Platinum Bundle- Bayonetta and Vanquish: Sign of the times

It’s been a while.

I wrote these a while back but it’s finally time. Unfortunately, I didn’t have that much to say but we need to get through these before we move on to more titles.

Platinum was starting to get big in the late 2000’s with Madworld and then Bayonetta came out to widespread acclaim and I remember being incredibly entertained with the demo that came out on the PS3. But if you remember anything of the 7th generation of consoles, the PS3 was lacking some games for a couple years and Bayonetta would unfortunately not be a part of that lineup as technical issues made it inferior to the Xbox 360 version of the game. Fearing this, I only had the demo be my experience with Bayonetta until earlier last year where I finally got a chance to play the game and play more than just the Vestibule. For better or for worse, Bayonetta dates itself to those 2009 days during a certain era of gaming where the push for graphical fidelity, high-octane action, and the likes were usually emphasized with the overly generous application of Quick Time Events.

Bayonetta stars the eponymous Bayonetta, a member of one of two clandestine covens of magic-using entities known as the Umbra Witches. Together with their counterparts, the Lumen Sages, they remain a secret to the rest of the modern world. Bayonetta however stands apart from both groups but still more or less is identified with the Umbra Witches and fights against hordes of Angels as they and the Sages seem to be working towards the ultimate resurrection of the Creator. The plot specifics aren’t necessarily all that important as all you need to know is that Bayonetta is a key component to the Creator’s return and that her memories are gone. Assisted by a motley crew of Enzo, the informant; Rodin the demon arms dealer; Luka the young rogue who met Bayonetta years ago when his father disappeared; and little girl Cereza who sees Bayonetta as her mother. Bayonetta is also opposed by Jeanne, another Umbra Witch who she shares history with but starts out having no memories of her.

What is important about Bayonetta is the combat though. Coming from the mind behind the original Devil May Cry, Bayonetta boasts a dedicated evasive button, a jump, two whole attack buttons, and guns on each limb. By default, Bayonetta’s punch and kick buttons leave for a variety of combos that are further accentuated by the Wicked Weave attacks where particular combinations and strings summons Bayonetta’s contracted demon to assist with an enormous punch or kick. You can also hold down either attack buttons at any point of an attack to let loose a volley of gunfire and pulling off perfect dodges rewards you with Witch Time where time slows and you’re given ample opportunities to freely attack enemies. Lastly, filling out your magic meter allows you to do showy finishers called Executions to deal with specific enemies immediately. What is immediately apparent is that the enemies are incredibly aggressive so learning how to use the Witch Time power will become imperative in being able to continue with the game. Another important mechanic that the game doesn’t seem interested in emphasizing enough is the Dodge Offset mechanic. When you dodge, you basically stop whatever you were doing to dodge an attack, which means resetting your combo string and not being able to get the damaging combo ender. To mitigate this, you need to hold down an attack button while dodging and release it as you continue the intended string. For something so important, you’d hope that they’d mention this, but then again, DMC doesn’t explicitly show you how useful enemy-step/jump-cancelling is for racking up damage until a decade of combo videos made the development team capitalize on educating its players.

The gameplay patterns of Bayonetta also influenced the style of showmanship present in Platinum’s future title Metal Gear Rising as there are a number of optional battles you can partake in during most missions that factor into the mission’s final score, so if you avoid them, it only penalizes you. I missed a lot on my run through it and I think you really had to just backtrack into some previous areas to trigger them, or I didn’t explore hard enough. Another feature is the generous assortment of QTEs that are cool at first but start to become annoying when messing them up gives you not only a gameover but penalties to your overall score, and this was the biggest thing stopping me from doing multiple playthroughs of the game. 

I’d love to see how the series has advanced in gameplay, both inside the combat and less emphasis on QTEs but alas, I don’t own modern Nintendo platforms to ever try Bayo 2. God knows when more news about Bayo 3 even comes out.

Much like Bayonetta, Vanquish was another Platinum game I only got to play through a demo during the PS3 days and I remember enjoying the fast movement and weapon styles. Years later, after a post-Titanfall 2 world, I flat out enjoyed Vanquish a lot less than I thought I would. Finishing it felt like a bit of a slog and I can easily accredit this to me being bad than the game having faults. I am perfectly willing to accredit my complete lack of skills in F/TPS to nullify any complaints I have with this game because, frankly, I was probably playing it wrong and not using the slides enough to actually hit the bulletsponge enemies in their sweetspots to get rid of them immediately. Anyways, we’ll talk about that.

Vanquish’s story can be boiled down into a few short utterances. It’s more or less the plot of MGS3 except with a couple of things taken out and replaced with other elements. Basically, Russia takes over a space station with superweapons on it and has it aimed at the United States. Sam Gideon from DARPA, wearing an advanced prototype suit that gives him rocket knees, is sent along with a large number of American troops to storm the station and reclaim it before Russia fires off its nukes. Then it turns out that the U.S politician that sanctioned the attack was actually in league with the Russians and wanted to attack the U.S to have an excuse to go to war. Sam stops this, the politician commits suicide, and we get a sequel hook because the closest thing Sam has to a rival survives.

The story is absolutely nothing to write home about. The gameplay is the solid deal in this package and even for a scrub like me, the times when you’re not getting pelted by enemy fire to focus on the boss is at times fun but the set-up does lead itself to some fun set-pieces. You’re not always going to be out in the open and there’s a ton of rail segments and even an annoying stealth point but for the most part, the gameplay is solid if you know how to abuse the suit’s systems. As mentioned, Sam’s suit is the main gimmick of the game and if the cover didn’t give it away, the suit allows you to basically surf on the ground but this also doubles as your emergency health system as well so using it wisely is the way to go, and you can probably guess I didn’t since I just want to be fast. There’s a ton of ways to enter bullet-time to get those accurate shots in but most of the time, you’ll usually be squadding up with some NPCs and Steve Blum fighting hordes of enemies and their mid-sized mechs that straight up look like demons from Doom. I complain about these bullet sponges but a good chunk of them have a weakspot that are either obvious with glowing red spots or shooting at their flamethrower’s fuel tank or one of their back-mounted guns. I had difficulty finding the right time to utilize all my movement options to take these guys out without needing to destroy all the smaller enemies first. Unless you were supposed to do this, then I found this a bit boring. There’s also a melee attack that fucking annihilates everything in front of you but takes away your suit power for a time. 

The weapon variety was mostly irrelevant to me because all you’ll be needing to use those upgrade points to get every now and then on the assault rifle. Some heavy weapons exist and these are there to wipe the bullet sponge enemies out and they replenish enough to use leisurely against the intended big targets. I mostly ran around with an upgraded rifle and shotgun for damn near the entire playthrough.

I really think that I would have enjoyed Vanquish before I really got into Titanfall 2 where I could move around freely without expending resources used for other things but, hey, I could have been prioritizing different things on Vanquish’s end so I’m prepared to besmirch my lack of skill than besmirch the game’s systems. The only time I got really excited for the game was at the very end where you had a legitimately cool cutscene involving Sam fighting off two of his rival’s advanced suits and the ensuing fight was pretty great too since it was just two enemies instead of having an army of mooks firing at you that you had to take out first. Even better, your suit’s gauge gets doubled and you go EVEN FASTER than before and that’s actually plain fucking awesome. I wish more of the game had this bit. 

Anyways, my familiarity with another game that lets you move around really fast without risking your own health in exchange to move fast definitely gave me a bias playing this game a decade after its release.

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