Within the first chapter of Bayonetta, I’d tackled monstrosities of unimaginable design. Buildings crumbled around me, litres of blood were spilled and I was pulling off combos of excruciating power. PlatinumGames are connoisseurs of fast-paced combat systems and Bayonetta embodies that same template almost immediately. With the beginning set of weapons and combos, I was able to lay devastating waste to the wonderfully designed enemies that blocked my path. Unlike other games of the genre that are plagued with steep learning curves or those that slowly grant new abilities to the player, Bayonetta provides a wealth of combat opportunities from the get go. Backed by a lusciously crafted world and creative level design, Bayonetta is one of the best hack & slash games of the genre.
To delve too much into Bayonetta’s plot would be doing the excellent gameplay a disservice. Bayonetta is a witch who awakens after 500 years with a loss of memories, and forces are hellbent on taking her back to where she belongs. It’s a plot that thankfully doesn’t take itself too seriously. Devil May Cry experienced early entries to the series that lacked any tongue-in-cheek style and priced themselves on taking their lore with a level of sincerity. Bayonetta learns from past games’ mistakes and ensures it maintains a lighthearted approach to its storytelling.
This isn’t to say that the story of Bayonetta is good. In fact, some of the writing is crammed full of cheese and cringe. It never manages to find that perfect balance of conveying a story while maintaining a degree of humour to keep the characters relatable. Instead, it goes too far the opposite way and creates caricatures of all its cast. Massive lore dumps of different factions, beasts and otherworldly entities become disengaging as the plot spends too much time explaining rather than showing you its world.
Outside of the lacklustre story, however, is a perfectly tuned and in-depth action-adventure filled with such admirable imagination that it’s hard not to fall in love. Bayonetta has multiple attacks that are easy to pick up, but hard to master. This enables novices to feel a perfect sense of fulfilment with the combat, while genre veterans can pick apart more in-depth manoeuvres.
Bayonetta herself has many attacks that can be intertwined to make substantial attacks. She can perform kicks, fire guns or even whip with her hair. The character is so expressive and the animations do a fantastic job of creating an exciting visual flair to the action. Added into this is the ability to slow down time when performing a perfectly dodged attack, which showcases how the expressive attack styles perform, while allowing you to insert more lethal combos. The fact that Bayonetta caters for a wide range of audiences is impressive and a testament to how well the game stands up, even all these years later.
If the combat wasn’t enough, it’s built around some fantastic level design with glorious world building. Large gothic settings tower over Bayonetta and provide beautiful vistas to gaze over, or inject a stunning set piece to. To break up the action, often Bayonetta will be involved in small puzzles or exploration sections. While none of these are particularly challenging, they do serve a purpose to break up the tension and teach the player new skills.
When the game isn’t slowing down, it’s going full throttle with some truly imaginative battles. Bosses engulf the screen with their menacing presence and provide challenging combat encounters. Not only that, but they incorporate the environment to their advantage, moulding the two expertly crafted elements together. An early boss uses a bridge to swing you about, before chasing you up a set of crumbling stairs. It adds an extra layer of dynamic, instead of a basic arena fight.
Other elements to break up the adventure include Ezra combat arenas, which can be found to earn special rewards, but challenging tasks remain a roadblock to these prizes. The difficulty of these can be uneven, with some being ridiculously hard while others are a cake walk. It’s hard to know which it’s going to be, but all of them expect a masterclass of the game’s combat techniques. On top of this, a small minigame takes place between each chapter with a Duck Hunt style shooting gallery to earn points to purchase items for the proceeding level. Little diversions like this give Bayonetta more charm and character.
The Xbox One version of Bayonetta boasts a steady 60 frames per second, but nothing more notable than the Xbox 360 version. Small refinements have been made to make the game smoother and more stable, but little has been updated to the visual flair. With the vibrant Bayonetta 2 on the Wii U and Nintendo Switch, it’s a shame a similar effort wasn’t made on this remaster to have a more refined visual polish. As it stands, Bayonetta on the Xbox One offers very little that previous other versions haven’t already given.
Bayonetta is clearly a landmark game when it comes to the hack & slash genre. While it lacks a coherent story, it does manage to ooze with personality. Besides any narrative missteps, the combat remains top of its game with a uniquely crafted world to explore. Unfortunately, the Xbox One version provides very little incentive to jump in again. With a steep price compared to the original release now, it’s hard to recommend a double dip for old players, but new ones will find something special.