Seven years. Enough time to wear out a second-hand car and enough time to see one of the most iconic third-person character action games to arrive from the grasp of the consoles, making a pit stop past the Wii U in 2014. Throughout the years, games like Dark Souls have become the de facto standard for comparison when it comes to brutal difficulty. Deservingly so, in fact. However, a comparison to Dark Souls is now more often met with a groan as it has become an overused crutch to describe a brutally difficult game, even though there's more to the Dark Souls formula beyond dying a whole lot. This latter fate seems to have been largely spared for Bayonetta, even though it fills a similar role when it comes to comparisons. When you bring up games that hack and slash, punch and maim or simply tear apart gigantic boss creatures, you'll often find someone wanting to compare it to Bayonetta. Granted, a franchise like Devil May Cry or a title like Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance tend to not stay that far away from the discussion either. But Bayonetta has clearly set a standard when it took the genre by storm. And now, seven years later, the PC platform is finally graced with its arrival.
This puts this review in a difficult spot. On one hand, there are people new to the game or even the genre. For them, the main importance is whether this may be a game they may enjoy, whether it plays in a way that won't stress them out too much, or at least not without a counterbalance of enjoyment and entertainment. Other concerns such as story, voice acting, cutscene quality also come into play. Every gamer has their own set of desires and expectations from a game. The first part of the review will be spent on this, so anyone new can hopefully form a proper assessment on whether they'd like to give this game a try or not.
On the other hand, we have genre veterans, some of whom have even played the game before on some of the platforms it came out on before. This includes myself, and one of the first concerns before booting up the game was the quality of the port itself and how well it controlled. Will the controls be responsive? Will the framerate chug? What about input lag? Dreadful ports of beloved games in the past have put many a PC gamer on edge. The second part of the review will focus further on this.
For those of you who don't know, Bayonetta is a high-octane action game where you are pitted against countless angelic enemies of greatly varying shapes and sizes. From small winged statue heads to a pudgy statue-like creature with two dragon heads and an upside down face, who happens to also be the size of an entire city. The titular character Bayonetta skillfully dispatches of them all using her powers that she obtained from a deal with Madame Butterfly, one of the most powerful demons in Inferno. Through it, she can summon portals that conjure gigantic hands, feet or even animal-like demons for when she needs to finish off a particularly big foe. An important aesthetic detail is that all of these summoned appearances are made from Bayonneta's own hair. In fact, so is her own clothing. With Bayonetta being nothing short of a sultry yet impressive show-off, most of these summons leave her quite often borderline naked, with a few tactically placed strands of hair to block off just enough from view. To top it off, Bayonetta portrays herself as a sexy but confident and extremely powerful character through both her dialogue and body language.
Most of that is also perfectly portrayed in gameplay. Most games in this genre rely on a button layout that separates between heavy attacks that are slow but powerful and light attacks that are quick but don't hit as hard. Bayonetta does things differently. One button attacks with the weapons you hold in your hands and the other button attacks with the weapons attached... to your feet. Bayonetta isn't an ordinary character. Where movies like Equilibrium make a big deal about perfecting a combat art form around a firearm in each hand, also known as Gun-Kata, Bayonetta takes it a step further and has its titular character perfectly dance around while shooting the pistols attached to her ankles. Together with these two buttons, you can string together attack combos of varying strength and utility, with most of them ending in a summoning of a portal that conjures a highly damaging gigantic fist or foot, also known as Wicked Weaves.
Pressing a third button allows you to shoot these pistols at any times, even if you have different weapons equipped, the meat of your attacks will be up close and personal most of the time. While that may seem inadvisable for a human-sized badass like Bayonetta who's frequently pitted against enemies the size of cities, the fact that she can attack with the power of several Megatons - or Gigatons when summoning a demonic hair creature of sorts - does seem to imply there's a lot of power going on within her. A Hell of a lot, even.
There may be a potential drawback to that power, however. Bayonetta makes frequent use of quick time events, of which there are three varieties it can appear in. During combat, you sometimes may see a brief prompt to perform a punish or torture attack. These will lead into the second variety that also gets used when you finish off a boss or a mid-boss enemy too large to just punch in half. Depending on the enemy or boss and in what way you engaged this move, you may be required to quickly spam a specific button repeatedly while on-screen the enemy gets brutally punished and, more often than not, killed with a final move.
The main complaint with this type of QTE is that it can ruin your fingers or wrist. Especially on higher difficulties, you are required to spam the attack very hard if you want a good payout. While there are very few situations where not spamming the button enough can actually lead to a failure of sorts or damage brought on yourself, it does have a significant enough impact on your score. In this game, your score is one of your most important driving forces.
Every fight in this game is a 'verse', with grand boss fights generally leaving you with a single verse for one level. At the end of every verse, you are scored on your combos, the time it took to complete, and how much damage you've endured. Medals range from Stone, Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum and Pure Platinum, with the latter requiring you to score Platinum on every criteria. At the end of a level, all these medals get brought together for a score, with 'items' subtracting from that score, leaving you with a trophy from the same aforementioned grading.
Items as a scoring detractor functions to both punish you for using healing or otherwise supportive items, but will also score you harshly if you die or use a revive item automatically. There would be very little issue with this if it weren't for the third type of QTE.
The third type of Quick Time Event is the classic one. It shows up with little to almost no warning, and more often than not will immediately result in death if you weren't quick enough. Thankfully, checkpoints are spread generously, but it's happened a few times where a QTE came after an intense one-minute battle and failure resulted in me having to do it again. Doing it again isn't such a problem, combat is quite enjoyable most of the time, but when you get caught up in combat you tend to then forget that the QTE is coming yet again.
This is particularly frustrating when you've been scoring nothing but Platinum medals throughout the entire level, and your quest for a platinum trophy has been abruptly halted because you poorly timed a QTE. Most games that employ QTE's understand that failure should lead to punishment, but not an abrupt halting of the flow of the game. Truthfully, however, this may be a more subjective problem on my part, as the way to conquer this problem is the same as it was seven years ago. Learn the levels and the fights within them, because completing Bayonetta's story is only the beginning to experiencing the game.
Replayability is key to Bayonetta. You start out with an impressive set of combos and your pistols are certainly not inept at dispatching enemies. But as you unlock weapons during the game by finding Angelic LP's, you'll find yourself becoming more powerful while mix and matching setups because, don't forget, you've got a set of ankles that can even hold a pair of rocket launchers with no problem. The legendary Demon blacksmith Rodin forges all these weapons for you and also sells special moves, though some are also unlocked in the story and become permanently usable, even when playing earlier levels. Bit by bit you familiarize yourself with these new weapons and moves and before you know it, you'll score a Platinum trophy on levels you barely could manage a Silver on before. In short, Bayonetta is about getting good, one victory at a time.
The requirement of "getting good" may turn off some players. In games like Dark Souls, there's little else you can do to beat the game besides being either very good, getting very good, or grinding until you can shrug off the attacks that were giving you trouble before. Bayonetta bridges the skill gap differently. The Immortal Marionette is a unique accessory in the game that is an opt-out item for anyone who plays on Easy or Very Easy difficulty. When worn, simply repeatedly pressing one of the two attack buttons is enough in combat. Bayonetta will dash towards enemies and perform complex combos that ideally befit the mix of weapons you currently are equipped with, even dodging will be taken care of.
If you lack the skill for a game like this but still want to see spectacular fights, using this accessory may still provide some excitement for you. However, it is only usable on difficulties Normal and above if unlocked by finishing Easy mode. And even then, any combo points earned will be halved. It is a harsh punishment, but I've found that it was still possible to earn Gold Trophies even on Hard difficulty. Speaking of difficulties, any difficulty above Normal requires you to beat the hardest one before it before you can try your hand at it. This seems part of the design as the enemy setup in some of the levels, especially early on, seem to have switched up drastically with some enemies appearing well before their introductory level.
Speaking of, is Bayonetta a game worth replaying several times over? It depends on who you ask. If you aren't particularly skilled at these kinds of games and just tough through it with or without the Immortal Marionette, you'll be presented a convoluted story about memory loss, angelic figures being condescending dirtbags and strange character interactions. It shouldn't really surprise you, though, because Bayonetta and most of her friends are hardly regular in any variety. A Shadow Witch who signed a deal with a butterfly devil, a demon gunsmith and a journalist escape artist with a grappling hook just to name a few. The story is unusual and weird, and the game makes no attempt at hiding this whatsoever. This may sound negative, but if you simply give up and go along with it, you may find yourself enamored to the raw power that resides within Bayonetta, both in combat prowess as well as personality. I find myself challenged to call it anything other than a 'wild ride'.
What doesn't help a games' replayability are technical issues. Many good games have become shadows of their former selves, left to be forgotten, simply because the PC port was too poor. But Bayonetta fans and veterans can rest at ease because this isn't the case here.
From start to finish the game proved to be a smooth experience. Bayonetta fluidly supports the mixed use of keyboard and mouse and gamepad, where the buttons shown in the UI swiftly change based on the last used peripheral. Using a mouse has been particularly helpful when playing the post-level game called Angel Attack, a shooting gallery where you can shoot targets to eventually earn consumables. With that in mind, it seems this is as good as it's going to get.
With Vsync unlocked, the game sported a healthy 60 frames per second during combat, but it always turned to 30 whenever a cutscene would play, even if it was a cutscene that was clearly taking place in the game itself and isn't a pre-recorded one. While that was relatively bizarre, it never struck me as too jarring.
In terms of controlling, the Steam page wasn't being entirely unfair. Just like most character action games, Bayonetta is indeed best experienced with a controller. That said, the keyboard and mouse method isn't completely terrible. The keys are rebindable and come with two mappable rows. The default layout is set up to let you completely use your keyboard without the mouse if you so desire. So while using KBM is inadvisable, it doesn't seem like it's anything near a disaster, though using Alt for targeting may eventually end up cramping your hand.
Menu navigation is its own problem. When scrolling through the settings, you can tell that the scroll wheel is bound in a fashion to pressing up or down in a menu, even if there's a scrollbar. It's not ideal, but ultimately not that big of a problem for a game that's not as intensive on the menus as other games would be.
As for sound, there's very little to comment on. The sound effects, the music, the voice acting is just as stellar as it was seven years ago. The only difference is, someone who plays on PC is far more likely to wear headphones. This results in most users experiencing the sound design even better. There's even a setting in the menu for headphone users that'll help them experience it even better.
Last but not least, the graphics settings have been accommodated towards PC users as well. A borderless windowed mode is present along with several separated quality settings. A VRAM bar is included which may prove useful to some. It's not as extensive as a stickler for them would like, but for me, it's largely serviceable.
This was one hell of a game seven years ago, and with this port, it would seem that it has aged well. Even when a lot of good work has gone into making the port function very well, there are still telltale signs that it is above all, still a port. With Vsync disabled the game seems still capped at 60 fps, menu operation and even combat only operates ideally for gamepad users, and there have been one or two graphic glitches at the edges of the screen during specific cutscenes because of widescreen.
Bayonetta is perfectly serviceable, mechanically functions as expected, and so far hasn't thrown any odd problems my way. While imperfect, the amount of effort it must have taken for this port to function as well as it does certainly seem to allude to a better future for SEGA ports.
Here's to hoping Vanquish will peek its head around some day!
- Excellent Graphics
- Steller Gameplay
- Sound Design As Good As Ever
- Framerate Stuck At 60
- Keyboard/Mouse Controls Not Ideal
- Unnecessary Cutscene QTE's