Bayonetta [Steam page] just arrived on PC and though she's late to the party, in some ways the timing couldn't be more perfect. The game's creators, PlatinumGames, are amazing when at their best, but have released a few disappointing duffers over the years. Bayonetta is not a duffer and might be my favourite of their games.
This belated PC release comes hot on the heels of NieR: Automata, another game that showed Platinum at their best. It's a mini golden age for stylish third-person action over on the PC right now and I'm here to tell you why you might just fall in love with Bayonetta.
Primarily, it's the combat. It usually is when it comes to PlatinumGames. That they marry their combat to inventive world and enemy design is like finding a fuckton of cherries on top of an already delicious cake. As far as Bayonetta is concerned, we're in Devil May Cry territory. That's no surprise given that the two games share a director, Hideki Kamiya, and though I enjoy that series too, I reckon Bayonetta is the best of his work.
That's partly because the scale of environments, flitting between a ruined future and realms of gods and demons, perfectly suits the action. Smaller combat sequences are excuses to show off, Bayonetta pirouetting and somersaulting around streets and squares while dispatching enemies with ease. That's where you learn just how stylish you can be, combining the art of violence with the art of dance. Occasionally the game is pretty much a musical, shrugging off whatever concerns the end of the world and a war between demons and angels might seem to necessitate, and just getting down in its own saucy, silly groove instead.
The most tremendous setpieces take place during boss fights. At first, you'll struggle to survive, attempting to perfect every technique you've learned along the way, but as your skills improve, you'll find room to break out the style here as well. And you'll be doing it against the backdrop of truly gargantuan battles, where entire realms of existence appear to be peeling away as one last disco inferno burns reality down.
Throughout it all, Bayonetta dances, rarely ever losing her smile. As Alice just said to me in chat, if NieR broke your heart, Bayonetta will unbreak it. The combat might be demanding, and you'll almost certainly need a controller (we haven't been able to test the game yet; I'm on it right now), but the entire design is one of almost overwhelming glee. Where it is hard, that is only to bring the best out of you and if you're willing to play along, you'll almost certainly be able to 'git gud', as the internet likes to say.
It looks great too, and should be at its best on PC, with 4k and 60fps play a possibility. Again, more on the port shortly, once I've had a good look.
What does a demon look like? What does an angel look like? What does the witchy star of the world's most stylish and surreal action game look like? Bayonetta rarely does the expected thing when it comes to visual design. The titular witch dances and slaughters her way through the game with guns at her heels and making ribbons of enemies with her hair. It's a weapon, the hair, and twists and curls to wrap around Bayonetta's skin, forming a kinky covering.
I remember a bit of a fuss around release, related to the skintight 'clothing' and the fact that special attacks required more hair to execute. Hair that, during the attack, wouldn't be available to cover Bayonetta's bits. When I played the game, I had about as much time to focus on any glimpses of nudity as I would during a high-speed car chase in a thunderstorm during rush hour. It's a gratuitous game but it's far more interested in giving you a good view of the action than nudging you in the ribs and going 'fnaarr'. I don't have time to dig into the detail of my thinking on this right now, but Bayonetta's sexiness is fetishistic rather than pervy, and the character is owning and participating in the fetish rather than being an object of it. That's how I say it anyway and I'm pretty sure I'm not just making excuses for my magical-hair-witch, gun-heel-goth-with-glasses fantasies.
Bayonetta is certainly the star of her own game but the best of the rest of the cast are the bosses. They're giant, weird things, but rather than being an incomprehensible mess of parts, they're a recognisable blend of monstrous elements, and the abstractions often used to describe celestial and infernal beings in theological discourse and old-school Christian poetry.
These angels aren't golden-haired muscular men with flaming swords, and robes or stray ribbons conveniently covering the delicate bits that they almost certainly don't have. Think less Angel of the X-Men and more “creature so incomprehensibly odd that you might go a bit funny if you look at it for too long”. The one physical description of a seraphim in the Christian Bible comes in Isaiah:
“Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying”
These winged confusions spend their entire existence hovering around God's throne singing glories in His name. Then there are Cherubs, which you might think of as plump babies that sort of hover around the place, perhaps plucking a harp or firing an arrow that explodes into a cloud of emojis on impact. Except, no. Cherubs are more like those muscular sword-wielding warriors you were thinking about earlier. With loads of wings and faces on every side of their head, each resembling a different creature.
These otherworldly creatures, whether they're celestial or infernal, are impossible things that occasionally take on forms that are at least slightly tolerable to the human eye. Bayonetta is one of the few pop culture depictions that leans hard into the oddity in a way that recognises that they can be more architectural than biological and more science fiction than fantasy – constructs of an imagination without bounds.
We're unlikely to see Bayonetta 2 on PC because it was published by Nintendo rather than Sega. Bear in mind I'd have said the same thing about Sega's back catalogue at one point though, and they've not only come across but built a new home for themselves in these parts. Maybe we'll finally get a port of Mario Galaxy (and Bayonetta 2) in a few years.
You won't miss the sequel though. It's more Bayonetta but it's not an essential part of the package. The package itself is essential though because this is about as good as it gets when it comes to Platinum games. They're the masters of this particular form of third-person action and this might well be their masterpiece. It's nonsense, but it's glorious nonsense, and it feels like the natural result of a studio cut loose to do whatever feels right. Critically acclaimed, it didn't live up to the commercial potential Sega had pinned on it, and while it's unlikely to get a powerful new life on PC years after release, along with the strong sales of NieR: Automata it might help to convince whatever powers be that stylish Japanese action games are more than welcome on Windows. Vanquish me, please, Platinum.
NieR: Automata is the better game in many ways but it's an RPG and a bullet hell shooter and all kinds of other things. A complex conundrum, in many ways, in which the combat is diluted to an extent. Bayonetta is a shot of the pure stuff, and it's best taken neat, on the highest difficulty setting where the discovery of flow and technique is as satisfying and fulfilling as anything you can do with a joypad.
Bayonetta is available now via Steam, for £14.99. We're taking a close look at the port right now.