Bayonetta’s a game I’ve been wanting to play for a while now. The God of War franchise has always been a standout for me, so, sub-out Kratos for a girl who gets naked and uses her hair to kill people? Sign me up. Not that Bayonetta ever promised to be God of War with a feminine body, but it doesn’t really fulfill that promise. While very similar, there seems to be a…Japanese?… infusion into the game that made it less enjoyable than God of War, at least for me.
Where Bayonetta Comes Up Short
I think the main issue I had with the game was that they simply took off the training wheels so damn fast. As in God of War, you only have two main attacks, and its the way you button-mash that determines the combos you produce. Obviously, some combos will be good for one situations, while some will be better for others. But…..there are like…100 combos. And they’re all available to you immediately. And they don’t provide good feedback on their damage levels. And you don’t have enough repeated enemies to figure out what abilities are best. And the starting enemies aren’t total pushovers. And the combos are kind of challenging.
What that all led to, at least for me, was figuring out a basic combo that seemed powerful (because it looked powerful), and then spamming that thing on every enemy I came across. For enemies that seemed to be too fast for me to do that combo on, I’d repeatedly dodge until I activated Witch-Time (time slows down for your enemies, while you can attack with virtual immunity) and then execute the combo I wanted. For enemies that were immune to Witch-Time and didn’t respond well to my combo…I was intensely frustrated, and the encounters felt cheap.
That said, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Bayonetta’s battle system. Instead, I think its a flaw with the way they introduce all this to the player. I know Japanese games have a reputation for being more difficult than their American counterparts, and I believe some Japanese gamers take pride in this. However, that’s not the type of game God of War was. God of War was literally the franchise that made me realize – ‘Wow, a game can be absurdly fun while being absurdly easy!’.
What made God of War’s system different?
God of War utilized only a handful of enemy types throughout the entire game. The early enemies were slow and telegraphed everything they did. The harder enemies were eased into. Bayonetta seems to have ADHD. I believe you encounter new enemies in every chapter, and they aren’t repeated frequently enough to get a firm grip on good tactics. Plus…early on, the enemies all looked similar enough that they blended together.
The two attacks were “Normal” and “Heavy” – which do you think did more damage? Bayonetta relies on punches and kicks. First, I’m not even positive that kicks do more damage than punches, especially not mid-combo. Second, I still think part of the reason you use kicks is to get your opponents into the air. And the guns you can use…they didn’t appear to serve any real purpose other than filler.
Witch Time is essentially Bayonetta’s version of Parry. However, Parry simply let you continue your combo and perform one powerful retaliation attack. The important thing was you still felt like you were in the battle and everything was going on around you. The issue with Witch Time is it just feels like you’re bypassing the battle mechanics; Why stay and fight on even terms when you can dodge an ability and then do whatever you want?
God of War started you out with no powers, which forced you to spam, and understand, the limited move set you did have. Slowly unlocking new moves meant you could focus on those moves one at a time. The number of moves that Bayonetta throws at you from the beginning is overwhelming. There is no reasonable way you could be expected to have any clue what to use when, or what they even do. While you can unlock new moves, at least for me, I still didn’t know what my initial moves even did.
In God of War, unlocking moves was a package deal – you received extra moves when you upgraded the power of your existing weapons. Even if your playstyle didn’t benefit from the new moves, you were still excited about the purchase, because your existing moves were now more powerful. The red orbs mattered because upgrading your weapons was an important part of the game. In Bayonetta, the upgrades feel like an afterthought. Your punches and kicks never get any stronger, and you shouldn’t have a much harder time completing the game with your base moves than with the upgrades. The end result is that you never really care about collecting halos. It seems you get more halos for executing long combos, and perhaps that’s the justification to extend your combos with gunfire or less powerful combos – but if the halos aren’t used for anything meaningful, why bother?
How is Bayonetta Better?
Sadly, I can’t really think of any ways that I prefer the Bayonetta system to the God of War one. Bayonetta does feel more ‘skillful’ – the delayed combos in particular require a bit of skill to execute. And of course, there was the incentive to use Wicked Weaves so that Bayonetta would become less-clothed. But in terms of gameplay, I can’t recall ever having a more enjoyable time fighting in Bayonetta than I would have had in God of War.
In boss fights, I felt a very Japanese influence. The end boss, in particular, just seemed to be a display of how many annoying mechanics the game could force me to jump through. The fights with Jeanne felt like they had no structure and I’d just be button mashing at random. Some boss fights, and especially the vehicle segments, just felt like they went on too long. I feel like there should be some…purpose for a level. Introduce a new mechanic, make the player feel skillful, something. It might be easy prey, but there’s a sequence on a missle that lasts a full 10 minutes. You continually do the same thing, with the unfortunate urge to vomit as dodging rapidly spins the entire screen.
I’m a bit ashamed of it…but Bayonetta felt hard for me, even on normal difficulty. Sometimes the difficulty is fine (I played through God of War on God mode, for example), but that experience needs to be pretty seamless to offset the player’s frustration. I felt Bayonetta handled this poorly. Death felt particularly punishing because the game insisted on reloading the scene each time – a process that took about a minute. Even after the restarts, I’d often have to manually cancel through movie sequences I’d already watched. From a programmer’s perspective, I was left scratching my head why the loads took so long, when I had just been battling the boss it was trying to load.
I’ve advocated for this before, but please… give me some way to know how far into the game I am, and how much I have left. Books have had to cope with this ‘limitation’ for a long time now, and they’re still the preferred method of story-telling. Especially when the story has as little structure or sense to it as Bayonetta’s does, I’d like to know that I’m on Chapter 10 of 18.
Interesting Technical Bits
The cinematics were very unique. While the actual in-game animations were very detailed and beautiful, the cinematics were often a sequence of stillframes – like a comic book. I’m not sure if that effect was actually the intent, or if it was done as a clever way to conserve memory. Certainly, if it was a memory consideration, the ability to only have to display a single frame for a 3D model must have been appealing.
Battle System – the fast-paced combat would be interesting. Having pre-set player attack animations interacting with enemy actions would be an interesting problem.
A better scene loader – figure out a way to store the current scene in a way that would limit the kind of timely reloading that Bayonetta does.