Played on Windows, Xbox 360
Also Available on PlayStation 3, Nintendo Switch and Wii U.
In 2009 Platinum Games release Bayonetta, taking the stylized gameplay from Devil May Cry, amping it up to new levels, and releasing a stand out hit at the same time. They created something that deeply resonated with gaming culture for a long time both positively and negatively. I picked up it up in 2011 and played it and was blown away.
8 years after the initial release, Bayonetta was now owned by Nintendo, of all companies, and yet, Steam got a gift. The original untouched Bayonetta, back in the same form. So 8 years of progress has passed in this industry of games. Can Bayonetta still stand up?
The game starts with a falling clock tower and two women on the side of it as it tumbles around, the controllable woman in black and a second woman in red who is called “Jeanne” fight waves of enemies while a monotone godly voice reads an opening prologue. There’s no health, and the player can only button mash as the scene goes on for about three and a half minutes with no way to lose. It’s odd, insane, and without meaning, and perhaps the perfect opening for Bayonetta.
Bayonetta isn’t a traditional game, the story of Bayonetta begins as a mystery as Bayonetta’s memories have been wiped. It also doesn’t take itself seriously, the second prologue, and yes there are two, starts with a funeral. A nun stands over a casket as a second character, this time on screen, monologues about the deceased. From there Bayonetta appears during an opening scene that lasts over eight minutes. However, it’s eight minutes of the craziest action in a cutscene that I can remember.
That’s the style of Bayonetta, it is all over the top, insane, and just mind-blowing. The story is told in a very odd and unique way. But this is the one area I have a problem with the game. I’ve read the synopsis of the story, and everything that’s said is probably in the game, but a lot of it is delivered in the final chapter of the game. The story through the game is interesting and it develops a lot of the pieces of it well, but it’s like a puzzle that’s in six pieces. They all look like they belong together but you can’t fit it together.
That final chapter feels like it’s trying to connect everything through a very long monologue of expositions and while I can see the interpretation of others in it, it doesn’t really stick the landing to the complete story. If you’re looking for a story, there’s an interesting one here, however, it requires more than just one playthrough to get the full story.
Still, there are a few other oddities about the delivery of the story. There are normal cutscenes in the game and then every so often a cutscene will get an odd film look to the cutscene, not a grain necessarily but the screen zooms out and shows part of the cutscene in a film strip, only animating the part you’re supposed to watch. It’s an odd effect and I don’t exactly understand why it was done, as I don’t think it adds to the experience.
There are normal cutscenes like this
And the odd filmstrip format like this.
However what does really add to the experience is the characters. The most important character is Bayonetta, and she’s quite interesting. She’s an Umbra Witch (dark witch why dark? Who knows!) who has been asleep at the bottom of a lake for 500 years. It is stated in the game and the game just accepts it.
If Bayonetta the game is over the top, Bayonetta the character is the same in the sexuality factor. She dresses all in black but has a large cleavage window. She walks in an overly sexual motion. She starts the game with four guns, two in her hands and two on the back of her heels that she fires by kicking her legs in the air, including doing splits. She sucks on a lollipop multiple times.
The game doesn’t even try to hide the fact that Bayonetta is an oversexed character, and if someone wants to find something to hate, Bayonetta’s sexualism is going to be an easy target. The camera lingers on her at times. She will actually appear almost naked at times, usually when using a mega-attack called a “Climax”. Yeah, she has a mega-attack called a Climax. She playfully flirts with a male character she is not interested in. She does quite a few moves that are clearly more appropriate at a strip club than anywhere else.
This is a little extreme, but also fits in with the nature of the game.
But at the same time, Bayonetta is a strong female character. She almost never needs to get rescued and is never a damsel in distress. She’s able to defend herself and usually leads the charge. She’s powerful, quite a bit more powerful than almost everyone else in the game. Her attacks are wicked cool, and she has an awesome arsenal including samurai swords, giants claws, and shotguns.
I can see why someone might have concerns about sexism in the character or the game, but at the same time, the entire game has a theme of being so over the top that a normal woman wouldn’t fit in this world. Bayonetta isn’t a samurai warrior or a simple mage. She’s a witch who is fighting the forces of Heaven (Paradiso), killing them, and doing insane moves like walking on the walls, fighting giant monsters, grabbing cars and flinging them at enemies. I couldn’t imagine Princess Zelda, or Lara Croft tackling the same forces. Chell or Alyx Vance are too plain for this game, it really requires an over the top character, and Bayonetta fits the bill.
The rest of the cast is a bit small, there’s Jeanne, the mysterious witch mentioned earlier, Luka a photographer who is chasing Bayonetta to get proof she exists, Rodin an arms dealer, who provides Bayonetta weapons when she needs it, and a strange little girl named Cereza who Bayonetta feels a strange connection with. These designs are a little tamer than Bayonetta but all of them are strange and unique in their own way.
Then there are the enemies. Bayonetta’s enemies are all angel based, but they range from feather winged humanoids to giants with children’s faces, to “Kinships” that are giant ships that fire missiles at Bayonetta, but also can be used as platforms.
One of the many great enemy designs.
Each enemy is unique and every time the game starts to introduce a new enemy I get excited because it’s so much fun to see the new and unique design. I like almost all of Bayonetta, but the enemies are truly amazing because they are extremely creative. The designer who came up with them is brilliant, and just watching the enemy progression on a second or third playthrough makes it clear that it’s so well done. I still get excited to see what I’m going to fight next.
Then there’s the gameplay. Bayonetta takes its combat system from stylish fighters like Devil May Cry series. The player can attack with punches or kicks, can jump and then dodge. The dodges are a key to the series. On a near miss on a dodge, Bayonetta will activate Witch Time, which slows down the world and allows Bayonetta to deliver very powerful attacks. Witch Time is key to Bayonetta. Dodging though is overpowered even without activating Witch Time. Bayonetta gets near invincibility during dodging, as such dodging is powerful enough to stop most attacks.
Punches and Kicks are the main attacks. However, Punching and Kicks are split up between two equipped weapons. The game starts with just pistols, but you can equip two sets of weapons such as attaching claws to your feet and a samurai sword to your fists. This changes the attacks and looks of the combat, however, the base combat is similar so it’s easy to pick up. There are a total of six weapons the player will earn during the first run through of the game and a couple more are available as unlocks from finishing the game. Each weapon is well done and unique, but the Samurai Sword is easily my stand out favorite.
The combo system though is crucial in this game as most combos have major attacks at the end called “Wicked Weaves”. The player will thrust a giant magical leg or fist at the opponent which can usually hit more than one enemy due to its size and will cause much more damage than a normal attack. I absolutely adore this combat system because a successful combat feels like a major win and the enemies will usually take a lot more damage from a good combo than just button mashing. The attacks themselves feel more weighted when you get to the end of the combo as well, as there’s a slight pause to them.
Everything in this combat system is meant to be stylish and visceral. You feel great when you land that combo, but you also see it, experience it. The game is made to be graphically pleasing outside of combat, but even inside combat the game entrances the player and the experience of fighting enemies is just a joy due to all these features coming together in a perfect display of combat.
There’s also the ability to grab weapons from enemies and use them to take out others. This is a smaller aspect of the game, but it is a constant presence. A good example is where there are a pair of enemies that come out, one with flame claws and one with ice claws, and when one is defeated, Bayonetta can grab their claws and use them to kill the others, or any other enemy she chooses to. Many humanoid enemies drop weapons, so Bayonetta can choose to use them.
While everything sounds great so far, it’s time for Quick Time Events to pop up. Those “fun moments of gameplay where you’re told to a press a direction and a button or else you see your character die are here, and they are done just as poorly as almost every game that has them. I don’t remember having a ton of problems with them in my original playthrough years ago, but even with a steam controller (but not using turbo buttons) I consistently had issues with the QTEs in this game. They would pop up extremely fast, have a short window to hit them, and then disappear and a failure is usually very painful. In Bayonetta, death from a QTE only returns you to just before the QTE starts most of the time, but then what’s the point of having the QTE in the first place.
The Quick Time Events are rare, I only remember a handful and usually they came in a package with others. However, there is a battle near the end of the game that uses them extensively and failure there was very damaging, and they happened quite often. It’s a rare issue I had with the game and I can forgive it because they happened so rarely but they’re also the few times in the game where I wasn’t having an absolute blast playing it specifically because the QTEs meant I had to fail to even remember a move was coming up, or I lost that final fight because too many QTEs were lost.
The Level design also has a bit of a range. Where there are some truly inspired levels, especially the opening and final level, there’s a bit of level reuse. Most of the time this is made acceptable because there are different enemies, or different paths to take. Yet, it’s done just a touch too much and before the finale, I found myself a little disappointed in the level design. The game is so inventive in every way that anything would work, yet the level design doesn’t always have that same spark of inspiration throughout that the other features do.
The bosses are well done, though. While the level design has some repetition, every boss gets its own arena and experience. If the enemy choices are unique and impressive, the Bosses are unbelievable. There’s so much variety in them that I’m not exactly sure where they came from. There’s a two-headed dragon that appears early on and returns as an actual boss later. That might sound tame, but its body is actually an upside down head, which can speak with its leader’s voice and relay information. I’ve never seen anything like it in all my life and I absolutely adore every bosses’ design in the game.
The fights against the bosses are also well done. They are almost always multiple part battles that require practice and tactics rather than an all-out attack. Usually, a boss battle involves dodging attacks, waiting for an opening, or more likely a “Witch Time” that will allow the player a chance to attack. From there the player is just dealing with pattern recognition and timing, and that’s right where the player should be for these epic moments.
The final piece of the game is the Climax attacks mentioned earlier. Most large enemies and every boss requires a “Climax”, these make Bayonetta summon other world presences, usually in the form of a large animal to attack an enemy. They’re a lot of different ones depending on the enemy being attacked, but an early example is a dragons head which will bite and eat an enemy early on.
Giant dragon demon is only one of the many Climaxes.
Climaxes are well named, they are the culmination of the entire battle, the final moment of release where the player vanquishes a strong foe. They are some of the strangest and wildest moments I’ve seen in a video game ever. Every Climax is different, depending on the enemy defeated, and they’re all strange and bizarre but it fits in with the entire game’s theme of being just strange and bizarre.
It’s probably a bit obvious but I still enjoy Bayonetta. It’s strange and bizarre story is offset with wild and strange combat, performed by an over-sexualized character, who fights unique and different enemies, and finishes them off with extreme prejudice in the form of a Climax.
The thing is while the story’s delivery might be improved it doesn’t take away from all the other facets of the game. The gameplay shines and makes you forgive the story, and while the story may not be the strongest, the scenes that are shown are so bizarre and strange, it’s only after re-examining the game a second time that one notices the pieces that are missing.
I don’t just enjoy Bayonetta, I love it, it’s one of those games that stands out because it comes from a unique mind and develops a great game from it. While it’s not perfect, I also realize I don’t necessarily rate games based on their perfection. I rate games on enjoyment, and how much fun I think other people will have with it.
I feel like everyone should give Bayonetta a shot, but at the same time, if I have to think about it, Bayonetta isn’t perfect. Even just rating it on the fun factor alone, there’s moments where I get frustrated with it, or know it could be better. As much as I enjoy the gameplay, that story does bother me, the quick time events can be a little frustrating, and it has some minor flaws. Yet it’s near perfect in my book and as such I’m giving it a…
Final thoughts: A fantastic and unique game of a witch fighting against the forces of Heaven. It has so much style that it easily entertains people. Great gameplay, great character and enemy designs.
Stats: 20 hours played, 35/50 achievements earned.
I bought Bayonetta during a Steam Sale and would have bought it for full price.