Bayonetta: Over the top, stylish and a total blast

By NICK McCOY
Tiger Media Network

Formed in October of 2007, Platinum Games has quickly become one of the most well-known and well-regarded Japanese video game companies. Founded by famous Capcom employees Hideki Kamiya, Shinji Mikami and Atsubi Inaba, their catalog of games consists largely of over-the-top, fast-paced action games which are all ridiculous in the best possible way. These include the likes of the gory, black and white Wii title “MadWorld,” the fast-paced third-person shooter “Vanquish,” and hack and slash Metal Gear spinoff “Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance,” and easily their most well-known, “Bayonetta”. 

Described as having a core theme of “sexiness,” among other things, “Bayonetta” took the world by storm when it was released. With its over-the-top, stylish hack-and-slash gameplay, absolutely ridiculous plot, jazz soundtrack and its iconic heroine, “Bayonetta” quickly became a staple of the hack-and-slash genre. 

“Bayonetta” is the very definition of ridiculous in the best way possible. It, and its flashy lead character, provide some of the craziest moments a game has to offer, completely with an unabashedly feminine and racy presentation. Its art style and direction combined with its jazz-inspired soundtrack also make it one of the most fun and awe-inspiring games of the past generation. Topping it all off with some of the most polished, fun, and satisfying combat you’ve ever seen in a hack-and-slash title, and “Bayonetta” hits the mark for one of my new favorite games. 

Release:

  • Released for Xbox 360 and PS3 in October 2009 for Japan, and January 2010 for America and Europe. 
  • Developed by Platinum Games and Sega. 
  • Directed by Hideki Kamiya, who previously worked on Capcom’s “Devil May Cry” series. 
  • Mari Shimazaki worked as the lead artist, and drew the design for Bayonetta herself
  • Followed by “Bayonetta 2” and “Bayonetta 3”, both exclusive on Nintendo consoles. 

“Bayonetta” is primarily in the fictional European city of Vigrid, while also incorporating the realms of Paradiso (Heaven) Purgatorio (Purgatory), and Inferno (Hell, where Bayonetta derives her powers). The game follows the titular Bayonetta, a powerful witch who possesses magical and shapeshifting abilities, as well as various firearms and other weaponry. One of the last remaining members of a coven known as the Umbra witches, Bayonetta has woken up from a 500-year slumber with no memory of her past. Her quest for her lost memories sees her fighting the forces of Paradiso as well as fellow Umbra witch Jeanne. Her journey sees her discovering the fate of the Umbra Witches and their counterparts, the Lumen Sages, and the truth about two mysterious artifacts called the Eyes of the World. 

I’m going to be brutally honest here: “Bayonetta”’s story is a confusing, incoherent mess. I genuinely had no idea what was happening half the time I was playing this game. It’s told through both full-motion cutscenes and film-reel-like slideshows, but even then, it’s so convoluted I have a hard time keeping up. That’s not to say it isn’t entertaining; There were great moments scattered throughout the story, with some great humor and characters. 

These characters include the likes of the aforementioned Jeanne, whose sass and charm put her up there with Bayonetta. Others include Rodin, a demon who runs the Gates of Hell bar and provides Bayonetta with various weapons; Luka, a bumbling journalist who constantly pursues Bayonetta in search of answers; Cereza, a little girl who bears a striking resemblance to Bayonetta; And finally Enzo, an unlucky, danger-prone informant who very heavily resembles Joe Pesci. 

Easily the most stand-out character, however, is Bayonetta herself. Created by Hideki Kamiya and designed by artist Mari Shimazaki, Bayonetta is, in my honest opinion, one of the best and most iconic female protagonists in recent memory. She’s flashy, sassy, full of attitude and power, and most clearly, completely embraces her femininity. In today’s world, more and more game devs seem unwilling or afraid to create a traditionally feminine or attractive character due to some weird notion that it makes them weaker. Because of this, a character like Bayonetta who is unafraid of showing off is so refreshing. 

The term “show off” is quite key as some of the angles and shots the game presents are a bit too ridiculous even for me. Also, the fact her clothing is actually her hair, and she summons powerful attacks using said hair…I’m sure you can imagine. Still, Bayonetta is a lot more than just her looks as her provocativeness is just one aspect of her character. She has some genuine moments of compassion, anger, and just acting completely unphased in the face of ridiculous odds. She is a phenomenal character and one who shouldn’t be dismissed just because of how she looks and acts. 

“Bayonetta”’s gameplay is, quite simply, one of the best the action and hack-and-slash genres have to offer. The sheer amount of combos and techniques the player has at their disposal seems overwhelming. Kamiya took a similar approach to “Bayonetta” as he did with “Devil May Cry”, as the game features a style system, which ranks the player on their performances during battles. While DMC uses a live letter grading system, which actively grades players’ performance, “Bayonetta” grades players through different arenas (known as verses) with different trophies, which all tallies up for a final reward at the end of each level: a stone award being the lowest rank, and the platinum reward being the highest. During each level, players collect Halos, which serves as the game’s currency. They can use Halos to buy various equipment from Rodin, such as new weapons, health items and new techniques. In each level, there are also secret “Alfheim” stages, which act as optional challenges that grant different bonuses. 

The main features of the game’s combat are: 

  • Witch Time: Activated by dodging right before an enemy attack. This slows down time while Bayonetta moves at normal speed, allowing for greater combo damage
  • Wicked Weaves: Bayonetta summons a massive demon limb, dealing massive damage and hitting multiple enemies. Comes out at the end of most combos. 
  • Torture Attacks: When Bayonetta’s magic gauge is full, she can unleash a devasting attack on a singular enemy, which involves a particular torture or execution device, from iron maidens to guillotines. Players are prompted to repeatedly press a single button, with more damage and points being dealt depending on how fast the button was pressed.

While “Bayonetta” is still a pretty challenging game, it is much more forgiving with its rating system and combos than “Devil May Cry.” While the latter would actively punish you for repeating the same combos by lowering their grade, “Bayonetta” actively encourages repeat button presses, which will often result in either a rapid, high-damaging combo or a Wicked Weave attack. No matter what, much like DMC, the combat here feels so satisfying to pull off, and combined with the various weapons and guns the player has at their disposal, “Bayonetta” is a masterpiece in the hack and slash genre. 

The game’s soundtrack is another iconic aspect of “Bayonetta” and its identity. Given its heavily stylized presentation, the smooth and fast-paced jazz-inspired soundtrack, combined with more angelic and orchestral tracks, fits absolutely perfectly. Tracks like “Rides of the Light,” “The Gates of Hell,” and Bayonetta’s main theme “Mysterious Destiny” (among others) are impossible not to love. One stand-out aspect of the soundtrack is the inclusion of two distinct versions of the song “Fly Me to the Moon,” sung by Brenda Lee and Helena Noguerra. Brenda Lee’s slower original version plays during crucial moments in the story, and during the end credits. Norguerra’s version, known as the “Climax Mix” is much more energetic and fast-paced, and plays during battles in each level. The soundtrack is simply perfect for this game, and an integral part of what makes “Bayonetta,” well, “Bayonetta.”

Other highlights:

  • Diverse and really interesting enemy designs
  • Brilliant level design 
  • Plenty of replay value 

Criticisms

  • A cumbersome camera
  • Hit or miss platforming

I really can’t sing “Bayonetta”’s praises enough. Even with its confusing story and the nitpicks I just mentioned, the polished combat, amazing presentation and soundtrack, and Bayonetta herself outweigh any of the small issues I may have. Kamiya and Platinum Games truly made something special with this game, and just in terms of its unapologetically feminine and provocative aesthetic, few games can match “Bayonetta.” For anyone who is a fan of the hack-and-slash genre, “Bayonetta” is an absolute must-play.

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