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I like character action and hack-and-slash games and I’m usually not very good at them. Bayonetta is a game I missed out on when it first came out but did eventually play and beat on Wii U. It’s an action game that centers on a sexualized female protagonist who enjoys beating the shit out of Angels. Developed by PlatinumGames and published by Sega, Bayonetta was released for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in January, 2010, Wii U in October, 2014, PC in April, 2017, and Switch in February, 2018. For this review, I played the Switch version simply because it includes exclusive Nintendo-themed content like the Wii U version that came before it.
The story focuses on Bayonetta, an Umbra Witch with no memories of her past. She owns the left eye half of let’s call it a “treasure” known as the Eyes of the World. When her informant, Enzo, tells her about a rumor of the right eye, she travels to the city of Vigrid to find it. She’s frequently confronted by another Umbra Witch named Jeanne who knows of her past, she’s sought-after by a journalist named Luka, and she finds a lost child named Cereza who takes a liking to her. On her quest to locate the right eye, she is frequently attacked by Angels from the dimension known as Paradiso, the opposition being the realm of Inferno. Paradiso, Inferno, and the human world make up the Trinity of Realities. The ultimate goal of the Angels is to revive the Creator who can unite the Trinity so they can rule over the universe. Hearing myself describe all this, the plot is certainly a trip. When I first played this on Wii U, I found the story a little confusing and bizarre but creative. The voice acting is solid and I found most of the characters to be interesting. Bayonetta, herself, enjoys asserting her sexuality and she’s a no-nonsense character. She’s sexy but also badass. The overt sexualization is prevalent throughout the entire experience but it gives the game charm and an interesting personality.
Bayonetta can be categorized as a character action and/or hack and slash game. You can walk, run, jump, double jump, and Bayonetta has the ability to turn into a panther and crow. She can also Witch Walk which means walk on vertical surfaces but this only happens in certain areas. You start out with four guns but you can buy and equip different weapons which Bayonetta can wield in her hands and/or attach to her feet. You can perform punches and kicks and chain attacks together to form combos. Performing certain combinations of attacks results in Wicked Weaves where Bayonetta uses her hair as a conduit to summon the limbs of demons to inflict a lot of damage. Engaging enemies will fill up your magic gauge and when full, you can perform torture attacks where Bayonetta will summon devices to inflict good chunks of damage. Then there’s Umbran Climaxes which is when she summons demons to perform finishers. Torture Attacks and Climaxes require a lot of button mashing which does become tiring after a while. You can evade enemy attacks and performing an evade at the last possible second will activate Witch Time where time briefly slows down. As you defeat enemies, complete battles, and break objects in the world, you’ll acquire halos which act as a form of currency that can be spent on new weapons, items, techniques, accessories, and treasures in the Gates of Hell run by a demon called Rodin. If you change Bayonetta’s costume to one of the Nintendo exclusive ones, the halos will look different.
There are numerous difficulty modes, some of which need to be unlocked, and on Normal, Bayonetta can be a very challenging game. Mastering the moves and memorizing enemy attacks and their behavior is the key to success. Furthermore, you should acquire and try each weapon to see what works best for you, what weapons are better against what enemies, and what the best weapon combinations are. The game plays out in Chapters with multiple Verses per chapter. Each Verse is a battle and you’ll earn medals for them which will affect the trophy you earn at the end of the Chapter. The better you do, the more halos you earn and you’ll want those halos to buy new stuff at the Gates of Hell. The techniques you can buy are just new moves. Accessories are items that provide different effects like a brace that activates Witch Time whenever you’re attacked for example. Rodin’s Treasures are cosmetic changes and you can also spend halos on items which can also be concocted or combined from the items you’ve collected in the world to create consumables like lollipops. Different lollipops have different effects. They can grant you health, a temporary shield, and temporarily increase your attack power. If you collect enough Witch Hearts, you’ll permanently increase your vitality and collecting enough Moon Pearl fragments permanently increases your magic gauge. You’ll get to play the Angel Attack minigame in between chapters which is a great way to acquire some extra halos and, personally, I find it to be somewhat addictive. You shoot Angels for points and your score translates to halos which can be exchanged for items or added to your current halo count.
Trying to acquire platinum medals and trophies in Bayonetta can be a challenging task on Normal or the higher difficulties. Taking damage, dying, and consuming items will negatively affect your score so if you’re the type of person to chase high scores, you’ll probably find yourself playing through chapters multiple times. Some of the battles can be very fast-paced simply because the enemies you’re engaging move and attack very quickly. The camera isn’t perfect and while you can control it manually, it may position itself at an angle that’s not ideal and it can be very easy to lose focus when there’s a lot going on. It’s also easy to take damage from an enemy off-screen that you didn’t realize was there. Some encounters take place in areas with environmental hazards so you really need to be aware of your surroundings. Some of the enemies you engage are on fire and making contact with them results taking damage. You need to use specific weapons or engage them during Witch Time. If you’re one who cares about high scores, the battles are going to be trial and error. Unfortunately, there are quick time events peppered throughout the story and failures can result in death.
The Angel hierarchy is made up of different ranks or sphere ranks and there’s different sub-ranks under those. Each Angel has a different name and they all come in different appearances and sizes. Some wield weapons that they drop when they’re killed and you can pick up and use them for a limited time. You’ll encounter more challenging enemies the further you progress and you’re always going to be outnumbered. Some Angels are large and can take a lot of damage before going down and others are agile and very quick like Grace and Glory for example. They all have what I’m calling religious-sounding names like Affinity, Enchant, and Beloved to name a few. There is a good variety of enemies and they all behave differently. Bayonetta will also have to engage numerous bosses throughout her journey and most of them are massive Angels. Knowing when to evade is the real key to surviving encounters unscathed and when you have to battle multiple enemies simultaneously it can be very easy to lose focus on one or more enemies and take a hit you didn’t see coming. If you study the enemy behavior, you should be able to tell when they’re about to attack and then it just comes down to timing.
The city of Vigrid is the primary setting and each chapter will take you different areas. You’ll get to decimate Angels on the streets, on a highway, on a valkyrie, and more abstract locales. There are some neat set pieces like one chapter that has Bayonetta riding a motorcycle and another that has her riding on a missile while engaging enemies. There are breakable objects scattered around everywhere that will reveal items and/or halos when broken and you’ll come across portals to the Gates of Hell from time to time. You’ll also come across Alfheims or portals to areas where you have to complete specific challenges for a reward like defeat all of the enemies within the time limit, only defeat enemies with weaves, and other requirements along those lines. Some of these can be very challenging and will put your skills to the test. There are collectibles to find like Umbran Tears of Blood and Gold LPs and LP fragments, some of which are rewards for winning certain battles. Bringing LPs to the Gates of Hell unlocks new weapons. There’s a nice balance of combat, exploration, and platforming with the action being the primary focus.
The visual presentation does appear washed out but the character models and environments look good. At least for the time this originally came out. The game certainly looks a bit dated now. I believe the Switch version is the same as the Wii U version which I’ve read is a port of the 360 game. As you attack enemies, they’ll show visible damage, and certain attacks can split them in half which looks pretty cool. The soundtrack is full of a good variety of tunes, including a pop-sounding mix of “Fly Me to the Moon”. The sounds of strikes sound pretty good and during combat, Bayonetta will occasionally shout and the Angels will yell and make different screeching noises. On the technical side, I didn’t encounter any major issues when playing with the Switch docked or in handheld mode.
I love Bayonetta. It’s a challenging but rewarding game. Out of all the character action/hack-and-slash games I’ve played, the Bayonetta series is my favorite simply because puzzle-solving is not a major focus. The action is always at the forefront but exploration is encouraged. Furthermore, there’s depth to the combat and mastery of the mechanics is the key to surviving battles and earning the best scores. Practice will be required. Bayonetta can be a tough game but also accessible. On Normal and the higher difficulties, the game can kick your ass if you don’t know what you’re doing. On Very Easy and Easy, the combat is significantly easier and Bayonetta is automatically positioned to perform certain attacks. That’s what I read, anyway. I’ve never played it on anything lower than Normal. The action is very fast-paced and beating the shit out of Angels is a lot of fun. The quick-time events can be a bitch, the camera is far from perfect, and the forced button mashing to perform specific attacks can become tiring but, overall, the good outweighs the bad.
I would absolutely recommend Bayonetta to fans of action games. If you like games like God of War and Devil May Cry, you should give Bayonetta a shot. The only reason I played the Switch version is because of the Nintendo-themed outfits and weaves but I also own the game on Steam and would recommend either version. The game is sexy, the action is stylish, the combat is fast-paced, and the gameplay is challenging. It offers plenty of replay value, there’s depth to the combat, and high scores aren’t just given to you. They’re earned. Definitely check out Bayonetta.