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The Greatest Games Ever– Bayonetta

Posted by nfinit on January 10, 2010

I wanted to finish my first playthrough of Bayonetta before I put together my thoughts on it.  It’s definitely my first playthrough, Bayonetta is one of those games where you know full well you’ll be back time and again even after you’ve seen the end credits.  I don’t know what makes a game do that for me aside from the sheer joy of the play mechanics.  For instance, I didn’t feel that way with Arkham Asylum, despite it being hands down the best action game of last year.

But I think the main reason that I know I’ll be with Bayonetta a long while is that it’s the most Sega-like game I’ve played since the days of Model 2 and the brief, shining heyday of the Dreamcast.  Which is strange, as Platinum games isn’t a Sega-bred developer, they’re Capcom guys.  Yet Bayonetta (and Mad World before it) have shown that Platinum Games gets Sega better than Sega’s own in-house developers.  This goes beyond the obvious Sega homages– there’s two separate Harley Davidson and the LA Riders segments and an entire level devoted to After Burner– it’s also evident in the arcade-inspired gameplay that’s become a hallmark of Platinum Games.  It’s this very sort of intuitive, instinctive, instantly fun gameplay that Sega created its brief empire upon, and Platinum has taken up that mantle.
I wrote a couple months ago about Forza Motorsport 3 and how its single inclusion of the rewind feature justified the game’s existence and made all other games that didn’t utilize that feature obsolete.  Bayonetta is much the same way.  It is in itself a fine 3d action game, but it has a singular feature that makes all other games in its genre obsolete.   Bayonetta calls that feature Witch Time.  Most games of Bayonetta’s ilk allow some form of defensive posture– God of War allows the main character, Kratos, to block most normal attacks, whereas Ninja Gaiden 1 allowed for Ryu Hyabusa to roll through unhindered through sword swipes and anti-tank shells.  Bayonetta has a dodge button, which does exactly what the name suggests– however, the dodge feature has another layer added atop it, and that’s where Witch Time comes into play– when you perfectly time the dodge just as it’s about to land you automatically enter a brief period of bullet time where the power of your blows are significantly increased, you’re immune to attack, and everything around you slows down, allowing Bayonetta to attack with impunity.
This feature fundamentally changes the way combat works in 3d action games– now defense becomes a fundamental tool of your offensive playbook, and you begin looking for places to leave yourself open for attack.  It ads a whole new layer of timing and bravado to the game’s already solid combat mechanics and makes all previous 3d action game combat mechanics obsolete.  I cannot understate how fundamental this single feature is to Bayonetta and how transformative it is to the genre itself– without Witch Time Bayonetta becomes a solid, if weird and slightly derivative gaming experience.  With it, every battle is bent to your will.
The other thing about Bayonetta’s mechanics is how remarkably non-Japanese and forward-thinking the game is overall.  There is no real punishment for death, for instance– instead of a limited number of lives and continues, you are scored at the end of each level.  If you care to improve your score, then you’ll use fewer items and die less often.  However, if you’d rather just make progress and not bang your head against a brick wall against a segment you simply do not have the skills to overcome, you can accept the fact that you’ll receive a bad score for that area and brute force your way through the level.  You can die, but every time you die you can restart at the nearest checkpoint.    It’s all rather amazingly progressive for  Japanese-developed game, and overcomes one of the biggest impediments to acceptance these sorts of games always present– the knowledge that you may well be paying sixty bucks for a videogame that you can’t play more than 2 hours of because you lack the superhuman reflexes necessary to get past a particular boss battle.
Boss battles are another thing that Bayonetta just gets right. In most games boss battles are little more than regressive holdovers from the arcade era, but Bayonetta is fundamentally an arcade game, so the idea works well here, and Bayonetta’s boss battles are amazingly well done.  Sure, they don’t do anything you’ve not seen in previous boss battles, and there’s not a lot of them,  perhaps half-dozen scattered among the 16 levels.  But you’re never at a loss about what the boss fight expects you to carry out, and most importantly each encounter uses the skills you’ve developed while playing the game.  There’s never a situation where the game presents you with a brand new game mechanic unique to that battle to master in two minutes only to never be picked up again.  Instead the bosses either run as extended set pieces within the levels themselves or they’re presented as super-charged regular enemies who are equal  in skill and ability as Bayonetta herself.
I don’t like reviews.  I think they’re generally useless, as videogame enjoyment is more subjective than any other form of media.  So it’s impossible for me to tell if you’d enjoy Bayonetta–  let’s be perfectly honest, unless you find yourself enjoying a very specific range of hardcore videogames, it’s hard for me to recommend it, despite being perhaps the finest 3d action game ever crafted.  It’s not like  Shadow of the Colossus where being exposed to the game is much more important than actually playing it.  If you never played God of War or Ninja Gaiden or Devil May Cry, you’re simply not going to enjoy this game.  But if you do enjoy those types of games, then this is the best game of its genre’ now on the market, and the elements found within will find their way into action games for years hence.

5 Responses to “The Greatest Games Ever– Bayonetta”

  1. exit said

    More like Gayonetta

  2. spacegh0st said

    I concur. Not on the Gayonetta, but all the rest above that. *snorts* Gayonetta.

  3. vegasraptor said

    I really enjoyed Bayonetta.

    The DMC-inspired look of the game is gorgeous, and the fights are wild. Witch Time is cool, and very handy. Torture attacks, and Climax attacks are also fun to do, and nice to see.

    I started to play through a second time almost immediately, and I liked the fact that you got to keep everything that was aquired first time around. I changed up the weapons just to see how some of the fights were different with different gear, not to mention an increase in difficulty.

    I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel, but only if they actually put some thought and effort in it, rather than just crank out crap to cash in on the first one.

  4. Patrick said

    Nice write-up, and great observation about Witch Time.

  5. The Truth said

    Exit can f*ck off.

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