Stylized Action has never been so sexy
By Corey Dirrig
Warning: Bayonetta is a Mature title for the Wii U, showing somewhat suggestive scenes and depictions of sexuality and violence. Player discretion is advised. On with the review.
Bayonetta is a new franchise to those who have only stuck with Nintendo throughout their gaming careers. Bayonetta 2 is here and with that, Nintendo is offering the first game as well, free of charge with the purchase of that game (if you live in the United States that is). Causing quite a ruckus with fans across the internet, fans should be excited because they are lucky that this game even exists. The normally family-friendly company is going all out for promotion for the series, even getting PlayBoy involved in advertising efforts for our favorite heroine. This port of Bayonetta, originally on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, is actually the definitive edition of the game as Platinum Games has refined the controls while including Nintendo-centric costumes and assets. Though not quite as good as the spectacular sequel, fans should be pleased at the efforts Platinum has made with this first game.
It is important to note that Bayonetta is a mature title in the truest of forms, I just wanted to reiterate that because publishing this sort of game is not a typical move for Nintendo. This is a title packed with innuendo and sexual suggestibility. Now there are two arguments to Platinum’s heroine’s depiction. One side is that she is over-sexualized in a way that will sell copies of games and depict women in a bad light. On the other hand, Bayonetta uses her sexuality to depict a strong, confident, powerful woman. In my opinion, Bayonetta is the latter. Playing through the story and seeing what she is up against and how she handles being who she is depicts the strongest of women can be. Now don’t get me wrong, there are some cringe-worthy and juvenile scenes, but for the most part, her essence of power and beauty is what makes her a compelling character.
Bayonetta takes all of what we expect from stylish action games and throws it out the window. There really isn’t anything else like it. The titular character herself is a witch that fights and kills angels to survive, though these angels aren’t the ones you learn about in church, but rather a militaristic force set out to fight off the witches. When you throw in human characters, multiple time loops and realities, along with this continual run of biblical battles between Umbran Witches and the Sages, you get something that is truly stellar, even if some of it does seem over the top. Despite its potential to be confusing and difficult to follow, the storytelling actually works quite well for what it is.
There’s a lot packed into this game, as it is a mixture of the classic stylized action game with the nuances of today’s titles, offering an intense single player campaign that will take roughly ten to twelve hours to complete depending on how well you adjust to the combat. The extra levels and bosses will add a lot more to that experience. The campaign itself shows that Platinum was devoted to giving players big, open spaces and giant bosses that fill the screen. It’s a visual treat and runs great on the platform.
The game controls well, even on the GamePad. The movement feels very tight and precise, feeling very at home on the obtuse controller. Of course if you have a Wii U Pro Controller though, that is the ideal way to play. There are dozens of different combo attacks that can be performed with the right mix of button presses and timing. As you progress, you are able to buy more advanced techniques from Rodin, Bayonetta’s trusty friend. In between each level, the loading screen acts as a training ground for you to hone in on your skills and combos. Complete with a handy onscreen move list, this feature is invaluable for learning the differences between the many different combos and finding the ones that work best for you, and you can even turn it into a full-fledged practice mode at the touch of a button. Even with this helpful mode though, the combat is so advanced, it can be tricky to grasp all that the combat system has to offer. If combos and an aggressively hard game isn’t your cup of tea, there are easy modes to perform these combos and get through the game with ease. But for those clamoring for a challenge, Bayonetta does not disappoint. Even on the normal difficulty, the smallest of minion angels can prove to be fatal, and there are two harder levels to unlock for the most hardcore players to tackle. But what makes the combat so fun and exciting is the mechanic called Witch Time. Witch Time is the ability to slow down time just before an enemy strikes, gaining an advantage over your foe. It feels so rewarding when pulling it off, being able to counter at the right moment. The feeling of accomplishment grows once you find and learn the combos that feel good for your own play style.
There is a pretty in-depth upgrade system to Bayonetta as well. You can beaf up your abilities with various accessories, mix collectibles to form other key items and customize Bayonetta to become increasingly powerful. This is particularly fun, because unlike other games, you can’t really see everything in one playthrough. Different fighting styles are optimized through different upgrade paths. But perhaps the most important and interesting customization choices are in the selection of weapons beyond her main guns. These new weapons can be assigned to Bayonetta’s feet and hands in any mix you see fit, and fundamentally change the combat, allowing those that commit to mastering the mechanics to experiment until they find a combination that fits their style.
These elements all make this a thrilling combat system. Visual indicators on screen are important in holding the set-pieces together, keeping some level of accessibility to accompany the impressive range of attack options. At its best the action is truly breathtaking, and with Climax battle-ending moves against boss enemies there’s a suitably cinematic quality as Bayonetta summons enormous beasts to finish off said boss. And by the way, she does all of this with her hair. Her hair is what holds everything, including covering her body, together. Much like in The Wonderful 101 you’ll be asked to regularly mash a button as rapidly as possible in quick-time events like these, but it fits well with the high-speed action. All of what makes this so great also makes the game frustratingly difficult at times, whether it be getting the combos down or fighting hoards of enemies, but that’s what keeps me going in a game like this.
That brings us to a new feature exclusive to the Wii U port touch screen controls. It is basically the one button mode from the previous versions, giving players an easy, or in some cases, the disabled gamer, a way to play through without getting frustrated and follow the story. It’s functional, as you use a combination of touch and hold, swiping and tapping to run, dodge and attack, but suffers from the lack of responsiveness that it seems to require. The Wii U GamePad, as great as it is, doesn’t have the responsiveness of a tablet or even the 3DS for that matter. It doesn’t harm the game by it’s inclusion, but it’s just a shame the screen isn’t more responsive to the mechanics. The other major additions for this port, which have been high profile, are costumes that are available right from the start. They are glorified cosplays for Bayonetta to wear, as costumes of Princess Peach, Daisy, Link and Samus Aran are all available. What makes them fun are their accompanied with fun attributes, as the Mushroom Kingdom themed outfits replace combo-closing power strikes with Bowser’s limbs, the Link costume enables a timed block using a mini Hyrule Shield, and the Samus Aran armor has an arm cannon. While minor changes they nevertheless add an extra dynamic, and give extra motivation to play through again and again with the different outfits.
The Wii U version of Bayonetta is by far the definitive edition, as it has a higher quality frame rate, smoother animations in combat, and some fun Nintendo themed outfits. Bayonetta is a strong character that I instantly fell in love with, not because of her obvious over-sexuality, but because of her wit, charm, and charisma. The worlds Platinum has built to play in are a remarkable feat, and the combat rivals the very best in the genre. I recommend Bayonetta to all who haven’t played it, and those who have? Get it again on Wii U. The North American version of Bayonetta 2 comes with the first entry, so make sure to add Platinum Games’ stylized heroine to your shelf.