Platinum Games’ Bayonetta is by now a well known stylish action game. Having been widely reviewed, scored, and sacrificed to the all mighty alter of Metacritic, Bayonetta has been well received and labeled a success. Given Bayonetta’s critical and retail success, why is Bayonetta important?
Success continues to trend from developing properties with the X-Box 360 as the lead sku in multiplatform development. Platinum ostensibly was able to spend their time on developing Bayonetta. Meanwhile it was Sega, Bayonetta’s publisher, who executed the port to the Playstation 3. Given the reported issues with the quality of the Playstation 3 release, Sega was probably challenged in a number of ways. First by porting a title they did not directly develop, a port by nature is a copy, and never quite as good as the original by definition. Secondly, Sony’s development tools have a reputation of being inferior to that of Microsoft’s offerings. Finally, the architecture of the Playstation 3 is radically different from what has come before it, while the X-Box 360 is more akin to a PC. More time is spent learning the architecture on the Playstation 3 in comparison to the X-Box 360. Games developed with the technically inferior X-Box 360 as the lead sku can surpass their Playstation 3 brethren, and Bayonetta only serves as an exclamation to this point.
Secondly, Platinum was able to take full advantage of the development time spent on one platform, resulting in a visual achievement previously not yet seen in this generation. As the current generation matures, developers are starting to get the most out of each platform. While some may deride Bayonetta’s over the top style and sexual content, it does not diminish the strength of the game’s look and feel. Bayonetta is a mature title, and by nature can be highly sexual, but it does not mean that Bayonetta’s sole purpose is to titillate twelve year old boys. Bayonetta can look as good as it does, and pay such attention to detail because it strengthens the next generation experience. It is an achievement for the medium, that such time can be spent devoted to the animation of a character’s posterior, and have it serve only to improve the experience of a game.
The story for Bayonetta is to be charitable, poorly developed. However, Bayonetta succeeds without a good, well developed story. This is not a new trend in gaming, even looking back on some of the medium’s classics, like Super Mario Bros., Metroid, Zelda and more. Often cherished classics had more of a one paragraph summary establishing the story for a game. In the successive generations storytelling has greatly advanced, Final Fantasy IV, Knights of the Old Republic, and Mass Effect have all been a evolutionary step forward with each generation. Looking through the prism of history, Bayonetta has a great deal more story and character interaction and development than games of previous generations. The lack of a really good story does not preclude a game from delivering a entertaining and memorable experience. While a well developed story can make a good game great, Bayonetta still succeeds as a great experience without the added weight of a compelling narrative.
Finally, Bayonetta is not afraid to be exactly what it is, an over the top, ridiculous action game. It makes no apologies for its lack of a compelling story. Bayonetta focuses on its strengths, excellent game play, tight controls, a deep as you want combat system that is still accessible to button mashers. Oh, and it looks very good too, pushing the limits of the platform and genre. There areas in which Bayonetta could be improved for sure. The soundtrack is somewhat limited, and even on the leading platform Bayonetta does suffer from some slowdown and frame rate issues. These shortcomings do not hinder the the overall importance of Bayonetta.
The Freudian attribution, a cigar is just a cigar, holds true for Bayonetta. It is exactly what it is. Bayonetta will never be confused as the medium’s Citizen Kane, but it will be remembered as an important benchmark as to what is possible in video games this generation.