Making a Case for Bayonetta
In early 2010, Sega published Bayonetta. The game, developed by Platinum Games and designed by Hideki Kamiya, was an over-the-top action game featuring a witch who strongly resembles Sarah Palin (see comparison below). I looked at some of the preview coverage, but quickly wrote the game off as something that was geared towards a Japanese audience (mostly due to the bat-shit craziness of the story/cut scenes). A year passed, and I completely forgot this game existed. Then, one day I was catching up on some old Rebel FM episodes and IGN‘s Arthur Gies talked extensively about how great Bayonetta is. Gies’ statement about how the “witch-time” mechanic in Bayonetta is the best version of Max Payne’s “bullet-time” in any video game piqued my interest, and I decided to check it out at EB Games. After buying the game for fifteen dollars and playing through the game 3 times, I can firmly state that Bayonetta is one of the best action games out there. If you wrote it off like I did, I strongly urge you to give it a chance.
I can’t remember where I heard the discussion, but I recall hearing about how a certain sub-genre of 3rd-person action games should be created, named “all-out-action games.” Falling into this category would be the Devil May Cry series, the Ninja Gaiden series, Dante’s Inferno and even the God of War games. Bayonetta definitely fits the “all-out-action game” tag, but falls more into the “juggling” (think Devil May Cry) category than the “defend and counter” school of game design (Ninja Gaiden).
Bayonetta fits the “all-out action game” bill because of its deep combat and weapons systems. Players can equip guns to Bayonetta’s hands and feet, which allows for some awesome animations of the character shooting with all four appendages at once. One can also map sword/club type weapons to the Y and B buttons, and there are tons to choose from. Add the ability to switch between 2 different weapon sets at any time in the game and you have an incredibly rich combat system. You can button-mash your way through the game on the easier difficulty settings (especially the one-button “automatic” mode), but the harder difficulty settings allow for some intense give-and-take combat. You will have to play through the game more than once to be able to buy all the weapons in Bayonetta, but putting in the hard work is well worth it when you can finally use the monstrous weapon you’ve had your eye on.
Old Dogs, New Tricks
Bullet-time is a videogame mechanic that has been beaten to death ever since Rockstar Games released Max Payne back in the PlayStation 2/Xbox years. At first it was a really novel aspect of gameplay, but it became tiresome quickly when every game implemented its own version. For those that don’t know, bullet-time in Max Payne allowed you to “slow down time” for your enemies, essentially freezing them and allowing you a few seconds of respite from being shot at (and allowing you to kill a bunch of enemies quickly). In Bayonetta, the mechanic works a bit differently. Pulling the R trigger causes Bayonetta to dodge, and if you dodge at the last second before being hit by an enemy, Witch Time is triggered.
Triggering Witch Time with a dodge is an interesting way to implement the mechanic. Instead of being able to hit a button and enter slow motion at any time, it’s only available through utilizing a key aspect of combat. This small change to the bullet-time formula (in Max Payne you could trigger bullet-time at any time, provided your meter was full) makes it feel more reactionary and less cheap. Later in the game, the player can buy an upgrade that activates bullet-time when the player is hit, which is quite useful, and can be a huge help to players that can’t get the dodge mechanic down.
Witch-Time is full of style: the world turns slightly purple, the sound slows down, and you can rain bloody death down on your almost-frozen enemies. My favourite thing to do was to trigger witch-time, launch 4 or 5 guys into the air and then jump up after and beat them all to oblivion with a glowing whip, all well 30 feet above the ground. It really does make you feel extremely powerful, and I can see why Arthur Gies loved it so much.
Bizarre and Preposterous
I always thought the insanity of Bayonetta’s world would be a big turn-off, but I found myself really enjoying the crazy aspects of the game. I think the reason why such utter bizarreness works is because Platinum Games embraced the game for what it is. It’s supposed to be crazy. The main character is supposed to be over-the-top sexy. The plot is supposed to be preposterous. If you go into Bayonetta expecting a serious story, you will be disappointed. If you embrace the strange and bizarre, you just may find yourself loving this game.
To sum up why I thought Bayonetta was such a great game, I’ll give an example of an option the game gives the player. At any point, if the player holds the right and left bumpers, Bayonetta breaks into a stripper-esque dance. There’s no purpose to dancing, it doesn’t regenerate your health or kill enemies. It’s simply there to look cool, and if you hold the bumpers down, Bayonetta will dance on an infinite loop. This is just a small example of what makes the game original in a sea of Devil May Cry wannabes, it’s different, it’s crazy, and it knows it.
If you want to see some of the craziness that is Bayonetta, check out this video with commentary by the game’s lead designer, Hideki Kamiya: