Bayonetta is surely one of the strangest gaming experiences I have had in a long while. At times, it feels like it is paving the way for the future of Action games. At others, it feels like it is desperately clinging to past conventions in some vain effort to keep the game’s awesomeness from tearing it apart at the seams. It might seem like these two conflicting forces would bring the game collapsing in on itself, but Kamiya has so lovingly crafted this title that the resultant mélange is all the more exhilarating.
Speaking purely about the combat system, Bayonetta’s is the best ever seen in a modern action game. Compared to your standard God of Wars and Ninja Gaidens, Bayonetta appears in a class all its own. The fluidity and expansiveness of the combat system is unmatched. The game offers 12 distinct weapons that can be equipped in sets of two to either the hands or feet. Additionally, the game features the much-touted next-gen feature of real-time weapon switching to change between two sets of equipped items on the fly. This seemingly minor inclusion results in a combat system that feels fully customizable to the player’s wants and needs. Feel like sporting a whip in your hand and claws on your feet? Go right ahead. Feel like living the Jedi dream? Grab yourself a lightsaber and strap some lasers on your feet. Feel like really laying the smackdown? Slap a shotgun on each appendage and go to town. Each weapon has its own combos and these are influenced by whichever weapon they are paired up with.
Of course, that’s not the only thing Kamiya got right this time around. One minor tweak has really allowed the game to become something else: You can dodge or jump out of any attack animation. Consider for a moment any other modern action game. Once you have started to execute a combo, you are essentially locked-in. You can’t stop what you are doing once you’ve started to do it, and this can often result in frustration as you get pummeled mercilessly. This is never the case with Bayonetta.
Allowing the player to dodge out of any animation adds a freedom of movement not seen in other games of this sort. Additionally, you can sustain your combos even through these dodges by the wondrous “Dodge Offset” maneuver that Platinum implemented in the game. This allows you to dodge multiple attacks without interrupting that killer combo you’ve been perfecting. On top of all this, each and every move can be charged, yielding different results depending on each weapon and the placement of the charged attack in a combo chain. All of these subtle additions have resulted in a combat system that manages to be deep, accessible, and ridiculously open-ended.
While the combat system in the game is indeed progressive and inspired, the non-combat portions of the game are less so. There are a few brief platforming challenges, each of which is fairly annoying, albeit infrequent. On top of this, there are QTEs littered throughout the game’s cutscenes, which are only irritating because they are so easy to fail and happen when you’re least expecting it. I see why Kamiya included these challenges in the game – they do keep players on their toes – but I just can’t rationalize enjoying them. This method of making “interactive” cinematics just feels so antiquated. Still, these two gripes really only matter if you are playing the game for score. You are graded after each level, and failing a QTE even once is enough to wreck your score for that level. If you are playing to experience the amount of wonder the game has on display, then neither of these minor gripes will really affect you.
I’m not really one to care much about stories in games, but Bayonetta’s story is actually quite well constructed. Bayonetta herself is an interesting character; at times presenting an image of a strong female protagonist, and at others coming across as a hyper-sexualized womanly ideal buried within Kamiya’s perverted heart. Nevertheless, the game’s exposition is presented in such a stylized, campy fashion that it’s hard to avoid falling in love with it over the course of the game. The dialogue and voice acting are handled pretty well for a game like this, and there are plenty of interesting twists and turns in the latter portion of the title.
For me, the most interesting element of the game’s story was its very Japanese outlook on Christianity. This game’s villains are all the forces of God. Bayonetta’s scorn for these Agents of Light is one of the most charming aspects of the game’s banter. The “Angels” in the game are depicted as grotesque monsters, hellbent on death and destruction. Historically, Christianity has been scorned in Japan. During the Tokugawa Shogunate, Christianity was outlawed, and it became a capital offense for the Japanese to practice the religion. The negative feelings towards perceived Christian aggressiveness that inspired this decision back in the 1600s are still latent in much of modern Japanese society. It seems apparent that the team at Platinum Games has some issues with Christianity to work through, and maybe Bayonetta was their way of doing just that.
It’s hard to talk about this game and not at least briefly touch on its attitude towards sexuality and femininity. I’ve heard various people cite Bayonetta as one of the strongest female protagonists in today’s gaming landscape, some even going so far as to call her empowering. That’s all well and good, but in my experience all the empowering Bayonetta really did was to empower me to stare at the titular character’s ass for 15+ hours. Bayonetta herself exudes sexuality at all times. Her character model was obviously the product of a whole lot of love and care, and looks stunning when wearing anything from a cheerleader uniform to nothing at all.
While this doesn’t say much about Kamiya’s vision of feminism, it does actually speak volumes about the game’s glorious art style. Whereas the graphics range from blurry and subpar to jaw dropping, the art design itself is always at the top of its game. Every boss, side character, and even minor enemy has been lovingly crafted to evoke the exact amount of awe necessary. While Bayonetta borrows heavily from many popular animes in its visual style (Hellsing and Neon Genesis Evangelion instantly come to mind), it uses the distinctive artistic embellishments of each of those fantastic series to great effect. While I can’t go into great detail for fear of spoilers, some of the later angelic persecutors are truly awe-inspiring to behold. I can’t remember the last time I was truly impressed by both the look and feel of so many different enemy encounters in one game.
In case my profuse gushing about the game didn’t make it quite clear, I loved Bayonetta. Despite having some design missteps with the QTEs and platforming challenges, the game managed to surprise me in all the right ways. On my first run through the game, I literally spent my last five hours with the game thinking that every encounter could be the final boss fight. Of course, each subsequent encounter would increase in intensity until I could hardly believe what I was playing.
During development, Kamiya and Platinum Games had thrown around the marketing term “Climax Action” to describe Bayonetta. Marketing buzzwords like this usually irritate me to no end, as they offer little insight about the game they describe. After playing through the game twice and experiencing the sheer insanity it has to offer, I can honestly think of no better descriptor for this game. In fact, I’d be inclined to bump “Climax Action” up from a silly marketing buzzword to an actual genre all to itself.
Genre: Shooter, Action
Release: January 5, 2010
Available On: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
I do tend to be a fan of action games of this ilk such as God of War and Ninja Gaiden, so Bayonetta had long been on my radar. Platinum Games’s first release, Madworld was a huge letdown, but I had high hopes that the studio formerly known as clover still had some masterpieces left in them.
Similar Titles Played:
Devil May Cry – Kill it with fire
Viewtiful Joe – Loved
Ninja Gaiden – Loved
Okami – Liked
Madworld – Meh