Saying that Bayonetta is “kind of ridiculous” is an understatement. It’s kind of like saying that I am kind of into video games or kind of not into racial profiling or kind of think that the TSA isn’t doing a good job. Understatements aside, I am going to point out that it is a game wherein a gun toting witch performs a suplex on a ten story tall dragon shaped angelic host.
So ridiculous in a good way.
But it’s Bayonetta’s ridiculous game situations, combined with its great fighting mechanics, its modern gothic aesthetic, and a title character that can out diva some of the ladies at Perry’s Sunday Brunch that all come together to make the game really stand out. Also—lots and lots of delicious camp.*
Bayonetta herself may be dismissed by some as a derivative combination of the sexy witch, the sexy librarian, the sexy dominatrix, Emma Peel, and sexy whatever-you’ve-got. I will note that the game’s camera is probably one of the worst perpetrators of the male gaze I’ve seen in a long time. (A friend noted that it’s “Third Wave Male Gaze.”) Add to that the knowledge that most video game players of this particular genre are male and you have a pretty good case for the game being guilty of pandering to the worst common denominator. That is, teenage boys.
At first the game plays like most action button mashers of the early oughts. God of War, Devil May Cry, and Ninja Gaiden come to mind, although Bayonetta most resembles Devil May Cry. No surprise, considering that Shinji Mikami headed the development on both titles. Bayonetta is what happens when Shinji Mikami says to himself, “So I’ve made a game where a half devil gun toting swordsman can keep enemies aloft with bullets, surf on their bodies while simultaneously spinning and shooting automatic weapons—but now I really want to make something creative.”
What’s great about the game’s fighting mechanic is the addition of the Witch Time. Essentially it’s an active dodge that provides a bit of “bullet time” when performed at the last minute. The benefit of Witch Time is that you’ve dodged an attack, and now your enemy is essentially motionless and you have a few seconds to use whatever combination attacks you can string together for massive damage.
You can also choose to spam it, but the game recognizes that as well and doesn’t give you the benefit of the witch time, although you may still dodge attacks. The active dodge mechanic is a learned skill, and while a lot of the battles are tough, none of them feel especially “cheap” or unfair. After battles where I was defeated, I always felt that I missed a dodge opportunity or failed to recognize the timing of a telegraphed attack.
There is something to be said about the design of a game that makes me want to go back in even after it’s beaten me. And the designers also had the foresight to add frequent save points within the epic length boss battles themselves, which is an idea that is lacking in some games as of late.
Some may think that the difficulty suffers because of the frequent save points, but the game, like Devil May Cry, rates you on your performance. Using retries will send your rating through the floor. There is a difference in my gaming experiences between difficulty and frustration. Bayonetta rides the line but ends up more on the difficult side than the frustrating side for me. Your mileage may vary.
I mean, if you’re the kind of person that enjoys a game that doesn’t really take itself seriously, then definitely take a look at Bayonetta. I mean, they managed to shoehorn Space Harrier into it, music and all. I was really surprised when that happened.
What was also surprising was the ability of the game to “take it to another level.” This game does that pretty often, and when it does, sometimes it’s not just to another level. We’re talking logarithmic progression. To multiple powers of 10.
Oh, and I probably wouldn’t get away with this review without mentioning the fact that it’s also sexy. Actually, it takes it to a whole other level, that I really don’t have a name for.
* Some of you, and I think you know who you are, may enjoy Bayonetta a lot more if you think of it as a really extended Action Packed Drag Show. Or a Lesbian Action Romantic Comedy.