Let’s dance, boys!
Capcom really screwed the pooch when it shut down Clover Studios and lost the creative minds behind Viewtiful Joe, Okami, and God Hand. Those are three all-time classics of the 128-bit generation. It’s a shame to lose out on new entries in those series, but without that decision, we probably wouldn’t have received the blessings that have been the post-Clover output. I don’t know if I’d want to live in a gaming world where we didn’t get The Evil Within, Madworld, NieR: Automata, and, most important of all, Bayonetta.
So I guess thank you Capcom for not being able to see past your nose. Because of that shortsightedness, we did get Bayonetta, and thanks to Nintendo’s money, it’s now available on a system that allows me to kick angel ass no matter where I go.
Bayonetta (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC, Wii U, Switch [reviewed])
Release Date: February 16, 2018
MSRP: $29.99 on eShop when purchased individually or $9.99 if purchased after Bayonetta 2, included with physical copies of Bayonetta 2 as a digital download
Teen heartthrob and guy who is really good at Super Mario Bros. 3 Cliff Bleszinski once described the design of Bayonetta as “crunchy” and to this day, I can’t think of a better label to slap on this game. It’s a crunchy experience, one that mashes up its liquid smooth combat with blood boiling difficulty and eclectic action sequences that lack the polish of the main attraction. The insta-death quick-time events are still a here. The motorcycle she rides halfway through the story still has very loose controls and zero punishment for poor driving. The climax of the final battle puts the brakes on the speed of action for a slow trip through the space.
Those should technically be reasons why this game isn’t as good as it could be, and yet everything “bad” about Bayonetta only adds to the overall experience. The Highway 666 chapter with more realistic controls wouldn’t be as fun. Getting rid of the quick-time events would cause me to drop my guard which is the exact opposite lesson I am learning from the combat. The final sequence is so one-of-a-kind that presenting it in any other way would dilute its impact. The “bad” parts of Bayonetta actually aid in making this game as good as it is, which is why I’m happy this is still just a port and not a complete remake.
Except for Angel Attack. That post-chapter mini-game is still terrible and I can do without it.
Playing Bayonetta for any reason other than to witness, learn, and master the extensive combat system is doing it wrong. The story is largely incoherent — though it does mesh nicely with its sequel — and its visuals, while distinct with its old-world European architecture, looks as though everything was shot with a concrete dusted lens. Not every game needs to pull from the entire rainbow to be visually spellbinding but the faded imagery of Bayonetta doesn’t do justice to those set pieces begging for a bit of vibrancy.
But that combat — oh sweet lord that combat — is endlessly satisfying. This is my third time going through it and the two-button punch-kick control setup is still perfection. With so many moves at my disposal, so many combos I can pull off, every fight becomes a ballet of bullets and boot stomps as my muscle memory triggers spectacular attacks that send angels flying and rack up halos. A calculated dodge, so crucial here, gives opportunity for fiercer damage through Witch Time and the torture attacks are still the macabre button mashing mini-games they’ve always been.
But you already know all that. You know Bayonetta is a monumental action game. You know it doesn’t make a whole lick of sense. You know that it’s worth playing through multiple times because the unlocks are absolutely worth collecting. The big question about Bayonetta on Switch is: how does it run?
On the Wii U, Bayonetta ran like a dream and with my Switch in docked mode it is largely the same buttery experience. In handheld mode, which is how I spent the majority of my time playing, it’s as perfect as I imagine PlatinumGames can get it. On the smaller screen, the visuals look crisper than on my TV and while there are drops in the framerate, it never goes below a point where it affects the action. I love games on my big screen but titles like this are convincing me more and more that I don’t ever need to play another one on a device larger than nine inches.
Bayonetta comes to Switch with all of the Wii U enhancements intact. That means the Peach, Link, Samus, and Daisy costumes are in, as are the touch controls in handheld mode. This alternate control method works just as well as it did last time in combat, but less so when I’m just running from fight to fight. I tap an enemy and Bayonetta goes to town on it, tossing in extra taps to attempt to pull off some of her more powerful attacks. But a finger doesn’t have the precision of a stylus and movement on the Wii U using touch controls is more accurate than it is here. Attacks, jumps, and dodges can be completely touch controlled, but some maneuvers, like when Bayonetta takes a knee and starts shooting all around her, do require use of the joystick and buttons. There is no single joy-con control option, but I didn’t imagine there would be.
An addition to the Switch port is video capture, which is a nice feature for this game to have and one I’m sure won’t be abused in any way. Yessiree, I’m sure that a day after this game launches Twitter won’t be flooded with videos of Bayonetta removing her clothes or bending over or going spread eagle in a cutscene.
As this is the second time the game has appeared on a Nintendo system and its fourth release overall, I do wish there were more options for us veteran players. I’ve logged an estimated 50 hours between both games in the franchise and have had my run of the normal difficulty. Even with touch controls, I can still fight my way through the campaign on normal no problem, though not earning those sweet gold and platinum trophies while doing so. What I’m saying is hard mode should be unlocked from the beginning because returning players like myself know that’s when the game is at its absolute best.
The core of Bayonetta remains as solid and frustrating as it was when it first released. It doesn’t have the polish, semi-coherent story, and rich color palette of its superior sequel, sure, but it’s so masterfully designed and brazen in its direction that it’s still a must play for every action game fanatic. While the Switch port may lack the exhaustive resolution and graphics options of the PC version, it’s an absolute knock-out as a portable action game and further proof there seems to be very little the Switch is incapable of doing.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]