When the first Devil May Cry came out on PS2, it was big. An action game full of energetic combo-focused gameplay, it easily influenced the God of War series and many other wannabes. The game also had plenty of over-the-top stunts that had to try to match themselves the further they got in the series. In the first game, it was satisfactory for Dante to be impaled with a sword, and then just pull himself up and out of it. In the third game, he rode around on a rocket in one cutscene. It gets to the point where it’s hard to tell if it’s serious or parody, and Bayonetta is either the biggest parody of it yet, or the logical conclusion. And either way, it manages to be a hell of a lot of fun.
Bayonetta is the last of the Umbran witches, a clan that existed 500 years ago along with the Lumen sages. She goes to the European city of Vigrid in the hopes that she can find an artifact that will help her regain her memory. It’s a pretty simple story, but it works well enough. The game does slow down a good bit at the story-focused cutscenes. But this may be more the fault of what it does in the action-based cutscenes. I think the best way to explain this will be the opening cutscene (not technically the opening, but it’s the best way to place it). It starts with a funeral, with a man and a nun. Angels appear to take the dead body away…only the angels are evil. And then they attack the nun, whose clothes get ripped off until she’s revealed to be Bayonetta. And then a guy comes out of the coffin and starts throwing guns at her. Her guns are called Scarborough Fair as a whole, and have the individual names of Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. She attaches two of these guns to her feet. Where she fires them from. She literally has moves involving sticking out her leg and firing off her gun. It’s not over-the-top. That’s an understatement. The game revels in finding out where every other action game like it has gone and then going further, finding its place somewhere between camp and sexiness. One move involves Bayonetta break-dancing around as she fires guns in every direction, until she rests in a seductive pose, and the camera zooms in and takes a picture of her. It’s wonderful. There is a good deal of self-awareness in the sheer ridiculousness of what it has you doing.
If the pure insanity of the cutscenes didn’t draw me in, it was the gameplay that really got me. It’s a very simple system at its base. You use Y and B as your quick and strong attacks, comboing them together, and you use the right trigger to dodge. What you get with combat that uses so few buttons is gameplay that’s easy to learn, but hard to master. Dodging at just the right time triggers “Witch Time”, the game’s form of bullet time. It’s figuring out the right time to dodge that adds some of the challenge to the game. While some of the early enemies you can just wail on, you’re going to find plenty that will require you to time your dodges just right so that you can get your hits in. And not dodging at the right time…well, this game is not afraid to kick your ass. In fact, it will, any time you give it the chance. But at the same time, the difficulty curves just right. There were a few curse words thrown around, sure, but there was never a time when I thought it was unfair or cruel. I managed to beat the game on Normal, and while there were plenty of deaths and item uses along the way, it did it in a way that was fair and fun. Part of the replayability of the game comes from the fact that it challenges you to go through levels with no item uses, no deaths, and when you want to step it up even further, not getting hit. Not to mention that it has a shop full of upgrades I didn’t even have the money to touch, and more difficulties that unlock. My playthrough took around 9 hours to beat, and I considered this a very fulfilling 9 hours. It does pull a few tricks like making you refight bosses again, but it makes sure that you’re never fighting them in the same way. The game makes sure that you do not get tired of it in the final act.
There’s two big reasons to play Bayonetta. One is for the excellent gameplay that properly rewards you for doing well, and has enough intricacies in its system to make sure that it has some depth and not just button mashing. The other is for how sheer over-the-top it is at every opportunity. On the one hand, I’d want a sequel to it, on the other, I’m not sure how they could even top what they already have.