Bayonetta is a stylish hard action game or as the Japanese commercials called it, a Non-stop Climax Action game. It was developed by Platinum Games and Published by Sega on the PS3 and Xbox 360 back in 2009/2010, on Wii U in 2014, and in 2017 on Steam for PC. I first played the game when it came out on X360, but this is a review of the Wii U version.
Bayonetta is a bit much. That’s kind of the theme of the game. Everything about it is over the top. From the story, to the enemy designs, to Bayonetta herself. Everything about the game has that extra layer of detail that makes you wonder if they went overboard with it, and they did! Some might even say it’s gaudy, but that’s what gives the game its unique flavor.
Bayonetta not only dresses in a skintight, backless, leather outfit with a cleavage window, it’s actually made of her hair, which is magical, and she can summon giant demons through it. Bayonetta doesn’t just shoot guns, she also uses them for melee attacks, and has 2 more she uses as heels in her shoes, which she can also shoot and use in her kicks. Bayonetta doesn’t just walk, she sashays like a runway model. When she pulls a lever, she hangs off it like a stripper. When she fights Jeanne in a cutscene, it looks like she’s doing the tango. Everything about her has something ridiculous, sexy, or fourth wall breaking.
Bayonetta is an Umbra Witch who was sealed inside a casket at the bottom of a lake for 480 years. The game never says 480, but at the time of the game, it has been 500 years since she was sealed away and 20 years since she woke up. Bayonetta has amnesia and can’t remember anything about the Umbra Witches, but she knows she is a Witch and remembers how to fight like one. At some point after waking up, she hooked up with Rodin, who gave her the name, Bayonetta. Now she works as a nun and helps a Joe Pesci caricature called Enzo with funerals. Or something like that. It seems more like they use dead people as bait for angels.
The story of the game has Bayonetta looking for Father Balder, who is the last Lumen Sage, CEO of Ithavoll Group, is working with the angels, and looks like Walter Mercado X David Bowie. Basically, Balder has the Right Eye and Bayonetta has the Left Eye of Jubileus. The angels want to get Bayonetta so they can combine the eyes and resurrect Jubileus, who is basically Shiva. I think the story is alright, but nothing amazing. I don’t think it’s very well told in the game. It comes off like they try to make the story sound more mysterious than it actually is. I think the animated movie, Bayonetta: Bloody Fate, does a much better job of telling the story.
The story takes place in the fictional city of Vigrid. This city looks like it was inspired by Barcelona Spain. The architecture and ornaments look like they were inspired by the art of Antoni Gaudi, who was an architect who used the style of Catalan Modernism and designed “La Sagrada Familia”, a huge church in Barcelona. I think it’s very fitting that this style is used for the city of Vigrid, since it meshes perfectly with the rest of the game. Everything about Catalan Modernism is full of details layered upon details, just like everything in Bayonetta.
The design of Bayonetta’s enemies, the angels, also follows this same kind of style. The angels aren’t cute little cherubs, like Pit from Kid Icarus. The angels here are humanoid doves with golden knight armor that looks like it was made from an 18th century train, upside down statue heads with wings, and other grotesque takes on classic angelic imagery.
Bayonetta plays similarly to games like Devil May Cry and the 3D Ninja Gaiden games. Its combat is focused on doing big combos. The main thing that sets Bayonetta apart is the Witch Time mechanic. Witch Time is a time slowing effect that is triggered when you dodge an enemy attack at the last second. When Witch Time is activated, everything slows down, except for Bayonetta, allowing her to attack enemies without worrying about taking damage. Another thing that’s unique to Bayonetta’s combat are the torture attacks. When you fill up your magic meter, you can press the punch and kick buttons together to perform a torture attack on an enemy. When you do one of these attacks, Bayonetta will put an enemy into a witch torture device and deal a lot of damage. These devices actually are based on real devices that were used to torture witches. Bayonetta also has a Wicked Weave finishing move for all the bosses. During these Wicked Weave moves, Bayonetta will summon a demon through her hair, forming a giant hair monster that deals the finishing blow to a boss. It’s kind of like a hair demon fatality.
I think Bayonetta’s controls work well for the most part, but there’s one thing that bugs me about them, the target button is on R and dodge is on ZR and you can’t remap the buttons. There are some moves which have easier inputs when you are locked onto an enemy and you can’t use R + B to dodge while in the air, both of which are pretty helpful. I found myself playing with my index finger on R and my middle finger on ZR. It’s not exactly a Monster Hunter claw, but it’s not the most comfortable way to hold a controller. In Bayonetta 2, they moved the lock-on button to ZL and even though the Wii U version came in the same box, it was not changed to match the updated controls.
Another thing I don’t like is the stages that have Bayonetta riding a vehicle or something. There’s a stage in which you fight a boss while on a surfboard, one where you ride a motorcycle down a highway, and one where you ride on a rocket through the night sky. I’m pretty sure these are references to Shinobi, Hang-On, and Space Harrier, since the game is full of Sega and Capcom game references. The motorcycle stage isn’t too bad, it’s just too long and controls like a bad 90s arcade game. Same thing with the rocket stage, except the rocket gameplay is not very good at all and there aren’t enough checkpoints in it. I didn’t like the surfing boss, because the camera angles were bad and the game gave me GamePad prompts for the Wicked Weave when I was using the Pro Controller.
The game also has QTEs. There aren’t that many, but they caught me off guard, even though I had played the game before. QTEs were all the rage at the time the game was made. Maybe they were a Shenmue reference.
New to the Wii U version is the touch screen controls. Playing with the touch controls is similar to playing on Easy and Very Easy difficulty in that you do auto combos. You can just tap on enemies and Bayonetta will do all kinds of stuff . Using touch controls is not the same as playing on easy, though. The game’s difficulty won’t change just because you’re using them. This control method might be alright on Very Easy and Easy, but I don’t think I could make it through Normal with them. You just don’t have enough control over your moves, which you really need in the later half of the game.
Also exclusive to the Wii U version are the Nintendo costumes. There are Link, Samus, Peach, and Daisy costumes. Each costume comes with special sound effects and even some graphical changes to the game. The Link costume turns Bayonetta’s sword into the Master Sword and changes all the halos into rupees, the Peach and Daisy costumes turn Halos into Mario coins and change some Wicked Weave attacks into Bowser attacks, and the Samus costume gets an arm cannon with sounds from Metroid instead of a gun. I feel like Samus got the least amount of love here, as usual.
Bayonetta is a modern day classic. I think people will look back at it in the future as one of the best games its generation. It’s not that it’s very innovative or anything, it’s an evolution of some of Kamiya’s earlier games, like Devil May Cry and Okami. It’s more about the influence that the game has had. Bayonetta set the tone for what Platinum was about as a company. It’s unabashedly over the top in every aspect, it’s proud of its gaming roots, and relishes in being a video game. It’s far from perfect, but absolutely worth playing.