We just don’t get enough good action games anymore. No, I’m not talking about games like Monster Hunter: World or Bloodborne, I mean the good stuff. “Character” action games like Devil May Cry or Metal Gear Solid: Revengeance have been mostly usurped by the Souls-like genre, with its slower-paced and more methodical combat. The days of cuh-razy combat and aerial combos can sometimes seem passed, but with Bayonetta and Bayonetta 2 arriving on Switch this week, we are served a triumphant reminder that the genre isn’t quite dead yet.
People like to talk about their first “wow” moment in videogames, whether it’s the first time they played Metal Gear Solid on PlayStation 1, or literally their first WoW (read: World of Warcraft) moment. I may be considered a late-bloomer in this regard, because my first mind blowing experience with gaming was probably the moment I played Bayonetta on Xbox 360 way back in 2009. The visuals, the action, the pure unadulterated sex appeal, it spoke to my adolescent mind in a way no other game had. I’ve always been a sucker for imagery of “the church”, so the art direction had a huge impact as well; the way the angels were morphed and distorted flesh beasts beneath their porcelain masks, it was all just so overwhelming.
No other game had rattled my perception of what games could be like Bayonetta did. Its fluid and stylish combat certainly didn’t hurt either – summoning giant stiletto heels and fists with french tip nails to devastate enemies was so ridiculous that it looped back around to feeling natural. While it lacks the grace of Bayonetta 2′s combat mechanics, it makes up for it by being more technically-minded and intentional.
The plot, in which you play as the titular witch Bayonetta, involves a tired amnesia trope and some hilariously endearing side characters. It’s not so much the narrative that’s engaging, but the way it haphazardly leads to some truly glorious set pieces. Bayonetta is remarkable at making even the most unlikable plot points and characters feel sympathetic by its conclusion; it’s got a charm that can easily be credited to director Hideki Kamiya (who supervised, but did not direct, Bayonetta 2).
Lest I forget, however, Bayonetta‘s greatest flaw: the quick-time events. Luckily these are absent from the sequel, but you do not know frustration until you’re one platinum medal away from a perfect chapter only to die because you didn’t press a button fast enough. That’s right – these are instadeath. They even crop up during boss battles; it’s mind boggling as to why these are in the game at all, but it feels an awful lot like nobody on the development team had the courage to object to their inclusion. This is especially apparent when slogging through some truly horrendous sections, like the mind-numbing Route 666, or the snooze-fest shoot-em-up segment (featuring Bayonetta riding on top of a missile) which takes far too long.
During these painful detours, I considered that the game may have been bad all along, that I was fooled by time or my child-like patience for poor game design. Somehow, though – and this is testament to Bayonetta‘s quality – by the end of the game I completely forgave it. Something about finishing Bayonetta and looking back at it as a whole makes it shine brighter than any one segment, this game is more than the sum of its parts. It’s a wild journey with some of the best action combat ever seen in a game, and now no one has an excuse for not playing it.
Did I mention I played half the game from my bed? Bayonetta‘s grace and glory are preserved perfectly on Switch. How does it run? Beautifully. What’s the resolution? 720p docked and undocked. Framerate? You better believe it’s 60 fps (with some dips here and there). They made it happen, and we shouldn’t be surprised considering these games came out on last generation consoles. Does that make it less spectacular that anyone who didn’t play Bayonetta 2 because it was stuck on Wii U can now play it? Absolutely not.
I had the misfortune of experiencing Bayonetta 2 in its original form on the Wii U. I say this because anyone who didn’t play it on a Fisher Price tablet can now experience it for the first time in a much smoother form on a much better console. Coming hot off the high heels of Bayonetta, an already fantastic action game, Bayonetta 2 felt like jumping into a cold pool after getting out of a hot tub. It was smoother, looked better (no more ugly sepia filter), and has, in my opinion, more engaging enemy designs. The debate between which game is better will continue until the end of time, and I think both games are fantastic for their own reasons, but Bayonetta 2 has a layer of polish the first game noticeably lacks.
For example, combos feel much easier to pull off, and the weapons have more distinct movesets. I found myself tearing through angels and demons alike as a dervish of destruction wielding katanas in hand and whips on my feet. Going back to Bayonetta after playing the sequel feels stilted, slow, and less fluid. This is to a fault, however, as series veterans can attest to Bayonetta’s “tech”, and point to the sequel’s bloated enemy health to compensate for Umbran Climax: a mode in which Bayonetta hits much harder and has far greater reach for a period of time. It’s a great way to reward the player for not getting hit and building their combos, but it boils down to mindless button mashing (something the series is fond of, and I can’t deny that it’s fun).
What Bayonetta 2 does well, it does spectacularly well. The level design is more succinct, there’s less down time between battles, and there are no more tedious minigames between chapters. I just wish its tone was a little closer to that of the first game, as it feels more bubbly and over the top than it needs to be (I do think director Yusuke Hashimoto handled the cutscenes and pacing better than the first, though). That said, it is more than a worthy sequel to Bayonetta, and both games are near infinitely replayable for their own reasons.
Although many have experienced Bayonetta in some form or another, whether it be the amazing PC port from last year, or the abysmal PlayStation 3 release, it feels more than at home on Switch. The inclusion of Bayonetta 2 seals the deal, as many didn’t own a Wii U, and I certainly can’t blame them. Packing them together for $60 is frankly a steal, as we’ve seen much worse ports at higher prices. A 720p docked resolution will be a deterrent for some, but maintaining a solid framerate is crucial for an action game, and on that front, Bayonetta 1 + 2 (mostly) hits the mark. If you’re at all a fan of Bayonetta or action games in general, do yourself a favor and give these two games a go.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game, which was provided to us by Nintendo.
Bayonetta 1+2 are spectacular entries in the hack-and-slash genre, and playing them on the go is a surreal experience that vastly diversifies the Switch's library.