Bayonetta (2009, 360)

By William Shakesman / May 17, 2017

Bayonetta is the king of the stylish action genre for a reason. It works on every level, from truly terrible play with someone who doesn't understand the basics up to master level play. It is an excellent game and the combat is some of the absolute best in the genre if not THE best. Not enough can be said about what a true delight Bayonetta's combat is.
   A majority of the game involves running around fairly linear paths, having the path close off, and having to defeat enemies to progress. Nothing too special. Fortunately, though, the combat is absolute gold. Bayonetta has all of the moves Dante had back in Devil May Cry, like jumping, melee, and shooting attacks, among a few unique traits as well. For example, holding down the punch or kick button lets Bayonetta use the guns strapped to her hands and feet. Rotating the analog stick and pressing the attack button lets Bayonetta go into an odd shooting sequence where players blast enemies with repeated gunfire. The most interesting inclusion to combat, and generally the most profitable, is Witch Time. By dodging enemy attacks at the very last second, Bayonetta can slow down time and attack enemies for extra damage and points. But these skills are the tip of the iceberg, and once more abilities are added to Bayonetta's arsenal the game shifts into overdrive. It just never stops.

   Unlike in DMC and GoW, there is no "Devil Trigger/Rage" mode in this game. Instead, magic is used for Torture Attacks, which are powerful (sometimes 1-hit-KO) attacks that vary per enemy; you can continuously push the marked button to get extra Halos (Halos being the game's currency, used to buy healing items, accessories and techniques, amongst other things). Magic is also used for special abilities from techniques or accessories.
   The enemies start off simple, not unlike Devil May Cry, but they slowly grow in size and stature. New weapons from fallen enemies change up the combat considerably, especially when switching items on the fly. The bosses are absolutely tremendous, some of the best ever seen in the genre. Leviathan angels and monstrous demons appear and dynamically change the way the boss fight plays out. If taking out a monster over a pit of lava isn't big enough for you, try attacking a beast while in a free-falling stone temple. Yeah, Bayonetta doesn't skip on the showmanship, resulting in an absolutely unforgettable rollercoaster ride of an action game.
   The familiarities to Devil May Cry don't end there. Bayonetta can rack up points with stylish and diverse combat, while also earning medals throughout depending on time, defense, and combat style (as in another Kamiya title, Viewtiful Joe). Bayonetta can also earn Halos to spend on new weapons and skills, or find hidden items to trade for more powerful stats. Aside from the combat, things can slow down considerably, especially when solving simple puzzles or avoiding environmental hazards. The combat still takes serious precedence in Bayonetta and the fact that it's so powerfully satisfying makes the minor problems disappear almost entirely. One minor issue is the lack of any serious penalty for dying. The worst that happens is a point deduction, but fans of the genre will push their skills to their limits. If you're aiming for high scores and awards (and unlockable difficulty settings), Bayonetta is definitely challenging. However, if you're after a simple run-through of the story, the game can feel a bit forgiving.
   To mix things up, Bayonetta's most original feature is its dodging system. In order to defeat enemies easier and avoid hazardous obstacles, you must master the right trigger. You have to pull the trigger just before you are about to take damage, and you will go into Witch Time. This is a slow-motion segment that allows you to attack your enemies with little to no chance of them hitting you. It's highly useful, and also comes into play in puzzle situations, so it doesn't feel just like a gimmicky mechanic and actually feels like a fleshed out feature in the game.
   Enemy variety however becomes an issue. The game tends to repeat bosses way too much, and without the added thrill of seeing them and defeating them like you get when you face them originally, it just feels like you are treading old ground. The people behind this game have created some of the most iconic videogame monsters in history; there is no reason they couldn't have been a bit more inventive with their enemy design.
   On the bright side, the sometimes repetitive scene development is broken up with vehicular segments that are high-octane and thrilling. These require a ton of skill to beat on the more difficult modes and yield pretty awesome moments. However, they go on for too long and lose a bit of their impact. It would have made more sense to pepper these segments over the game a bit more evenly instead of just having a few long ones.
   That said, some of these level gimmicks are absolute garbage. I detested DMC4's awful campaign and at least Bayonetta levels are straightforward. Just then you get hit with a big fat boss with like six QTE segments who spends half the fight underwater and then a really terrible Space Harrier minigame that lasts about 30 minutes. And then finding all the collectibles practically requires a guide. (You have to shoot all the benches in the area. You have to backtrack all the way to the start of the level after beating the last fight before finishing the mission and the bonus will magically appear.) Most players however won't notice these problems because they only grate on repeat plays.
   There are times this makes me nostalgic for Transformers: Devastation, which was nearly but not quite as good as Bayonetta at combat, but at least the levels were straightforward and the gimmicks not so awful.
   Still, this is an absolute must-play if you love stylish action at all. It was a perfect antidote to the disappointment of DMC4 when it first came out and is STILL the champ of the genre today.