This review was originally posted on Nintendo Scene on 14th February.
The Switch has become somewhat of a goldmine for ports since its launch, and with good reason. The portability of the console has allowed for several games for be given the fresh lease on life they deserve. This includes several unexpected surprises, one of which is Bayonetta. Originally released in the UK in 2010 on the X-Box 360 and Playstation 3, and made by some pretty recognisable names (Hideki Kamiya for one), the adventures of Bayonetta were quietly popular and were later brought to the Wii U in its most definitive outing. That being said, how is the Switch port of Bayonetta?
The story of Bayonetta is, admittedly, utterly ludicrous. Playing as the titular witch, your objective is to locate the Right Eye of the World, whilst trying to solve the mystery of what happened to both Bayonetta’s clan, the Umbra Witches and their adversarial clan, the Lumen Sages. Not only this, but Bayonetta is on a mission of self-discovery as she has forgotten who she is after being comatose. For all of this, you have to venture to the fictional European town of Vigrid, fighting through the various hordes of Heaven itself to get your answers. Along the way you’ll not only meet a host of increasingly more over-the-top adversaries, but also a variety of wonderfully diverse characters all there to help or hinder your journey, from a demonic bar-owner to a sultry woman with similar powers to our protagonist.
The gameplay is simple in comparison to the bonkers plot; essentially, you just hack, slash and shoot your way through increasingly more difficult adversaries. The player fights by using a combination of hand and foot attacks (as Bayonetta has guns on both her hands and feet) to string together hits, placing gunshots and dodges in between to keep the combo meter going. If placed correctly in a combo, the right button press will activate a Wicked Weave, which will summon a demon to attack for colossal damage, using a single segment of the magic meter. Once Bayonetta’s magic meter is full, you can execute a Torture Attack for potentially fatal damage, and they also have the enjoyment of witnessing a wonderfully sadomasochistic sequence, usually involving iron maidens, guillotines, or similarly over-the-top equipment.
Finally, if against a larger and more powerful enemy, Bayonetta can execute a Climax; this will activate a cinematic quick time event, summoning a demon to tear them apart in increasingly visceral and satisfying ways. In fact, I would say that the only area in which Bayonetta falls a little flat mechanically is in the game’s quick time events. The moment-to-moment instances, such as the Torture Attacks and Climax moves, are completely justifiable but there are several times in the game in which the QTE is linked with an instant death scenario. Needless to say, the issue with this is that the player can suffer cheap deaths only because they didn’t press the right button in the split second they needed to.
The most complicated mechanic in the combat system is Witch Time, which is one little move that does take a moment to get used to. If the player dodges an attack at the last possible moment, time will momentarily slow for all enemies giving a considerable advantage for a short period. If you master the timing of this, you can potentially negate all possible damage. This will take a fair amount of practice to entirely master, but it is easily one of the most satisfying mechanics I have personally found in an action game, instantly rewarding the player for careful and precise execution. Witch Time can be used against any enemy in the game, including bosses, so make sure you get a hold of this in the early chapters as it will greatly help later.
The Angels aren’t the only obstacles, you also have the world itself to explore, which is full of different trinkets and other bonuses to find. Hidden in every level are little components that can be used in the pause menu to create curative items, Halos (shaped like rings in an obvious reference to Sonic the Hedgehog), the tombs of Umbra Witches, and the often most devilishly hidden, Alfheim Portals. These lead to small combat challenges, often requiring such feats as taking no damage or only causing damage during Witch Time, and gift you with either pieces of Witch Heart or Moon Pearl that will increase either your maximum health or magic power. Needless to say you will want to be fully exploring every nook and cranny of every level as the health and magic upgrades are essential in later levels.
At the end of every segment of the level called a Verse, the player is given a rating between Stone and Pure Platinum based on a variety of factors including time and damage taken. The ratings of all Verses are averaged out at the end, with other factors such as items used during the the whole Chapter such as items used and deaths counted against you. Between missions, the player can go to the Gates of Hell, Rodin’s shop, to buy curative items, new techniques, and trade in the Heavenly LPs found in the levels for new weapons. This all means that in Bayonetta, more than a lot of other games, there’s constant encouragement from the game to get better at the combat to get more lucrative rewards for it. On top of all that, there are various Umbran Tears to find throughout the game that unlock concept art and various other bits.
Aesthetically, Bayonetta is phenomenal. The visuals are both over-the-top and cartoonish whilst feeling reasonably realistic. Vigrid is a beautifully realised location, clearly inspired by classical European architecture, and all of the other locations in the game, no matter how fantastical they might be, are breath-taking too. Bayonetta herself and all of the characters are ludicrously over-the-top both in terms of visual design and personality, which is only enhanced by a immaculate and often hilarious voice over. The monster design as well is top notch, perfectly balancing the Angels as both innocent and disturbing. Also, this game looks just as impressive in handheld mode as it does whilst docked, maintaining a consistent frame rate and beautiful visuals throughout. This aesthetic package is topped off by the soundtrack, which perfectly matches the upbeat and sultry nature of both the game and the protagonist herself.
You cannot talk about the aesthetics of the game without mentioning the wonderful Nintendo outfits introduced in the Wii U edition, which allow you to dress Bayonetta up in costumes that are directly inspired by Samus, Link, Peach and Daisy. Not only are these outfits full of little in-jokes for fans to pick up on, such as Peach and Daisy summoning Bowser with her Wicked Weaves, but they realistically reference other universes whilst staying true to Bayonetta’s personality and sense of style. However, the most wonderful thing about these outfits is not how they look but that they change the audiovisual design of the game to reflect the franchise they’re representing. For instance, wearing the Hero of Hyrule costume changes all of the halos to rupees, and alters all of the sound effects for chest opening and other things change to that of Zelda.
So, should you buy Bayonetta on Switch? If you haven’t played it before on any of the previous formats that this gem has graced, it’s a resounding yes. There are very few games that are this engrossing and satisfying, especially with such genuinely funny voice acting and script. The combat is both in-depth and yet simple enough to pick up for a beginner, story and the monsters are both ludicrous enough to keep even the most seasoned gamer surprised. Despite this being a port of an older game, it is a completely essential Switch purchase if you haven’t played it before, and even if you have. You need to play Bayonetta, and she would be very accommodating.
Thank you to Nintendo UK for kindly supplying the code to review this game.
Bayonetta comes to the Switch on 16th February 2018.