Bayonetta is the kind of game that creates awkward lines of dialogue when trying to describe it to a friend, because of how crazy stupid it is. However, it takes it just far enough that you can add “awesome” to those adjectives. Here’s a sample conversation, I’ve italicised the lettering at the part where it becomes awesome: “So, Bayonetta is this witch, and her clothes are her hair and her magic, so using magic depletes her clothing. Oh, and she has guns attached to her feet so she shoots when she kicks and her hair magic can summon gigantic monsters that will actually eat the bosses she fights… Oh and she can breakdance.”
There’s several essays that could be written citing Bayonetta multiple times for examples; female representation/gender politics or east vs. west game design philosophies, but this isn’t the platform for such a dissertation. Whether or not females find the character of Bayonetta to be empowering portrayal of feminine badassery or another pandering objectification to capture the 13 year old boy demographic is academic, and for the purposes of this writing, completely secondary to the fact that it’s a totally rad game.
As much as I have a distaste for buzzwords that get thrown around the internet, “epic” definitely describes the tone of what Bayonetta attempts. The intro cutscene features some dramatic speeches that hint at sacred, or sacrilegious bloodlines, and a world with a rich tapestry of characters and impossibly byzantine storylines. That doesn’t really pan out so much, the story is so bogged down in whatever dense dialogue and uncommunicated ideas about the world that it’s hard to care about more than two characters other than Bayonetta herself. Where the story was lacking though, the action overcompensates like crazy.
With some of the pedigree behind Devil May Cry and God Hand, you might think you know what to expect from the frenetic pace of the set one vs. many battles, and you wouldn’t be far wrong. Bayonetta is limber enough to be able to use weapons strapped to her ankles, as well as whatever’s in her hands, and this breaks things into a ‘press Y for hand held attacks’ and ‘press B for feet attacks’ which more or less equate to Y = light and quick, B = strong and heavy, which make up the combo strings you’d find in an equivalent game. It’s a staple of the genre at this point, so we won’t mark it down for lacking originality. Being able to change weapons in the feet and hands slots, though, does add a lot of potential variety with which to find your favourite style. The combo-heavy nature of the combat carried over from DMC-alikes is ever present and feels slicker than any similar title I’ve played, yes, even my much venerated Ninja Gaiden Black. The other parts seem carried over from God Hand, where quick time events will have you summoning beasties which are ridiculous in scale, or responding to a sky-scraper being thrown at you by kicking it back. It’s insanity of the highest order, and it’s utterly fantastic.
Platinum have also smartly made steps to accommodate the undeniable casual market out there, by having Easy and Very Easy modes which automatically perform combos of variety whilst you simply hammer on a single button repeatedly. You might expect a derisive attitude from me, the way I’ve lamented the softening of games but the reality here is that these modes are actually surprisingly still fun, and it even offers someone more capable an opportunity to watch the ways attacks can flow into each other without having to load up YouTube. On the other hand, for those seeking a challenge, Bayonetta certainly offers that; to earn the higher ranks, you have to be quick, use a variety of combos, take as little damage as possible and use no items (which can be crafted, but that mechanic doesn’t deserve more than a passing mention). There are also some pretty fierce enemies and bosses that will take advantage of you while you’re unfamiliar with the ins and outs of the game.
Possibly my favourite thing about Bayonetta is that it makes me feel like it’s finally okay to really like Sega again. The wayward custodians of Sonic have been making progress with their tattered reputation even since they started making smart moves like buying the dudes behind the Total War franchise, but Bayonetta not only serves them by being a great game in its own right, it also contains references to Space Harrier, Outrun, and Afterburner, primarily in musical form chiming through in a remixed rendition during an appropriately styled on-rails shooting or highway section. Not to mention the fact that the games collectable currency, “halos” look suspiciously like gold rings…
Bayonetta is an exercise in awesome ridiculousity and is completely unapologetic for that. God bless it for that, too. If you have any interest in third person crazy combat action games, this is one not to miss.