Not all games try to introduce a new mascot for their system or even their developer. Most games settle with a protagonist who does just enough to engage with the world around them and feel fun to play in the meantime. Developers can’t compete with the Sonics or Super Marios that litter the video game market, but there are some developers out there that try their hardest to create a new face for 21st century gaming. Capcom had their Dante from Devil May Cry, Naughty Dog gave us the witty Nathan Drake, but the guys from PlatinumGames gave us Bayonetta, a sexy, sassy witch who manages to nail the femme fatale aesthetic and, at the same time, give us two outstanding games that demand your attention.
Bayonetta made her first appearance back in 2009 in the era of the PS3 and Xbox 360, later porting to Nintendo’s ‘commercial failure’, Wii U, and now it makes its way onto their continually successful hybrid, Switch, alongside her sequel, Bayonetta 2. If you haven’t heard of or played Bayonetta before, it’s hard to grasp story-wise. Bayonetta is a witch with extraordinary powers, such as slowing down time (or Witch Time) and the ability to summon powerful monsters using her long hair. Bayonetta is an Umbra witch on the hunt for special jewels called ‘The Eyes of the World’ which together maintain the balance of light and darkness, or in this case, heaven and hell. The infernal Umbra witches have been at war with the heavenly Lumen Sages for millennia, but with these special treasures, balance can be restored to the fictional town of Vigrid. The plot is an interesting take on heaven and hell or good and evil as roles reverse, heavenly angels are portrayed as demonic beasts with halos, and with every newly introduced monster comes a sort of entry to the bible animation. Sadly though, it’s nonsensical and forgettable. Bayonetta is a cracking character, for sure, her wittiness and sarcasm match perfectly with her striking sex appeal and her co-cast is zany, such as the Joe Pesci-like Enzo, the soft-spoken bad boy Rodin and the love-struck weirdo Luka all providing comic relief and story progression, but the plot itself hardly ever makes any more sense than heaven and hell fighting over two gemstones.
Bayonetta shines as one of PlatinumGames’ best action games ever created. She can string combos together using her unique fighting skills that mix up punches and kicks with sexy moves, such as swinging around an axe like a pole dancer. Combos are created with mixing the punch and kick buttons, with every successful combo ending with a huge summoned fist or foot, and every one of them looks flashy and stylish. Bayonetta has her own set of firearms too, not only a set in her hands, but a set are attached to her shoes too which allows her to litter her enemies with a hail of bullets at a single button press. The simple controls are not to be taken for granted, though, as enemies need to be studied; their attacks can be dodged, and dodging at the last second activates the Witch Time ability which not only slows down time to make fighting multiple enemies more manageable, but it enhances your attack power too. Successfully defeating your enemies fills up a magic gauge which, when filled, allows you to use torture attacks that has Bayonetta manifest old torture devices, like the fearsome iron maiden or guillotine, to kill enemies in one singular attack. The combat is fast paced and serves as the crux of the game, which shows considering how deep it is.
Enemies are nicely varied and beautifully designed. The so-called ‘Angels of Paradiso’ are all clad in gold and white armour and have a statuesque face or multiple faces but take on many forms. Regular grunt types sometimes armed with weapons such as axes, flails and maces that Bayonetta can wield herself just deepens that already impressive combat system. Enemies can get smaller with flying variants or larger with huge dragon-like bosses. The boss fights are by far the star of the show in Bayonetta, often taking place in spectacular arenas like in the opening scene that has Bayonetta and her rival, Jeanne, kicking the hell out of many enemies atop a clock face that is hurtling towards the ground. It’s a superb opener and serves as a great introduction to the rest of the battles that take place; fighting a three-headed Dragon is another clear highlight.
Upgrades are available between levels or a distinct red portal within them in the form of The Gates of Hell, Rodin’s otherworldly bar where drinks aren’t the only thing on sale. Rodin offers weapon upgrades, trinkets that give Bayonetta an assortment of advantages and recovery consumables that appropriately take the form of lollipops, but if you don’t have the halos (in-game currency found in defeated enemies), you are able to craft them whilst playing.
Skip forward to 2014 and Nintendo manage to secure a publishing deal with the sequel, therefore, making Bayonetta’s second outing a Wii U exclusive; great for Wii U owners but bad for fans of the original title. Although Bayonetta 2 received huge praise in all publications (including the one you’re reading right now), the game didn’t really hit off thanks to the diminishing sales of the console it was exclusively for. A re-release was inevitable on Nintendo’s saving grace hybrid.
Bayonetta 2 improved a few things over the original release, such as tighter controls and an expanded repertoire of fighting skills, but the game played pretty much like its predecessor, which was by no means a bad thing. This time though, battles were wilder and much more mind blowing. The story was a little more focused and grounded too with Bayonetta now looking for fellow Umbra witch Jeanne’s soul which was lost after a failed demon summoning. The cast was all here and just as wacky as before, but thanks to a significant graphical upgrade, they were a lot more enjoyable to watch. Fights occur in weird but spectacular locations, such as the back of a jet fighter plane and the inside of a gigantic manta ray creature; it’s silly, sure, but it’s amazing to watch and jaw dropping to play.
With Bayonetta 2 being a Wii U exclusive, Nintendo had to put their own little touch somewhere, and that was in the form of Nintendo-themed costumes for Bayonetta to wear. Super Metroid’s Samus, the Legend of Zelda’s Link and Princess Peach are a few on offer here, each with their own special abilities which I won’t spoil. The first game now has these too.
Bayonetta 2 gave us Tag Climax mode which is a co-op affair allowing two players to fight enemies through revisited levels. It’s fun but chaotic as either player can activate Witch Time. On the Wii U, this was online only, but thanks to the Switch’s detachable Joy-cons, it can now be played locally.
Both games play better on the Switch than on any other platform, and the slight graphical upgrades given by the increased horsepower is impressive too. What really shines is the consistent 60 frames per second frame-rate that never dips, even in the most action0-heavy spots, and who wouldn’t want to play two of the best action games around on a handheld?
Platforms: Wii U, Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 16th February 2018