You knew it was coming! The game I regularly rave about as containing the finest combat engine ever devised is going to get its own analysis. It simply doesn't make sense not to. Heads up! This one's going to be a doozy. *cracks knuckles*
Since most of you are already rolling your eyes at me because you HATE/HATED/REFUSED TO PLAY Bayonetta, I'm going to do you a favor and get a couple of the obvious "meta" cons out of the way now so that you understand that I'm not just an irrational fanboy and that I understand the concerns you had the first time you saw this game and/or played it. Seriously, I get it. Once those are out of the way, I will resume the standard analysis format of Pros, followed by Cons, followed by an articulate and straightforward summation of both. And for those of you that have a problem with the game but you didn't actually play it any point, then get out of my site because you are a child and children shouldn't be playing or reading about beat 'em ups.
- This is easily one of the most Japanese games ever. Not in the "it takes place in Japan and looks and sounds like Japan" sense, but in the "those extraterrestrial buffoons across the ocean made another game that doesn't properly register with my occidental sensibilities" sense. The vanguard of the gamer elite can handle this, but for everyone else it's too much and that's fair.
- The game's titular character is one of the most polarizing character concepts of all time. You either love her or hate her; there appears to be no middle ground. Unfortunately, the overwhelming response to the character is one of hate, and by extension, resentment. Anyone with a feminist bone in their body found the character hypersexualized and objectifying, and anyone trying too hard to distinguish themselves from children and teenagers found the character hypersexualized and juvenile. While I do believe these are snap judgments*, I fully understand why they happen.
- The game itself (outside of the combat, I mean) is not an enjoyable or interesting experience. The game structure is just about as straightforward as it can possibly be, the characters are all entirely absurd, the plot is inane, the cutscenes are utter nonsense, and the music is unflinchingly Japanese. Please note that I am straight DYING here trying not to raise the point that all of these things (outside of the combat) are trivial and shouldn't carry any weight in your enjoyment of the game's crux, but I'm trying to squarely meet you in the middle before jumping down your throat with the Pros. ;)
- Every basic movement mechanic is flawless; she runs, jumps, and dodges beautifully yet functionally, and everything feels perfect. And since we're here, I dare you to run as a panther for any real distance and NOT cream your brain with joy-semen. Hideki Kamiya (the director of both Bayonetta and Okami, among other things) already did this very well in Okami, and then went and perfected it in Bayonetta.
- Every single attack across very single weapon looks and feels fantastic. Animations are fast and brutal and have perfect acceleration/deceleration curves.
- The sheer variety of attacks across the different main weapon types is staggering. If that wasn't enough, they can be mixed and matched in pairs (the character equips a weapon in her hands and also on her feet) in what is easily one of the most versatile and expressive beat 'em ups ever.
- While the sensation of striking enemies is good enough, the sensation of killing them is fantastic. The attention to detail paid everywhere else is just as present in this department as the (very monstrous) enemies are repeatedly disassembled, torn, burned, splattered, lacerated, and crushed. All the while unleashing horrific screams of pain and agony.
- There is a substantial variety of temporary weapons (dropped by enemies that "burnout" very quickly) that are also beautiful, distinct, and effective. Furthermore, they become CRUCIAL when trying to play for score.
- The attack effects are succinct yet impactful, and are nuanced beyond reason. There is a startling array of different particle and screen effects occurring simultaneously and they are all somehow in harmony with each other. And this is across every weapon. Some of the more advanced (secret) weapons have effects I've never seen in any game before in my life. Seriously, these are effects you can eat for dinner over candlelight with brie.
- There is a handful of accessories that you can find and equip that grant you access to unique mechanics and character features. Some of them are sillier and less useful than others but it's still ultimately another layer of expression which is always awesome.
- The defense mechanic is as perfect as a defense mechanic can be; easy to use and surprisingly deep in its utility. See the Meaningful And Elegant Defense Mechanics post for elaboration/further raving on its perfection and elegance. To summarize, the mechanic uses only button, is simply a matter of timing, and when done correctly rewards you greatly. And big surprise; it looks and feels great.
- Speaking of defense, there is a mechanic you can unlock later in the game that functions almost identically to the parry mechanic in Street Fighter 3: Third Strike. It's fascinating for a couple different reasons. Firstly, it's oddly compelling to do in 3d. It seems like it shouldn't be but is is. While it requires deft timing, it is hugely rewarding and very powerful. The most interesting thing about it is that using the default defense mechanic trains you for its use, which becomes critical at the highest difficulty level where the default defense mechanic is inhibited.
- Any mechanic in the game can be cancelled by the dodge or with a jump, with the exception of the dodge itself. It makes the game feel incredibly responsive and controlled.
- While there is a lock-on mechanic, it is not necessary! This is one of the most refreshing and delightful miracles Bayonetta brings to the table. The game lets you direct your attacks in much the same way God Of War does; by using the movement analog stick to orient yourself. But it's so subtle and well implemented (and without God of War's non-interactive camera) that you simply don't even think about it when playing.
- There is a ridiculous mechanic that lets you fire your hand and feet weapons (if they are guns, which most of the game's weapons are) WHILE YOU DYNAMICALLY PUNCH AND KICK WITH THEM. What's staggering is how unnecessary it is. You can do it and be spectacular, or you can forget it and just continue to play at any level.
- On the surface, the game has a flexible mash flow. At the higher levels, you realize it actually has a circuit jumping mash flow. Interestingly enough, you can play the game in either way and still be entirely successful.
- At first glance, the air game is not remarkable. It's done well in the sense that it feels just as good as the ground game, but it isn't until you realize how to exploit a specific movement mechanic to stay in the air as long as you'd like that you fully understand how remarkable it is. It's almost just as much its own game as the ground game, which hasn't happened since Otogi.
- There is a huge variety of enemies all with their very own mechanical identity. There is no cloning or palette swapping in the entire cast of adversaries.
- The sounds play a significant part in Bayonetta's moment-to-moment. Not only is a huge part of the enemy tell a distinct sound, but the audio stack in general (both in and out of fights) is always very unusual but functional.
- There is an INCREDIBLE feature in this game that allows you to turn any loading screen into an empty room where you can indefinitely swing the character's equipped weapons around. This is great for studying the vast array of combos that the game has provided you with.
- The combo scoring system is super complex but super interesting, and when understood, turns on a light so bright and fun that you will have a hard time soullessly button mashing ever again.
- There is a solid item construction system that goes hand in hand with the bit-collecting you do as you play. Unfortunately, items are rendered completely obsolete by entering the higher levels of play.
- In the grand and patronizing tradition, you must not only unlock a bunch of mechanics, but you must unlock a bunch of weapons as well. Some of the weapons you essentially get just by progressing and some of them you get by exploring, but some you only get after fulfilling UNBELIEVABLE requirements meant only for people with a ton of time on their hands and this is fucking maddening. The only reason I have access to most of the weapons is because I spent a tedious evening exploiting the game in a very unintended way in order to aquire them. There is a weapon I'm still missing and I won't get it until I've met an asinine commitment requirement, so I might never see it and that makes me super resentful.
- YOU ARE MAKING ME MASH BUTTONS TO PERFORM SENSATIONAL FATALITIES I DON'T CARE ABOUT GOD DAMNIT I'M NOT 17 ANYMORE QUIT DOING THIS TO ME FUCK.
- There is no substantial variation on the combat encounter apart from the standard mixing up of enemy types. There are a couple instances in which you must protect an entity in the play space, but this was clearly an afterthought and is not at all compelling.
- Visually, enemies are a gigantic golden mess. Fortunately, enemy silhouettes are BARELY distinguishable across the other enemies in their tier. Barely. But the rest of their general look is a contrived swirl and I couldn't redraw any of the game's enemies on a piece of paper from memory, even if you had a gun to my head.
- There is no formal practice mode with enemy dummies. The empty-room feature is great, but there are some things you simply can't practice in an empty room and it's too cumbersome practicing in the game's preplanned encounters.
- Even on the default difficulty setting, the game is fairly difficult. This in itself isn't any kind of a problem, but the real issue here is the secret game buried inside of Bayonetta; that game is "playing Bayonetta for a respectable rank". Shit gets real when you attempt this, and there is no valid introduction to this inner-game and all of its complexity which makes it that much more incredibly difficult than it already is.
- In order to understand the guts of this game, I had to buy a special hardcover strategy guide made by two batshit crazy English guys that collaborated with Platinum Games (Bayonetta's developer) to bring all of the technical information to the surface. This information should be within the game, or within the manual, or formally published on a free website. Not in an obscure collector's item I had to hunt down and pay too-much-money for. There is a Bradygames guide, but it not nearly as comprehensive.
In summation; Bayonetta as a combat experience is utterly magnificent, and it's not at all surprising considering the game is another brain child of the man that brought us Devil May Cry 1, Viewtiful Joe, and Okami. Love or hate his work, he (and the people he works with) possess a legendary amount of experience with combat and it it all shines through in Bayonetta. There are few things more exciting and fulfilling than skating (which you can literally do if you have unlocked the ice skates leg weapon) from encounter to encounter and mutilating your way into a platinum (or being a warrior of great caliber, a PURE platinum) rank. But unfortunately (fascinatingly), the game is the biggest barrier to itself. In addition to the many conservative and traditional decisions that prevented Bayonetta from pushing the genre forward, it's penetrating wackiness and rampant irreverent sexuality really alienates people and prevents them from opening up to it. I will NOW officially raise the point that that these things (outside of the combat) are ultimately trivial and shouldn't carry any weight in your enjoyment of the game's crux; the finest combat engine ever devised.
*In all fairness, I don't really subscribe to the idea of "hypersexualization is a problem" because I'm a hedonistic human male and I welcome hypersexualization in any form. HOWEVER, I don't actually believe the character is objectifying or juvenile. Luckily for me, this guy said everything that I could possibly say already.