So, Bayonetta (1) is finally out for the PC. It sounded fun back in 2010 when it was released for consoles, and it’s only $20, so I picked it up.  It is fun. Also one of the weirdest games I’ve even played.

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Punch punch kick is like a big evil kiss

I can maybe imagine a Western studio basing a game on the traditional Catholic hierarchy of angels.  But it would be a little eyebrow-raising that these are the game’s enemies.  And that you play a witch allied with Hell, fighting your way up the hierarchy, and the final boss fight is with the Creator.

Well, that’s Bayonetta.  Partly mitigating the weirdness of the concept, but also adding to it, you have the fact that the makers know no more or care about Christianity than, say, the makers of Assassin’s Creed know about Islam. It’s just a source of ready-made symbols for them; it has nothing to say about actual religion. It’s not even blasphemous– the ‘Creator’ here certainly isn’t the Christian idea of God. The “angels” are accompanied by heavenly music and have an appropriate white-and-gold color scheme, but they look far more like aliens than angels, especially as they get battered up and their masks literally slip.

Bayonetta starts out almost as unsettled as the player: she knows she’s a witch, but has forgotten her history and doesn’t know why angels keep appearing and fighting her. When she collects their haloes, however, she can turn them in to her demon friend Rodin, who works as a bartender in a rundown US city and makes infernal magic weapons on the side, which he sells for haloes. Oh, and part of the exposition is given by a comic-relief character– a short, cowardly guy named Enzo, with a New York accent. (I’d love to know what he sounded like in the original.  I’m guessing he had an Osaka accent, as Japanese comedians tend to come from there.)  Soon she’s traveling to Vigrid, an isolated European country which is positively infested with angels to fight.

Combat is a remote relation to the Arkham games, or Remember Me: it’s not based on aiming and shooting, but on building combos while evading attacks (with Shift). The simplest combos are based on mixtures of punch (LMB) and kick (RMB), but there is plenty of complexity, and you pick up new moves and abilities at an alarming pace. There’s a large variety of angel types, each of which has attack moves that you must learn to recognize. If you can evade at the last moment, you get “witch time”– time slows down so you can get in some good combos. Some enemies can only be defeated this way.

Along the way there are several (fairly simple) puzzles and (less forgiving) platforming sequences. There are things to collect along the way, and you can build candies, the game’s equivalent of potions.

The Steam page suggest that you should use a controller, but PCGamer said you didn’t need one, which is good because I don’t have one. It’s certainly possible to play with keyboard and mouse.  (The main complaint I have about the UI is that the game doesn’t always orient the camera usefully. You can move the camera yourself, but it moves slowly.)

I found playing it on Normal to be too frustrating, so I switched to Easy. I’m not that good at twitchy timing, and there are some nasty QTE bits (though not as many or as annoying as those in Tomb Raider). It’s not always clear what to do.  But then, the game is intended to be replayed multiple times; as you do, you can easily dispatch enemies or find routes that were a complete bear the first time. (I just went back and finished a couple of chapters on Normal that I couldn’t the first time.)

The cosmology isn’t the end of the weirdness. Bayonetta quadruple-wields guns: one in each hand, and one on each heel. How she fires these is not explained, but it seems to work for her.

The game has been updated and perhaps retextured for the PC; it looks great, and often gives you astonishing vistas:

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In paradise, gravity is merely local

Bayonetta is a little like Catwoman, and not just because of the black catsuit. She’s sexy and flirty, and yet cocky and superheroic. The player may marvel at the huge and strange boss angels, but she doesn’t– she just makes fun of them and jumps into the attack. Some things puzzle her, but nothing seems to faze her. She has oodles of agency.

The single weirdest thing about the game– well beyond fighting the cherubim– is that Bayonetta’s catsuit is made of her own hair, and for special attacks it unravels and turns into weapons or monsters.  That’s… not something I’d expect DC or Marvel to ever come up with. If it helps, it’s not as pervy as it sounds: it occurs in the middle of a furious fight, so what you actually get is a split-second fairly PG-rated view.  Then the hair monster eats the defeated angel.  It’s just part of the general insanity.

I’m about 3/4 of the way through, so I can’t say much about where the story ends up. Suffice it to say that you learn a lot about where Bayonetta came from and about the line of witches that taught her, and that she’s nowhere near as antiheroic as she seems as first.

The game is from the same studio as Nier: Automata, which I’m eager to try next.

Edit: Finished the game. The whole story is about 14 hours, but (as I said) it’s designed to be replayed till you can combo your way through like a boss. The ending is not as weird as the rest of the game– it makes a valiant effort to make sense of the rest of the game. Nicely, the game lets you down gently at the end: after the final boss fight, there’s a denouement at the cemetery which features a small fight, and then there’s a couple more little easy fights during the credits; then a dance sequence. So you’re eased down from the adrenaline high.

Edit edit: Replayed the first 5 chapters on Normal, and it’s pretty frustrating. Being able to do something I couldn’t do earlier is nice (e.g. defeating a Fearless without Witch Time).  But then they throw enemies at you which are basically tests of reaction time, which is not fun for me.

Edit³: Trying some more: if you hate finishing a chapter with a Stone award (generally meaning you died too much), the best thing to do is replay it a few times. Then you remember how to fight its particular bosses and what QTE keys to press.

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