Witch & Hero: Celebrating 10 Years of Bayonetta and Vanquish - ArticleEvan Norris , posted on 18 February 2020 / 2,227 Views
2010 was a great year for PlatinumGames. The studio, comprised of several former Capcom employees, debuted two of its greatest games—Bayonetta and Vanquish—which rank today, a decade later, among the finest action titles ever made. To honor the milestone, SEGA bundled remastered versions of the games into a 10th anniversary package that launched today. It shines a bright light on Bayonetta, a technically-superior hack-and-slash game that launched Platinum's flagship series, and Vanquish, a high-octane shooter that rewrote the rules of cover-based third-person shooting. While each adventure shows its age on the visual front (despite the HD facelift you can spot textures, geometry, and lighting a generation old), both games, on the technical, mechanical, and tactical side of things, belong in the highest eschelon of the action genre.
In an interview with GameSpot in April 2009, Platinum co-founder Hideki Kamiya acknowledged that while the characters and mythology of Bayonetta were entirely original, influences from his older projects, namely Devil May Cry, seeped into the production: "...you may find quite a few common features, as my faith towards action games has never changed." Indeed, Bayonetta feels, to this day, like a natural extension of Kamiya's 2001 masterwork, although even bolder and more refined. With stylish action, otherworldly enemy designs, spectacular art direction, silky gameplay, and a fighting system as deep as the Mariana Trench, Bayonetta is required playing for anyone who wants to experience the best of hack-and-slash gaming.
Featuring a staggeringly sexy witch and staged across multiple divine realities, Bayonetta is a fantastical game about angels, demons, sages, and the ancient tug-of-war between heaven and hell, light and shadow. It's also, like Devil May Cry before it, a third-person hack-and-slash game with versatile action, combos, multipliers, and larger-than-life bosses. While the game has a steep learning curve—the abundance of combos and advanced techniques can prove overwhelming at first—once you wrap your head around the rhythm and timing of combat it becomes sublime. Inputting the right combination of buttons to conjure a spectacular and devastating "wicked weave" is incredibly gratifying, as is dodging a deadly attack at the right moment to trigger a slowdown effect or rotating 360 degrees while emptying your guns (attached to your hands and feet, mind you) into orbiting enemies.
Although Bayonetta includes a sizable single player campaign complete with cut-scenes, NPCs, and upgrade options, at its heart it's an arcade action title. At the end of each fight (or verse) you'll receive a grade based on time, damage, and combo score; you'll earn a similar mark at the end of every chapter. The idea is to learn, improve, and seek higher scores and medals. You could play Bayonetta a single time to experience the story and beat all the bosses, but you'd miss out on hours of experimentation and new challenges at higher difficulty levels. Like the impossible-to-master coin-op games from years past, it's meant to be played more than once.
Bayonetta is not without faults, all of which have made the transition to Xbox One and PS4. The camera can be a little fussy at times in the exploration intervals between combat scenarios, there are a bunch of frustrating instant-death QTEs, and the entire bonkers storyline borders on the incoherent.
Directed by Shinji Mikami of Resident Evil fame, Vanquish is more comprehensible than Bayonetta—it would be difficult not to be—although its narrative still sits low on the totem pole. It concerns a US space station occupied by rogue ultra-nationalist Russians, and a contingent of American troops sent in to liberate the now-weaponized satellite. Along for the ride is the heroic Sam Gideon, a DARPA agent outfitted with a state-of-the-art Augmented Reaction suit.
It's all window dressing, though. The star of the show, as with most Platinum productions, is fast-paced, stylish, and tactical action. While not quite as technically deep or complex as Bayonetta, Vanquish managed in 2010 to push the standard third-person shooting template into brave new places, thanks to a slide-boosting mechanic and an augmented reaction (AR) mode that slows time. In a fascinating development, the game actually penalizes your end-of-chapter score the more time you spend in cover. Basically, the game wants you to dart around the battlefield and not hunker down.
You'll be able to participate in that battleground ballet thanks to slide-boost, which allows Sam to move like a rocket sled around obstacles and toward enemies, and AR mode, which slows down time and allows players to outflank opposing troops and target weakpoints. There's an amazing sense of speed, momentum, and fluidity to Vanquish, courtesy of these systems. As you fly across the floor, dash through enemy lines, and cut down Russian robots in slow motion, you'll begin to understand why the game has such a loyal cult following.
As with Bayonetta, the learning curve can be vertiginous. At first you might bump clumsily into cover and expend your stamina gauge long before the boss bot appears. Just as you could, in theory, treat Bayonetta like a button-masher, you could sample Vanquish as a Gears of War-esque cover-to-cover shooter. Yet there's so much more for players to mine from the experience. It's not just about getting through the fire fight; it's about doing it in the cleanest, smoothest, and most dramatic way possible. Ultimately, your high score will tell the tale.
High scores and replay opportunities notwithstanding, Vanquish is on the short side. At around six to eight hours long, it's about half as substantial as the Bayonetta campaign.
Ten years have passed since Bayonetta and Vanquish landed on American and European shores, but outside of some old-looking textures and lighting, time has done nothing to diminish their greatness. In fact, apart from the 2017 PC ports, on which these remasters are based, the two titles have never looked or played better—thanks to a buttery 60 FPS and, at least on Xbox One X and PS4 Pro, 4K resolution. Performance and image quality notwithstanding, these two games remain titans in their respective sub-genres. Bayonetta is as devilish, sexy, nuanced, and artful as ever and Vanquish remains one of the most spectacular, creative, and graceful third-person shooters of all time.
This article is based on digital codes for Bayonetta and Vanquish on Xbox One, provided by SEGA.