature, and constantly winks at you through the whole proceeding, reveling in its silliness. In a world filled with extremely serious games this is a breath of constant fresh air, one that may inspire eye rolling at times, but you’ll never doubt that was indeed its intended goal in that moment.
My Personal Grade: 9/10
Bayonetta has a silly over-the-top narrative, and I can’t help but love it regardless. When gameplay is this good, story doesn’t really matter as much, and this is one of the best action games I’ve ever played. Though I was originally irritated by the game’s constant overly sexual nature in regards to its lead protagonist, I eventually warmed to the character to the point that I think the game wouldn’t work without her.
There are games out there that are narrative powerhouses,with some of the best acting you’ll see in gaming. This isn’t one of those games. Instead it allows itself to rely on the fact that it is an absolute joy to control Bayonetta and to play the game. Isn’t that what we are all here for in the end?
Bayonetta is all about just having fun, and I love it for that.
Aggregated Score: 8.9
The Mail Order Ninja Mage loves video games across every console: an assassin of fanboy nonsense. He also really loves martial arts and pizza, though that is of no consequence here. To read more of his random word soup, or to view daily(ish) photo mode screenshots from his favorite games, visit him at Home Button.
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Categories: Game Review