Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch. Copy supplied by publisher.
It is commonplace nowadays for publishers to re-release previous instalments of the franchises they’re launching sequels to on their new platforms, see PlayStation with the Nathan Drake Collection ahead of Uncharted 4 or Xbox’s Master Chief Collection ahead of Halo 5. Depending on who you ask this is seen as either a good thing or a bad thing. The bad camp see it as lazy money grabbing, just publishers rehashing old games for the sake of easy profits, while the good camp either relish the opportunity to revisit old favourites on updated devices or even to play a title that slipped them by in years past.
Well, in this instance with Nintendo bringing Bayonetta and Bayonetta 2 to Nintendo Switch ahead of the anticipated (and Switch exclusive) Bayonetta 3, I find myself in the good camp, having never had the chance to play them both before. And I see now that I was missing out, because while these Switch ports certainly highlight the games’ age, they’re a whole lot of fun.
For anyone who, like me prior to this review, has no experience with the Bayonetta games, they’re fast-paced hack-n-slash adventure titles developed by PlatinumGames (of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Vanquish and last year’s Nier: Automata fame). They star Bayonetta, a witch caught in the middle of a power struggle between the realms of Paradiso (heaven) and Inferno (hell). The stories underpinning the two games are a bit hit and miss, particularly in the first game where Bayonetta is battling amnesia and trying to learn who and what she is.
For the first four or five hours I had absolutely no clue what was going on, which is arguably the point given Bayonetta’s lack of memory, but to me it wasn’t even clear what she was doing in order to get the memories back. The narrative comes together later on, but those opening sections were very much a case of “I don’t know what I’m doing, but hey, more monsters to fight!” Thankfully, Bayonetta 2 learns from this mistake and gives Bayonetta and her cohort a clear objective from the get-go: travel into Inferno and rescue the soul of a recently slain friend. Nice and simple, and great context for the following hours of angel and demon slaying.
As for the overall writing, it’s pretty cringe worthy at times. From the stereotypical tubby Italian-American character saying “fageddaboutit” a lot, to the frequent innuendos – these games throw a lot of jokes at you that really fail to land. To me they felt like they came from the same school of humour as the most eye-roll worthy comedy moments from the Metal Gear Solid series, just super awkward and resulting in a lot of pained groans.
But hey, if there’s one thing that can make up for underwhelming writing and less than compelling narratives its engaging gameplay, which both games have in spades.
Bayonetta 1 and 2’s gameplay is very similar to that of the Devil May Cry series, which makes sense given both franchises are helmed by Hideki Kamiya. Players have a range of attacks, from light hand attacks to heavier kicks, plus guns attached to each of those limbs. Yes, Bayonetta has guns strapped to her high heels, and they’re just as awesome as they sound. All these attacks can be used in a surprisingly wide range of combos, factoring in the order of kicks and punches, the timing between them, whether your on the ground or in the air, etc. The combo list can be quite daunting at first, but once you familiarise yourself with a few of them you open up some pretty stylish methods of crowd controlling enemies. Break dancing my way around opponents while firing guns in all directions was definitely a highlight of mine.
On top of all that, Bayonetta has a range of special abilities and alternative weapons to unlock an utilise throughout the games. Dodging at the very last moment activates “Witch Time”, essentially temporary slow-motion on enemies and bosses giving you time to lay in. Build up enough magic through successive hits unleashes “Torture Attacks”, summoning grisly machines for Bayonetta to push opponents into. And once you’ve brought a boss to their knees, you can unleash Climax moves, essentially bringing a demons out of hell to chow down on what’s left of them in epic, God of War-style quick-time event glory.
It’s all super stylised, over the top, and very cool.
Overall, the combat in both games feels really satisfying and is very addictive. My only major criticism would be sometimes the over the top nature of the battles can be a bit too much, having a ridiculous amount of things on the screen at once, and it makes it hard to keep track of everything you need to. Thankfully it doesn’t happen too often, and you do get used to it, but it was an issue on occasion.
As for the newer aspects of the game, namely the fact they’re running on the Switch rather than the original PS3/Xbox 360 or Wii U versions, both titles perform quite well! In both docked and handheld modes, the Switch version targets 60 frames-per-second and maintains it most of the time, with some minor dips here and there in some of the more effects heavy scenes. Granted, this smooth performance is partially due to the fact they haven’t increased the resolution of the game above the original 720p, even in docked mode, but this is a port rather than a remaster to be fair.
The downside here though is the game does start to show its age, particularly when playing with the Switch docked. The Switch’s screen caps out at 720p, so things look pretty crisp in handheld, but on my 55 inch 4K TV in the living room things definitely start to look pretty iffy. It’s by no means a deal breaker nor are they the worst looking games I’ve ever seen, but you certainly won’t forget that these were last generation titles.
One thing they’ve added support for in the Switch version is the ability to use touch controls to play the game, rather than the Joy-Con, and for the life of me I don’t understand why. Unless you’re in the unfortunate situation of being unable to use your fingers normally to operate the Joy-Con, you’d have to be mad to choose the touch based options as your control method of choice. Tapping Bayonetta herself to jump, dragging your fingers across the screen to control the camera, tapping enemies to attack, its clunky as hell and completely unnecessary.
Despite the immense amount of fun I had with the Bayonetta games, the only other thing that irked me was just how crazily over sexualised Bayonetta herself is. Look, I’m hardly someone you’d call prudish and generally don’t object to you injecting some sex appeal into your games. Characters being sexy is totally fine, but Bayonetta crosses the line from general sex appeal and goes headlong into cringe worthy.
Firstly, there’s her physical proportions that go from having legs-for-days up to a perfectly sculpted butt (which is fine, I guess), before she gets a lower back arch so pronounced it makes her breasts point skyward. Then there’s the fact her leather body suit isn’t actually made of leather, but rather her hair interwoven around her. And given her hair is the source of her power, it means whenever you instigate a special attack or Climax move, she loses most or all of her coverings bar some strategically placed strands. And these attacks happen a lot. It also didn’t help that the cutscene controlled camera was always finding opportunities to oggle her in anyway it could.
I know some may argue Bayonetta’s uninhibited sexual expression is empowering, and I’m not here to tell those people they’re wrong. All I’m saying is I could have done without there being so many ‘look-how-well-we-sculpted-her-vulva-straining-against-her-tight-body-suit’ shots.
All that aside, I had a great time catching up on the Bayonetta series, and feel Switch is a platform the games feel right at home on. The skirmish nature of both games lends itself well to picking it up for quick bouts, and Bayonetta 2’s co-op mode now works both online and locally with two Switch consoles. Judging by my experience here, I eagerly await Bayonetta 3.