In the first few minutes of Bayonetta, you shoot shotguns strapped to your high heels, fight angels on a destroyed clock tower falling from heaven, and suplex a two headed dragon.
The Xbox 360/PS3 generation could be categorized by brown, gritty games trying to be realistic by emulating Hollywood movies. Platinum games would have none of that and kept on releasing games with premises that fly in the face of common sense, their finest of which being Bayonettta, a game about a glasses donning, rave dancing, angel hunting witch. The game has both style and substance where it counts with an amazing art direction, fantastic sound design and one of the finest combat systems ever devised in video games. Bayonetta wasn’t just one of the best games of last the generation, but one of the best games of all time.
From the moment you press start Bayonetta sets you up for the surreal and seduces the senses. You’re not entirely sure how to play, but just controlling Bayonetta and leading her into a dance of bullets amongst attacking angels is enchanting. Colors flash across the screen in a dazzling display of sparkles and blood of defeated angles. Its beautiful chaos all backed by the sweetest jazz pop you’ll find in video games. After first impressions you’re still not sure what’s going on but the game’s confident presentation and bouncy attitude entices you to keep playing.
And the rest of the game does not disappoint. Every fight is engaging with carefully chosen enemy combinations, never throwing too much at a time and leaving you hungry for more. Set piece after set piece is unrepentant in its lunacy. Just describing some of the scenes in the game sounds like a fever dream. Playing catch with a tomahawk missile, Bayonetta starting a motorcycle with her middle finger, if the developers thought of something cool or something that would just get a smile they’d put it in. Bayonetta simply raves in the fact that it’s a videogame.
While great all throughout your first run, Bayonetta gets even better with every additional play through thanks to its finely crafted combat. The combo system is so responsive and open ended that each session just begs for experimentation. Bayonetta quad wields, able to equip weapons on her arms and legs with plenty of them to mix and match. How about pistols on your arms and shotguns on your legs? Too simple? How about giant flame claws and rocket launchers equipped to your legs! While the combos require the same button sequences the attacks of each weapon are very different and affect enemies in many different ways. Take the whip for example, a weapon that lets you attack from afar and allows you to either pull enemies toward you to reel yourself in towards them; a feature that other companies would boast about and make an entire game out of, yet it’s just humbly tucked away in Bayonetta along with other fun stuff just waiting to be discovered. Every time you come back there’s potential for a whole new combat experience. The more you experiment the more the game keeps rewarding you for it.
Speaking of rewards, the game ranks your performance, starting from stone rank and progressing from bronze to silver to gold to platinum with the highest rank being the elusive pure platinum. It’s not enough to complete Bayonetta, you gotta do it in style and that’s where the real game begins. Getting a pure platinum requires fancy combos and pulling them off without getting a single hit. The game constantly encourages you to go for pure platinum ranks on every check point, stage and eventually the entire game. Let that sink in, beat the entire game without getting a single hit. The crazy thing is, it’s not only possible but even fun to attempt.
While Bayonetta’s offense is vast and open ended her defense is elegantly simple, just press a button to dodge enemy attacks. Avoid attacks at just the right moment and you’re rewarded with Witch Time, a state where your enemies are locked in slow motion and Bayonetta as a few fleeting seconds to punish them for foolishly trying to attack. No need to be bogged down with blocking, just be attentive, dodge and you’re right back into stylish combos. Not only that, but the game actively helps you to stay out of harm’s way. All enemy attacks are easily visible with telegraphed animations, flashing lights and distinctive sound effects, you can be sure that an attack is coming your way. Later on you learn one more defensive maneuver, a parry similar to parrying in Street Fighter III. Just tap the stick towards an attack or even a projectile and deflect it like nothing. It’s trickier to pull off, but even more satisfying to get consistently allowing Bayonetta to counter attack without even breaking her stride. It’s just one more bit of quiet brilliance designed into the game.
Yet for all the systems in place the game trusts the player to take the initiative and discover its secrets. It never explicitly tells you anything and that’s the beauty and the best part of Bayonetta. Anything cool that happens outside of cutscenes happens, because you did it, you explored the combat system and emerged a creative combat badass. Not because of any quick time event showing you that you were but you’re a badass because you’ve juggled angles into the stratosphere, slammed giants into a wall with you stilettos, parried a boss’s giant fist to make him look stupid and beat and gotten pure platinum ranks because you wanted the challenge.
Every aspect of Bayonetta, from the sound to visuals to gameplay mechanics, has been carefully designed to work together in harmony. Yet Bayonetta ends up being one of the best games of all time not only because of its set pieces and art design, but because it empowers the player through their own actions and ingenuity. Who knew earning pure platinum ranks would be so satisfying.
Of course there’s also this…
– Sullivan O. Bradley