Welcome to part 11 of a brand new mega list for CelJaded’s Top 100 Best Video Games. This eleventh post features entry #9 – Bayonetta.
Be sure to read the introduction that I put together beforehand too as it gives a more detailed introduction on what I’m trying to achieve here as well as a few other random musings that you may find insightful.
If you’re looking for another post in this same series then consider visiting the associated index which includes a readout of all published entries and the posts in which they appear.
“Oh my… That was bloody amazing.”
#9 – Bayonetta
Principal Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U | Developer: Platinum Games | Publisher: Sega, Nintendo | Genre: Action, Adventure | Year: 2009
It was on a late December night in 2009 where, at the cusp of a new decade, I wandered through a supermarket with a few minutes to kill and upon picking up the latest Edge magazine from a rack, I was happy to see Platinum Games’ new action game Bayonetta featured in the reviews section.
After thumbing through to those fateful few pages I stood in abject surprise, staring motionless at the perfect 10/10 review score at the tail end of the feature. This was unexpected to say the least. Longtime Japanese video game magazine Famitsu was the next to follow by awarding the game a perfect 40/40 score; a mighty fine recommendation if ever there was one.
Honestly though, I remember thinking that Edge was being overly liberal with their perfect review scores at the time; something that their glowing Fable II write-up the year before highlighted better than any. Nevertheless, it was settled; I would have to try Bayonetta for myself and see if the overwhelming praise for this curious new title was indeed justified.
Despite the hype, I remained sceptical. Sega had not released a major multi-platform hit in years and I had my concerns that Bayonetta may turn out to be just another entry into the rapidly expanding clique of Devil May Cry knockoffs.
Fortunately, I could not have been more wrong.
Players take control of Bayonetta herself; an ancient witch of incredible supernatural power and the leading pawn in a global scheme to resurrect Jubileus, the Creator; a Goddess that will unify reality and allow the forces of Paradiso to rule all creation.
Whilst the basic synopsis is clear enough, the story on offer here is a purposefully jumbled mess that’s really not worth the time needed to understand it. All the setup you really need here is that angels from heaven are the enemy and self-confessed ‘bad girl’ Bayonetta seeks to kick their self-righteous asses back into the afterlife they came from.
Although Bayonetta follows the typical action-adventure formula, there is nothing typical about the way it presents that formula. The winning element at play here is a free form combat system that allows you to link a dizzying array of combination blows together quite effortlessly. In addition to dual wielding handheld firearms, Bayonetta can equip another set of guns to her legs which alters your kick animation every time you choose to perform one during a standard combo.
Key to getting good at the game (and enjoying it to its fullest potential) is the mastery of ‘Witch Time.’ No different from the bullet time that was made popular by Max Payne, Witch Time is activated by dodging an enemy’s attack moments before it connects. If successful, the screen drowns in a purple glow and the action around Bayonetta slows down for a few seconds granting the player an opportunity to deal heavy damage without the threat of retaliation.
Activating this slow motion effect is not only crucial to your attack, but it’s also rather addictive as the ass-kicking you can unleash on your foes is spectacular once mastered. Other mechanics include a parrying system (achieved in a similar way to Street Fighter III of all things), hilarious dominatrix style ‘torture’ moves and gravity-defying fights on top of rotating structures.
The variety in offensive capability is outstanding and the function to instantly switch between preset weapon duos makes for great tactical diversity in combat. What helps this further is the originality of each weapon you can collect over the course of the game. From the devastating missile launcher tonfas to the ensnaring demon whip and the rapid fire machine gun nunchakus to the ‘Pillow Talk’ lightsaber, Bayonetta’s arsenal is as unique and deadly as she is.
Much like Lara Croft before her, Bayonetta attracts plenty of deserved criticism for her sexualised design and suggestive routines in-game. There’s no denying it, Bayonetta is a game brimming with excess and that includes plenty of cheeky innuendos and sexually-charged camera angles to witness whilst playing.
Bayonetta’s costume is made of arcane fibres that weave into screen-shattering melee attacks and awesome counters, with each one revealing more flesh than you’d think possible for a video game.
This lack of good taste is a genuine shame because Bayonetta as a character can often be quite likeable.
Wonderfully voiced by Hellena Taylor, the Umbran Witch is a carefree and somewhat arrogant warrioress with no patience for tears and a fondness for lollipops.
She can be brash and sometimes rude, but Bayonetta still values friendship above all else; such is the lonely fate of an immortal being like herself.
Whether it’s the character or the game itself however, Bayonetta is always full of energy and it’s my favourite element of this unique title.
Put simply: there is never a dull moment in this game.
Selecting your save file and browsing the shop for upgrades is the closest this game gets to being static. From the opening cutscene to the final battle, this game is just “on” all the time and it never really lets up.
Levels are not drawn-out affairs, they are short, punchy and punctuated with marvellous set pieces. A European town drowning in lava sets the stage for a spot of angel surfing, a runaway tram cuts loose in one area to catch you out and everything about the missile-riding tribute to Space Harrier (with an Afterburner remix blasting over the speakers) is sheer wonderful chaos from the get-go.
Loading screens allow the player to practice combos in an empty area (with a list of attack commands adorning the right side of the screen), fun shooting gallery bonus stages play after each level and even the end credits sequence has you battling enemies whilst the developers’ names scroll in front of you! Only when the game is complete and the credits have ended does the action finally cease and what glorious fun it all is whilst it lasts.
It’s often described as a hard game, but I’ll refute those claims vehemently. Granted, this is a hard game if you care about high scores, as earning enough points, acting quickly and not dying are key to success in that regard and as someone who has achieved ‘pure platinum’ trophies on every boss fight, I’ll tell you it’s very tricky! But for those just trying to reach the end and have fun doing so, then Bayonetta is only as hard as you want it to be.
There are numerous items you can concoct which confer bonuses such as damage immunity, extra attack power and health restoration. Using these items will tank your score, but the advantage you’ll gain over your enemies is huge. Learning to effectively intuit attack patterns and dodge accordingly is a difficult process, but it’s a very accessible process all the same and the ‘witches brew’ items only support that further. There is no other “hardcore” 3D action game more accessible than this one and that’s a statement I will stand behind.
If Bayonetta does have failings then they manifest in slightly more subtle ways. The bonus ‘Alfheim portal’ challenges are far too well hidden (which necessitates the use of a guide), the scoring system is easily exploitable and the addition of annoying QTE segments during cutscenes is quite frankly unforgivable.
One thing has stuck with me about Bayonetta though. I looked up at my shelf of Xbox 360 games the one year (a shelf which is now empty by the way) and noticed Bayonetta sitting next to the likes of Mass Effect 2, Halo Wars and Fallout 3 among others. I noticed that Bayonetta was the only game on that shelf (consisting of well over a dozen titles) that didn’t feature any downloadable content. I was reading a magazine interview shortly after and sure enough this point came up with the game’s designer Hideki Kamiya.
He said that everything his team sought to produce for Bayonetta is found on the game disc. There are no expansions, no add-ons and no piecemeal DLC chicanery; this is the game that his team envisioned in its truest form. In an industry now buckling under the amount of season passes, pre-orders and incentivized money-grabbing on the part of major publishers, Bayonetta, and from what I’m told Bayonetta 2, are titles that stand alone in terms of offering the game you should rightly expect out of the box.
Upon finishing Bayonetta for the first time I felt overwhelmingly saddened, not because it was over, but because I knew I would not play as good a game for a very long time thereafter.
Bayonetta‘s instant status as a classic was well earned; it’s a sorely needed flash of style for the genre, a masterclass in fluid combat design and the kind of enjoyable game that Tomonobu Itagaki only wishes he could make.
Elegant, effortless and essential.
Bayonetta is one game that has truly got it all.