Bayonetta is a character action game developed by Platinum games. I love these kinds of hack and slash games, just check out my Metal Gear Rising review. Whilst that used to be my favourite Platinum title, I think this might take the cake, albeit with a less hype soundtrack.
I had played the original Bayonetta, however, I was unfortunate enough to have experienced in on the PS3, which was a suboptimal port, with even that being a bit generous. I always wanted to experience the true Bayonetta, especially being such a huge fan of the Devil May Cry series (to which this is a spiritual successor) but sadly never got round to it. So, on that console I missed out on the true experience. Then, I missed out a second time when Bayonetta 2 first launched as a Wii U exclusive. Once more I missed the true Bayonetta experience for my console preferences. Now that I finally have a Switch, I can dive in and see what I was missing all those years ago!
Dancing in the moonlight
The premise of Bayonetta is… There are witches, angels, demons, some eyes which are important somehow, a fat New Yorker who says “fuggedaboudit” all the time… Some other stuff. I honestly have no idea what is going on half the time, and not in the “their motivations don’t match up” kind of way, in a “literally, what is happening” kind of way. Would I prefer the plot to make sense to me? I don’t think so, here it takes a back seat and is apparently a means to get from one ludicrous set piece to another. This suits me just fine. As a character, Bayonetta carries herself with all the self-assured swagger that you have come to expect from a character designed by Hideki Kamiya.
Visually, you can tell this was a game released in 2014, the textures aren’t too detailed, it has a kind of fuzzy look about it sometimes too. The character models themselves all look great, with the angels and demons in particular being instantly distinct depending on which polar-end of the afterlife they come from. It is in the environments where the graphics take a hit. This hit is felt even further within the menus of the game. They all look so bland and lifeless, which is a stark contrast from the character of Bayonetta herself. They get the job done, but cutbacks in this department and reducing some of the cutscenes to a series of still images does hamper the perceived quality. I feel like these cuts were made in order to spend more time and money on the bombastic boss battles, but with Nintendo funding this themselves, it feels unfair to forgo this level of polish.
While the graphics may lack the resolution of the current generation of consoles, the action and framerate manages to stay rock solid, a clear shortcoming of the PS3 port of the original. In a game which has as many moving parts as this, this 60FPS core is nothing short of essential.
Musically, the game is far more in tune with Bayentta’s style. Fuelling battles with a jazzy soundtrack adds an air of elegance to the proceedings, fitting of the protagonist’s flirtatious nature. I remember not enjoying the music the first time around, expecting more of a balls-to-the-wall rock soundtrack. In hindsight, I like the choice, it is unconventional, but helps further differentiate Bayonetta from her male-dominated contemporaries. There is nothing quite like literally spanking a horse demon on top of a fighter jet going mach 10 to the tune of piano and brass.
Playing the field
So, is it fun? Hell yeah. Is it sometimes a little too sexy for its own good? Sure. Would I have it any other way? Absolutely not.
Playing Bayonetta 2 after Devil May Cry 5 might seem like a mistake, however, the style of games are actually very different, despite the similarities at face value. DMC5 has an expansive and rewarding combat system which rewards skilled players by looking awesome and varying their attacks. Bayonetta doesn’t reward combat variety in the same way and is much more free flowing, focusing on spectacle to deliver the thrills. It is kind of like comparing the NBA to Nickelodeon’s Slamball, one which hones in on intricacies, timing and mastery of the systems, then the other which just wants to have a laugh. That is what Bayonetta is, a bloody good laugh, even this many years on.
Like many action titles, Bayonetta 2 works off a simple control scheme, with light and heavy attacks alongside use of your fire arm. There is also a lock-on system here similar to Devil May Cry, however, the use of this is far less necessary than in that series. Bayonetta 2 can be completed without even touching this mechanic. You can throw out a cheeky taunt also, just to show how much of a badass you are, whilst also boosting your magic meter.
Bayonetta revolves around a system known as “Witch Time”, essentially slowing enemies to a crawl whilst you can move freely – to activate this, you need to dodge their attack at the last second. Thankfully, the window here is quite generous so it is never frustrating to activate and you are disincentivised from mashing the evade button with a lengthy animating which plays after 3 consecutive dodges. Pulling off this manoeuvre feels great and the slow motion effect coupled with the protagonist playfully saying “so close” is always satisfying. Perhaps best of all though, this skill is universal, you can use it on absolutely anything, including bosses. I was even shocked to find that pressing the dodge button in cutscenes, whilst never illustrated to the player activates Witch Time the second play resumes, how awesome is that?
There are other mission types to keep the adventure varied, while there isn’t as much depth to these as the regular combat, they are a fun distraction. Activities such as a shoot ‘em up section in a fighter jet, or galloping through hell on your unicorn are a good time and never outstay their welcome.
Dress to Impress
Performing all of these actions, slaying all these divine creatures will net you an obscene number of halos (which look oddly similar to the rings from Sonic) that can be spent on upgrades. These upgrades are purchased from the tacky looking store-front. Customisation here comes in a few forms – Bayonetta can be equipped with several costumes (if you so desire), but also with two charms at a time, granting unique abilities to suit you. This includes things such as a parry move or an automatic activation of Witch Time if you have enough magic meter left.
The best, and most fleshed out form of customisation comes in the form of weapons though – of which you can customise two sets that can be changed on the fly. The cool thing about Bayonetta’s character design is that she has four deadly limbs, sounds weird, but stick with me. Because of this you can equip a different set of weapons to her hands and feet, mapped with their own unique move sets – want swords in your hands but flamethrower stilettos? Go for it. This is where much of the cool customisation comes from, and being able to swap between two different loadouts mid-combo only makes you feel like more of a badass.
Going from level to level with this customisation feels great, each locale is basically a series of arenas, but I don’t need anything more from my action games – if the core is strong enough, it should be able to be held up solely on that system – Bayonetta does. There are optional battles which lie just off the beaten path and if you want to get a Platinum rank on every level, you might have to go through several times to find them all. Thankfully the combat is so fun I don’t mind diving in time after time, now I have this on the go, you better believe I’m booting this up when I’m in my next Air BnB.
These “Platinum” ranks are achieved through executing a combat encounter in a single combo, in an efficient time, with no damage. Notice how “style points” present in DMC are absent in this ranking, it makes you play surprisingly different. With the emphasis being on not taking damage, it makes each Witch Time opportunity intense, with the slowing of enemies offering respite from the otherwise hectic goings on. Achieving “Pure Platinum” does make you feel like the demon/angel slaying witch that you are, I will never be able to get this on every encounter in a level I’m sure, but it is still fun to try.
The big boys
So playing each level and combat scenario is fun, but what about the big baddies, Platinum’s secret sauce – the bosses? They are wild. The designs of these behemoths are super unique, the angels look oddly spooky with their huge faces, smooth skin and radiant colours. Whereas the demons from hell look suitably jagged, drenched in black and red tones, looking much more machine-like.
The set-pieces in Bayonetta 2 certainly strive to recapture the magic found in Metal Gear Rising, and much of the time they succeed. The boss battles are often ridiculous in scale, but never relinquishing control like you would see in a modern-day AAA title. There are so many moving parts to these battles, it is sometimes tricky to pin down what exactly is going on, but it is nevertheless an entertaining romp. The battles range from high speed train chases, facing off against a dragon on a skyscraper or literally battling in outer space, the variety here is commendable. This scale is usually a backdrop only, with Bayonetta floating in a small circular arena with all this mad stuff going on in the background, but as I mentioned, it is a feast for the eyes.
Each boss encounter is topped off with a predictably outrageous final attack whereby Bayonetta will summon a minion under her control from the underworld to absolutely obliterate your foe in a spectacular fashion. This replaces the “blade-mode” finales from Metal Gear Rising, and while mechanically they were much more involved, the sheer lunacy behind the finishing scenes in Bayonetta is equally entertaining. Whether you are summoning Madame Butterfly to pulverise your foe, or a giant toad to lick them up and swallow them whole, it is once again, a bloody good laugh.
None of these bosses will give you too much trouble on the difficulty side of things, but if these encounters don’t put a smile on your face, we probably wouldn’t be friends.
I was initially a bit weary about paying £40 for a game which is nearly 7 years old, but that anxiety was soon lifted after the first level. The replayability here comes not from more stuff to do or find, not from nebulous lists of repetitive busy-work, but just with the sheer amount of fun you can have by playing. I miss those days. I will no doubt play through Bayonetta time and time again, not because I’m trying to reach 100%, but just because I have such a dang fun time playing it – and that is a huge thumbs up from me.
The presentation might be a little rough, the graphics might be dated by today’s standards, but Bayonetta captures and distils fun into such a pure form, it is hard not to love it. If you have any kind of affinity for titles such as Devil May Cry, Ninja Gaiden and Metal Gear Rising, you owe it to yourself to give Bayonetta 2 a shot. You don’t need to have played the first one to have a good time with this either, it might help, but is by no means essential. I hope you give this one a try and join me in eagerly anticipating any details on the recently announced sequel.