Sega may not be as large and prolific as they were during their hardware-making days, but they still develop and publish some of the most fun and creative games on modern systems. Here I (attempt to) give these games the credit they deserve.
If there was ever a game this generation that seemingly went untouched by focus groups, it’s Bayonetta. The art, cutscenes, characters, music, and story showcase unprecedented amounts of unrestrained creativity for a modern AAA title. This also makes those aspects quite polarizing for some. As someone who loves the envelope-pushing absurdity coming from Japan’s most creative developers, I absolutely adore this title (it’s my favorite game of the current hardware generation). But for others who may prefer their games a bit more conservative in their presentation, I would still recommend Bayonetta, as it offers some of the best action, control, and replay value in a game this generation.
If I was forced to explain Bayonetta in one sentence, I think I’d say: “A feminine character action game.” At its core, the game is not too far removed from other games in the “enter an enclosed space and fight a bunch of dudes until there aren’t any dudes left” genre that had its roots in Bayonetta director Hideki Kamiya’s own Devil May Cry. But with Bayonetta, Kamiya eschewed the macho, shirtless dude trappings of the genre and made a game with a sexier, more feminine approach. The character Bayonetta (who was designed by a female) isn’t the only aspect that gives the game a feminine quality though. The music, even during some of the most intense fights, is pure, unabashed, pop. What may seem like game development blasphemy actually works really well in the game. The music meshed so well with the game’s aesthetic that I didn’t even really notice (outside of enjoying) it until I saw people complaining about it online. It may not be everyone’s musical preference, but it certainly fits with the game’s overall tone.
A female-focused approach however, does not mean that the game is any less violent than its contemporaries. Bayonetta is actually one of the goriest games I’ve ever played, but the violence is so over the top (and often humorous) that it does not evoke feelings of discomfort that games set in modern, realistic settings sometimes do. The game’s story, despite being filled with some Evangelion-esque playful interpretations of Christianity, is admittedly pretty forgettable. What is not forgettable however, are some of the cutscenes. While the more story-heavy scenes are often fairly static with limited animation (but still stylish), the action scenes are some of the most over-the-top and awesome ever seen in a game. It’s one level of cool to see a character hop on a missile and ride it through a city while fighting enemies. It’s a whole different level to see Bayonetta doing the same thing; all the while confidently performing sultry dance moves. It’s exhilarating, sexy, and just plain fun to watch. But it’s even better to play.
Herein lies the brilliance of the action in Bayonetta: the spectacle of the gameplay. The combat system is designed to give the fights a completely over-the-top cinematic feel. This does not mean the combat lacks depth. In order to make the fights appear graceful (and to stay alive on normal difficulty and above), the player cannot simply button-mash, but instead use a variety of weapons, techniques (most of which must be bought using in-game currency), and parries against adversaries. The action is intense, immersive, and sometimes physically and mentally draining; elevating Bayonetta above its contemporaries.
Bayonetta is a fairly long game for an action title (12-15 hours for a normal difficulty playthrough), and if it was just straight combat, it would certainly exhaust the player. However, there is much more to the game than the combat. In addition to platforming sections, there is some degree of exploration in the environments. While being far from an open world, there are many out-of-the way secrets, if the player takes the time to seek them out. After each level, there is also a shooting gallery minigame where the player can earn items and currency. Finally, some of the stages in the game are not traditional third person sections, but rather arcade-style games that pay homage to Sega’s classic 80s coin-op titles.
Bayonetta is actually full of Sega references, which makes it even more fun for fans of the company and their past work. Some are overt, while others are more subtle. As the game is over a year and a half old, anyone who cares probably knows about them, but if you somehow don’t, I wouldn’t want to spoil them here. I will say that the references are all really well done, got me pumped at the right times, and increased my overall appreciation of the game.
In the end, Bayonetta is an amalgamation of Hideki Kamiya’s tastes and interests. As with the games of other Japanese auteurs such as Kojima, Mikami, and Suda 51, there may be parts of Bayonetta that leave some players cold. That said, I think there is probably at least something in this immensely creative and unrestrained title for anyone who enjoys “core” games. And if you love insane action, playful blasphemy, great controls, intense, deep, and rewarding combat, games with replay value in the form of a New Game +, challenging, but fair difficulty, ridiculous humor, Sega, J-pop, and strong, sexy, female leads, well, you probably love this game as much as I do.
(Developed by Platinum Games, Published by Sega. Released in North America January 5, 2010, Version played: Xbox 360)