Disclaimer: This article’s goal is to get you to buy a game and its sequel, but is not endorsed or sponsored by anyone who would profit off of your purchase. So if a thousand words of thinly veiled fanboy-gushing aren’t your thing you might as well close your browser and live your life without ever experiencing this modern marvel of game design.
Let’s talk about Bayonetta. Why? Well, since the sequel came out not long ago I think it’s high time you read some guy’s long and ramble-y text post about why Bayonetta is one of his favorite games off all times. The game sold okay, not great, but okay. It would be awesome if it would sell more.
All the reasons why Bayonetta is such a good game hinge on one central point: It’s fun to play. Now I realize “fun“ is not a really descriptive word, so let me clarify: Bayonetta is engaging and satisfying, more consistently than almost any other game I have ever played. Every single gameplay element comes together to form a complete and consistent picture of a game that is an absolute joy to play over and over again.
The biggest and most obvious part is the gameplay. Bayonetta comes from a team with an excellent lineage of action games, but personally I think that none of them has come close to the perfection of Bayonetta. Just look at Bayonetta’s offensive move set: there are your basic light punches and heavy kick attacks with a already intimidating amount of combos. As if that was not enough there are five other basic weapons for you to equip in either the hand or feet slot, or both.
Every weapon has their own set of combos and super attacks, some of them even have two based on whether you have them in your hands or on your feet. Additionally, you can set up two combinations of weapons and switch between them instantly, making it possibly to switch from a Katana to dual wielding shotguns in the middle of a combo! The game remains easy to pick up and accessible on the surface, but also deep and complex for everyone trying to experiment a bit with the different combinations.
Not only has the game a huge variety of weapons, the combat is beautifully choreographed and realized as well. Bayonetta’s every move has this dance-like quality to it, with intricate whirls and poses. You really feel it when you hit enemies as well. A basic combo starts with what looks like a standard juggling move that knocks your opponent in the air and ends with giant stiletto-wearing foot coming down and smashing them into the ground!
Oh, did I not mention the giant limbs that Bayonetta can summon to attack? The hands and feet that punctuate successful combos give her movies a surprising amount of reach and make handling crowds of enemies a puzzle-like challenge. Start your combo on a weak enemy just to deliver the final stomping hit on the bigger foes behind you.
The dodge ability
The most amazing and interesting part of Bayonetta’s move set is not an attack, but her dodge ability. What at first handles like a standard dodge roll reveals itself to be the focal point of most of the action in the game. You see, when you manage to dodge just before an enemy would have hit you, the so called witch-time is activated. This gives you a small window in which your opponents are slowed down while you can move at normal speed.
Since Bayonetta lacks a typical counter-attack, the witch-time mode serves as both a defensive evasive ability and an offensive counter attack. The tactical applications of witch time are manyfold: use slow but hard hitting attacks on an enemy to rack up the damage, charge an attack that would have been interrupted otherwise, hurry around a group of enemies to stagger them all, use a weak enemy to activate witch-time so you can easily beat up a stronger one, and so forth.
Even the animations, sounds and colors on the screen drive home the fact that you should use the incredible opportunity that this move brings. The combat in Bayonetta is intense, but during these moments it becomes even more frantic.
The designers knew that this power would be an important part of the gameplay, so they designed the enemies around that. Most attacks are large sweeps with huge weapons that have a clear windup animation and visual marker so you know when something is coming. The only enemy that attacks exclusively from a distance has a musical weapon that makes a clear sound whenever you have to look out for its projectile.
Of course, the real challenge is kiting multiple enemies, keeping them close enough to attack, while watching out for their attacks so you can dodge them in time. Bayonetta’s quick moves enable her to dart around the battlefield from foe to foe and her pistols have auto-lock on that allows you to locate enemies that are outside your vision. Not that you would need that too often, since the camera does a surprisingly good job at focusing on the action. All in all, the gameplay of Bayonetta is well though out, expertly realized, and feels great to use and to experiment with.
Why didn’t Bayonetta do well commercially?
You would think that having excellent gameplay would suffice in order to propel a game up the sales charts, right? Although Bayonetta is excellent, it didn’t do so well from a commercial standpoint. One of the qualities that I personally love is what might have turned off many potential buyers. I’m talking about camp.
Camp is a style that revels in the outrageous and the exaggerated. If you’re not sure what that means just take the opening scene of Bayonetta as an example. It begins with Bayonetta disguised as a nun at a funeral with a Italian stereotype comic relief character. Then angels show up, rip her clothes of in a dramatic fashion and she uses four handguns at once to beat up the angels while a j-pop cover of “Fly Me to the Moon“ plays in the background.
You might say wow, that’s dumb, but if you’re like me you appreciate the campyness of it all. The over-the-top weirdness actually becomes endearing and you end up asking yourself what wacky shenanigans will happen next. But this kind of style is a tough sell and a majority seems to prefer their fiction super serious. I mean just look at what kind of Batman we currently have.
Not everything within Bayonetta is perfect, but the core of the game is so pure and refined, so engaging and exciting to play, that once you are hooked on the game, you will overlook it’s flaws, laugh at the crazy awesome cutscenes, and try to get your stylish combos as high as possible. What Bayonetta is, more than anything, is a piece of art that would not have been possible in any other medium than video games. It is a video game that shrugs off two decades of development towards a arbitrary standard of “realism“ in order to deliver an experience that is a celebration of the joyous roots of our hobby, polished to a mirror shine.
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