Bust a cap in yo’ ass!
Back in 2010, when Bayonetta first released, I was only vaguely aware of its existence. Sure, I had seen reviews and a trailer or two for it but I never bothered to actually play it. It apparently sold a decent amount of copies for a new IP but there was still a lot of doubt about whether it would ever receive a sequel. And then lo and behold Nintendo (of all companies) came along and helped Platinum Games make a sequel. Not only did Nintendo fund Bayonetta 2 but it will also publish the upcoming Bayonetta 3. I figured that if Nintendo believes in Bayonetta then maybe it was high time I did too. I can say that, having now played the first game, I wholeheartedly regret not starting this series sooner.
Bayonetta is a third-person action game starring the titular Bayonetta who is a badass witch. She is searching for a stone named the “Left Eye” to complete a set called “The Eyes of the World.” These stones, when combined, can control the very fabric of reality so they, as one might expect, are very desirable and also fashionable. Bayonetta has amnesia (because of course she does) so she doesn’t remember exactly why she’s searching for the stone. She discovers why (mostly) as the story progresses. The story kind of veers off course several times especially when it involves a young child named Cereza and, by the time it ended, I found it to be inconclusive.
As you go through the story, you learn that there once were two secret orders who kept the balance in the world: the Umbran Witches and Lumen Sages. You also learn that there are three realities as well: Paradiso, Inferno, and the Human World. There is also Purgatorio, a parallel reality to the Human World, but that is neither here nor there. A conflict between the Witches and the Sages led to the demise of both orders and now Bayonetta seems to be the only witch left in existence (or is she?). I tell you all this because the greatest flaw of the story is that it repeats these facts over and over again throughout the course of the game. It doesn’t explain the young child very well, Bayonetta’s role, the main villain, the enemies, or why everything happened the way it did. It just tells you about the Witches and Sages over and over again. It got a little old, to be honest.
Having said that, the characters and the action set pieces are all fantastic. Bayonetta in particular is great. Fair warning though, she is hyper-sexualized (I know that may put some off the game) but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the game. I think it added to the overall aesthetic and humor. The characters and writing liberally reference other games and media throughout Bayonetta’s adventure and it makes for a fun time. In addition, the utter ridiculousness of what happens onscreen would be unbelievable if I were to describe it all here. Sure, there are serious moments throughout the story but it doesn’t take long for the absurdity to come rolling back in. There were moments when I was too busy staring slack-jawed (or laughing uproariously) at what was happening that I missed several QTEs that popped up in the middle of a scene (that’s one of my complaints for the combat but it’s really all my fault). It’s a story that doesn’t take itself seriously so I’m not too upset by the fact it doesn’t make much sense.
And now we come to the star of the show: the combat. As I said before, Bayonetta is an action game and it was directed by Hideki Kamiya (who directed the first Devil May Cry) at Platinum Games. From this information you should already know that the combat is going to be great. It is fast and frenetic while being easy to learn yet hard to master. There are only a handful of buttons that are used during combat which can be strung into combos. What I like most about the combo system is that the combos aren’t listed in a large compendium in a menu somewhere. They are mostly all available from the beginning of the game (you can purchase a few of them from the in-game store in the bar The Gates of Hell) and you learn them by simply pressing buttons in combat. It’s a trial and error approach and I appreciated that because I don’t like looking at long lists of different combos. The combos can be practiced during loading screens but (since I played this on my Nintendo Switch) the loading screens weren’t very long so there wasn’t much time to try out the different combos. I would sometimes get only one button press in before the next section loaded. It’s a nice feature but it really is a relic of another age since consoles can load this game so quickly now.
Now, after a combo is entered correctly, it triggers a special attack called a Wicked Weave. This is an attack that uses Bayonetta’s hair (yes, you read that right) for a powerful blow against an opponent. In addition, with each successful attack and combo, Bayonetta receives magic points which fill up a gauge. Once the gauge is full, Bayonetta can unleash what are known as torture attacks. These are attacks that need to be powered up (usually by pressing a single button multiple times) and they deal massive damage to opponents. I’m just going to tell you know that these attacks are, how should I put this, unique in their own special way. You’ll just have to believe me on this one. In addition to all this, there is a mechanic called Witch Time which will be your best friend throughout the game. Witch Time triggers when Bayonetta dodges at the last possible second during an enemy’s attack. When used correctly, it slows down time and gives Bayonetta the opportunity to unleash deadly combos on her lethargic enemies. As I’ve said, Witch Time will be your best friend while playing.
If you are really good with the combat (which I’m not, I suck so much at action games) there are portals spread throughout the Bayonetta’s levels that lead to the Alfheim. Alfheim are areas with enemies that you must defeat within a certain time limit under certain conditions. As an example, there was Alfheim I came across that disabled Witch Time which was a big disappointment to me (remember, it’s your friend). I suck so much at action combat systems that I didn’t complete a single Alfheim challenge. There are people who are very good at this type of combat so I’m glad they included these challenges for them to enjoy to their heart’s content.
While we’re on the subject of me sucking at action combat, I must admit that, halfway through the game, I turned the difficulty from Normal to Easy. Let me just tell you that there was a huge difference in difficulty between Normal and Easy. I found out a few stages later that the reason was that, when you turn the difficulty down, the game automatically equips an accessory called the Immortal Marionette. This item allows you to press any button and the game will generate combos without regard for timing or the actual buttons being pressed. You can just hammer away at any buttons you like and Bayonetta will use several different combos. This made the game way too easy for my tastes so I unequipped it. Even without the marionette equipped, Bayonetta was still piece of cake while the difficulty was set to Easy.
Before we move on, I must address the driving levels. There are a few sprinkled throughout the game and these are the easiest levels by far. They are kind of bland, to be honest. They were a nice break from the fighting but they were so simple that they really didn’t add anything to the overall experience. Even on Normal difficulty, I think I received a Platinum rating for one driving level which was rare for me. I wish Platinum Games could have made these levels a little more engaging.
After the combat, the soundtrack has to be the best feature of the game hands-down. If you don’t believe me, then you should take yourself on over to YouTube and look up “Fly Me to the Moon” from the Bayonetta OST or “Let’s Dance Boys!” I am confident that these two tracks will convince you of my bold assertion. Whenever there was a scene with a serious tone, I would always know when the seriousness was coming to an end when the music started creeping in. It never failed to put a big smile on my face.
Indeed, after finishing Bayonetta, I do deeply regret the fact that I didn’t play it sooner. The combat, soundtrack, and the absurd, over-the-top nature of the game make for a really compelling experience. There are a few problems though: a huge gap in difficulty between Easy and Normal, the story does get lost in the trees sometimes, and the driving levels come off as uninspired when compared with the action combat. Despite this, the good far outweighs the bad and I for one can’t wait to play Bayonetta 2 and even Bayonetta 3 when it comes out. I highly recommend Bayonetta to anyone who hasn’t already experienced this one-of-a-kind game.
Final Score: 8/10
- Fast, frenetic combat that is easy to learn, hard to master
- Great soundtrack
- Level of absurdity is off the charts
- Story is muddy and inconclusive
- Too great a gap between difficulty levels
- Driving levels are uninspired
Thanks for reading and I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving week!