What can possibly be left unsaid about Bayonetta? The character exploded onto the scene (and into our hearts) in 2009 by Hideki Kamiya, whose work with Devil May Cry and Okami make him no stranger to the character action game genre. However, the games were identified by its heroine, an unflappable amazon of a woman who’s fully in charge of her own destiny, style, and abilities. Bayonetta and its sequel are two of the most fun and crazy action games in the genre. They're made all the more unique by their charm, sense of humor, and over the top presentation. Both games, the latter of which was a Wii U exclusive, have found their way onto the Nintendo Switch, bringing an uncompromised port of this must-play experience.
The essence of Bayonetta can be distilled from the first game’s beautifully nonsensical opening. Set in a cemetery, a woman dressed in an all-white nun’s habit can be seen reading a book over a fresh grave. As she conducts a quiet ritual, her Italian-American stereotype of a partner makes vague references to Eggman from Sonic the Hedgehog before peeing on a gravestone. Eventually, the scene shifts as the nun is revealed to be the Umbra Witch Bayonetta, having cast off the outfit in favor of her hair-based black bodysuit. She blasts Heaven’s hosts of angels with pistols strapped to her heels as a J-POP version of “Fly Me To The Moon” plays in the background. It all goes downhill from there in an adventure filled with larger than life monsters, battles set on collapsing church steeples, and an out of this world dance sequence.
The sequel, Bayonetta 2, opens pretty much the same way, only this time “Moon River” backs up her battle against angels on a fighter jet as it flies through a city. Both games are ultimately a journey of self-discovery for Bayonetta, whose birth was declared an abomination by her fellow witches. Left with little memory of her past, she’ll come across important figures from both the Umbra Witches and their mortal enemies, the Lumen Sages, that reveal her troubled history piece by piece.
If you look up “spectacle” in the dictionary, you’ll see Bayonetta’s smiling face. Everything you’ll find in the game, from enemy designs to finishing moves, was designed to be thoroughly exaggerated. This is, after all, a video game that features a main character whose clothes are made up of thousands of strands of hair that can be called on to form giant hell beasts that rip and tear enemies to pieces. There were also many homages to SEGA properties, as characters are name-dropped and levels designed around classic properties, like Super Hang-On and Afterburner (which was greatly missed in the sequel). But most of all, the Bayonetta games were defined by the incredibly stylish combat system that lets you perform unbelievable feats by combining punches and kicks. All of Bayonetta’s moves do a fantastic job of being flashy and suited to her personality and sex appeal. My favorite, by far, is the breakdance maneuver which puts her on her back, spinning around with her legs spread out as she uses her heel-guns to blast enemies in her immediate area, stopping only to flip onto her stomach and pose for the camera. Is it an effective technique for killing enemies? Not really, but it looks way cool and that’s all the justification you need. Stringing combos together is easy enough but some of her more advanced moves call for good timing and deft finger work. As someone who can barely remember combo strings in fighting games, I’m pleased with the inclusion of an “easy” control mode that automatically triggers Bayonetta's advanced techniques and, as a side note, makes the game more accessible to a wider audience.
The Switch edition of both games are marvelous, and nothing has been lost in the transition. The version of Bayonetta included as a digital download is the same as the Wii U port, which was notable for including different costumes for the character to wear. Granted, the Princess Peach, Link, Daisy, and Samus costumes are cheap Nintendo tie-ins, but most are really well made. As an example, the Peach costume changes Bayonetta’ body suit to that of the princess’ bright pink and white gown designed from the ground up to fit the character’s look and personality (it also adds really cute Mario Star charms to her pistols). The costume also modifies the appearance of the hair demon’s fists and feet to that of Bowser and there’s nothing funnier than seeing a large scaley fist appear from out of nowhere during a battle. The controls for both games have been modified to allow the player to interact directly with the tablet’s screen to move Bayonetta and attack enemies. It’s handy but by no means the most desirable way to play. The Joy-Cons held up well against my button mashing. That said, this game pushed me over the fence and got me to buy a wireless Pro controller. If you don’t want to pay $70 for a “proper” controller, the peripheral that came with the console, the one you can slide the Joy-Cons into, works perfectly fine.
The re-release of Bayonetta 2 and the re-re-release of Bayonetta is a good example of the good that comes with porting older games to new consoles, even more so on a Nintendo platform that has become a runaway success (unlike its hastily abandoned predecessor). While the first game shows its age a little, Bayonetta 2 looks as if it were released last year. The graphics are better, the gameplay has more nuance, and the presentation is even more outrageous. And best of all, both games run like a dream when taken off the dock. It still blows my mind that Nintendo was able to get high-end games like this and Skyrim to run so well when played on the go. If you haven’t played Bayonetta before, then this two-game collection is the perfect opportunity to get on board. And for those anxiously awaiting the release of Bayonetta 3, there’s no reason to not dip back into the well with this fully featured, amiibo supported, and now completely mobile, Switch reproduction of Platinum Games’ best franchise.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.