Developer: Platinum Games
Format: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Release Date: 2009 (JPN), 2010 (EU&NA) 2017 (PC)
Possibly one of Platinum Game’s most renowned titles before the release of Nier Automata, Bayonetta is a vastly eccentric game that took the ‘hack n slash’ genre to a whole new level when it was released back in 2009. With a balletic combat mechanic, a quirky protagonist and a playful soundtrack it exuded a spectacular personality that was unique and memorable, and its fighting template is still used to this day by the developers. Similarities are instantly drawn to Devil May Cry in its style, and these conclusions aren’t completely unjustified as Platinum Games was once part of Capcom, so the influence was almost inevitable.
Bayonetta follows the titular character 20 years after she awakes from a 500-year slumber in an unfamiliar world, and with no recollection of where she came from and a strange amulet as her only clue, she naturally goes in search for answers. Armed with her incredible witch powers she must battle against the forces of light – the Lumen Sages – as she embarks on a quest to uncover the truth of her origins. Most of the game is based in the small European inspired town of Vigrid, but before long Bayonetta traverses in-between the realm of light and dark called Purgatorio, which uses Vigrid as a stage where its citizens are oblivious to her presence but allows her to fight the Lumen Sages, and traverse to the realm of light itself, Paradiso. Initially it could be easy to mistake this game for being guilty of following the typical light versus dark trope that has become a common feature in most forms of other medium, but further involvement reveals that this game is certainly more than it seems. Bayonetta is an Umbra Witch, whose clan are followers of the darkness and are closely associated with Inferno, which is where the witch’s powers originate. Her journey confronts her with many variations of Lumen Sages including the games apparent antagonist, Jeanne, who seems to be the only source of information for the protagonist to get the answers she’s been longing for. It’s rare to see not only in video games, but in other forms of entertainment, the protagonist whose motives despite being on the force of darkness, are more genuine than those of the forces of light.This game’s combat system is paramount, and even today there’s not many games that have matched the deadly grace. Bayonetta dances around the screen around her enemies, hitting with a precise yet weighty force. Her attire is solely consistent of her hair, of which she uses in her witch powers to summon demonic beings from Inferno for excellently, and sometimes amusingly, choreographed finishing moves. Enormous stilettos weave from her hair after a well strung combo, punishing any that may be in their way, and demonic beings are summoned from a void to wreak havoc upon the angels. QTE’s – or Climax as this game likes to label it – are featured in this game, with the reward for successfully completing them being a bonus of halos (the in-game currency). They never really feel obstructing or unfair and in interacting with the scenes this way further enhances the feeling of obliteration.
Bayonetta’s guns have become somewhat of an iconic feature and not without good reason, two pairs of handguns are fired from all four limbs, and with special moves allowing her to breakdance whilst firing in all directions, which are particularly useful against hordes of weaker enemies, further proves the game’s bizarre and charming nature. Successful hits against enemies without receiving any damage yourself generates power within the magic meter which, once filled, allows for a comical torture attack that annihilates the health bar of even the strongest of foes. Get hit however, and then the meter drops considerably. It’s a terrific way of rewarding flawless play and encourages an aggressive yet steady approach to combat. The most satisfying feature however, is the Witch Time. After a perfectly timed dodge, time is slowed to almost a complete halt for the enemies around Bayonetta, allowing her to lay into her enemies for a brief period before the chaotic battle resumes.
Reading the animation of the enemies is key for a victorious conclusion, and for a game that has fighting as its core mechanic, it is crucial that the delicate balance between projecting just the right amount of information without giving too much away but also giving you a subtle insight as to what’s about to happen is conveyed seamlessly, and Platinum Games have executed that trait flawlessly. When an enemy is about to strike, a distinctive sound is played and a shimmer of the blade sheens across the screen, a sure prompt that danger is incoming. The action is slow enough to allow a reaction, but not so slow to distinguish the sense of danger. As you ascend the angel hierarchy and the opponents start to get bigger and tougher, the delicate balance of the combat remains spectacularly, despite some bosses being the size of skyscrapers. Moments such as these are usually segmented into set-pieces which vary in the distinct types of strategy that is required to overcome the towering foes. The goal is typically the same – destroy all the clearly branded vulnerable spots until the enemy’s weak enough for the finishing move. It’s the variety of ways the game makes you do these however that makes it stay fresh and thrilling. No two bosses are fought in the same way, giving them personality and individuality of their own.There’s a certain arcade element in Bayonetta that’s not so surprising from the ex-Capcom team. Every level is segregated into different verses, of which a different medal is rewarded, with a stone medal being the lowest achievement one can get and pure platinum being the highest. Time taken to complete a verse, the combo you chained together, items used and damage taken all contribute to what type of medal is earned, and at the end of every level all the rewards are collaborated to give you an overall medal for that stage. Some verses are hidden and aren’t necessarily along the narrative path however, and finding them requires going back via a convenient chapter select menu and seeking them out. Not all the hidden versus are of the same nature either, some are found by going into hidden portals which lead into the realms of Paradiso, and these require that you complete certain challenges within a time limit to earn an award. Said challenges require certain strategies such as only using a certain type of attack – such as only using witch attacks – to dispatch the enemies or to chain a combo whilst airborne.
Bayonetta’s arsenal of weaponries is vast, and each one has a unique set of skills to accompany the vanilla moves that are defaulted to the protagonist, which all have their advantages and disadvantages against distinct types of enemies. Most of the weapons are unlocked after fully completing certain stages, as some verses reward a golden LP record of which you can exchange with Rodin, who is a bartender, weapons specialist and proprietor to the gates of hell who sells you weapons, techniques, costumes and items in exchange for the valuable halos that are earned in several ways throughout the stages.
There are plenty of reasons to revisit Vigrid, and even after completing the core game, hard mode is unlocked where enemies from the latter stages of the game appear a lot sooner and in greater numbers. For those brave enough (or mad) infinite climax mode unlocks after the impetuously difficult hard mode which ups the ante even more so, and completely removes the all valuable witch time and other related techniques that can be acquired from Ronin throughout the game. There are easier difficulties for players that are more inclined to explore the game’s narrative rather than set themselves a rigorous challenge. Easy and Very Easy reduces enemy count and allows for the protagonist to fight automatically, with limited input required from the player. Naturally, these modes offer very little in return in the interest of rewards and unlocks, but it’s a considerate approach to cater for everyone’s skill level.Bayonetta’s eccentric nature resonates throughout the game, resulting in one of the most distinctive and idiosyncratic protagonists. The cutscenes are well composed which emanates a Project Diva vibe as she light-heartedly dances around to the frolicsome soundtrack whilst defeating hordes of the Lumen Sage’s angels with a unified elegance. Graphically this game isn’t spectacular, but it’s plain and featureless textures, particularly in the urban environments, do little to dampen the experience because it excels in so many other areas, that it’s easy to look past the minor issue. The revolutionary combat mechanic perfectly captivates Bayonetta’s personality and, with the numerous reasons to go back through Vigrid in search for new weapons, brands this game a timeless classic.