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The Melancholy of Bayonetta
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The Melancholy of Bayonetta
by Christopher Enderle on 06/28/11 09:20:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Reposted from my blog.

I finally got around to playing Bayonetta but I have to admit I'm pretty disappointed. I loved the media related to Bayonetta. How shamelessly over the top and tongue in cheek it seemed to be. But then we finally get to the gameplay and all that built up personality and character feels shattered by the game constantly tripping over itself.

Where the non interactive parts seem firmly planted in the vein of God Hand, the gameplay strays little from Devil May Cry, and, especially after Arkham Asylum, Devil May Cry's combat just feels a bit too dated for my tastes. The controls feel too unresponsive (I think fighting games should have some sort of lag adjuster like Guitar Hero and Rock Band have), it's too hard to tell if you pressed a button too early or too late, it's hard to even see yourself when things get chaotic... there's lots of small issues (especially on the PS3 perhaps), but the crux of the experience comes down on the combat.

When I play a power fantasy game I mainly just want to have my character doing the awesome things the character is supposedly capable of doing, without having to memorize complex formulas or jump through a ton of hoops (like switching between weapons to jump cancel air dash *brain explode*). Maybe I'm not just the target audience for a game like Bayonetta, but then I wonder why I felt advertised to.

Going into this game with God Hand in mind might have spoiled my experience, but I think it helped me realize something really unique and critical to its enjoyment that God Hand did. God Hand lets you get to the meat of a moveset without having to keep in mind a seemingly endless index of button combinations.



In Bayonetta a punch isn't always just a punch. What sort of punch you punch is dependent on context: whether or not you are jumping up, falling down, moving in a particular direction or standing still, have punched or kicked immediately prior to this punch or a second before this punch, and whether or not you have enough magical energy to pull off whatever your move is supposed to result in. In God Hand you get at most like 6 different punches, through which you'll cycle through as you progress your combo, otherwise formulating combos is up to the player to tailor fit to their play style and level of comfort.



Now, I don't think God Hand's system is perfect, setting a movelist is pretty complex stuff and it would be nice if the game could just dynamically generate your moveset based on the situation. This is how Batman Arkham Asylum sort of feels like, but even there more powerful moves are buried behind a combo limit. The good thing is you only have to build up your combo to a certain limit for Batman to start really kicking ass, you don't have to build up any one specific combo for every single badass move though, which is what Bayonetta stubbornly requires.



Perhaps I'm just bitter because the final moment in the game involved me mistaking how awesome it would be to punch the final boss through every planet AND THEN into the sun, rather directly into the sun. I'm sorry that my version of awesome doesn't match up with your version of awesome, Platinum Games.


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Comments


Joshua Sterns
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God of War franchise, God of War Clones, and Ninja Gaiden franchise all have a set combo lists. Most of the games are pretty high on the awesome scale (some of the clones are meh).



I do agree about Batman. That game blew me away with its brawler combat. No block just counter. Easy to understand controls and an overall great feel. I knew when I messed up. It never felt cheap or buggy.



Bayonetta fails because the blend of gameplay, story, and presentation is tediously mediocre. I agree with what your saying about combat, but would argue in favor of a set combo list for certain games.



The key is to make said list accessible to almost everybody. To make the lesser combos feel just as epic as the more complex ones. Better yet have different handicaps that enable novice players the chance to experience the awesome complicated combos with ease. Include an easy mode similar to that of Marvel v Capcom 3.

Wally A
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Bayonetta had an easy mode. It could be played with basically one button- the AI would chose not just attacks but even placement, and it still provided a challenge for those with less time to play/practice.



Also, your praise for Batman in the second paragraph holds true for Bayonetta, even more so. No blocking, just the dodge into witch time and offset. All animations are cancellable into a dodge and the dodge is invincible. It never feels cheap because response is instant, and it never loses flow because a combo interrupted by a dodge can be completed after the dodge, and is in fact more powerful.



Bayonetta has a mode where 2 hits will kill you regardless. Many players have completed this, and even I with limited ability and patience have gone very far. If there was cheapness or bugginess in the system, it would be impossible to play without taking a single hit... but most bayonetta players including those of low ability will make it through 75% of a level without getting hit, after finishing the game once on hard.



Played properly, bayonetta's combat flows better than Batman's. With batman, getting hit by the enemy causes an interrupt, and mistiming a counter also interrupts the flow. Animations for the attacks are not telegraphed well and so the game relies on on-screen prompts. Bayonetta has audio cues for each attack as well as widely telegraphed actions. The problem is, Batman explains the counter system well while Bayonetta's lessons are hidden in poorly documented secret challenges.



Your third paragraph is correct. The failure of bayonetta comes from the story and presentation. Presentation because the proper way to play is never made obvious, and the player is not guided in this direction at all. Most people play bayonetta incorrectly and give up in frustration when a 5 minute explanation of a few basic concepts would have greatly increased their enjoyment.



Also, I have an issue with the story- it is ponderous and not well told. The soft porn/stripper aesthetic is also misplaced, unfortunate and off-putting. I sincerely wish this game could be re-skinned into something closer in theme and look to devil may cry.



This however does not detract from the raw brilliance of the gameplay system.

Christopher Enderle
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Thanks for the comments, Wally. I see your point that Bayonetta's system itself might be quite nice, whereas it's how the game eases the player into the system that's at fault. One relies upon the other, so this perspective from someone who was able to get over the learning hurdle is helpful. It seems it could be a similar situation as Resident Evil's controls. People used to criticize the tank controls, but the real problem was the camera. Put the camera over the shoulder and tank controls work great! I would definitely be willing to give the game another go, this time a more methodical and open "I'm not leaving until I figure this out" attitude.

Aaron Truehitt
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Mmm, Batman. Such a satisfying combat system. Some of these other combat systems...DmC, GoW, just feel over done and you never know "exactly" what happened. You just try again and hope for the best. It lacks the pack of a punch or move and insteads goes for a barrage of attack moves. Hopefully, Ninja Gaiden 3 adds that punch and satisfaction, which they may be doing with their emphasis on breaking bone.



As to Bayonetta, I agree. I couldn't stand playing it though. I just felt odd. It wasn't the type of game I'd want anyone to walk in and see me playing.

Wally A
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Well, if your problem with Bayo is the presentation I couldnt agree more. The misogyny and pornography are a major problem.



However the gameplay system is superior to any existing third person action game available today. I have replied to others above about this. Bayonetta is not a "hope for the best" combat system type of game.

Jacob Pederson
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I not a true hardcore player of the Genre, but I have been through all of the GOWs and 2 of the Devil May Cries. Personally I liked Bayonetta. I didn't find it to be up to the exacting standards ofGOW or Devil May Cry, but it came pretty darn close.



And wow, what you said about the lag detector is a genius idea. After timing out all my displays and stereo equipment with Rock Band 3, I was appalled at the lag. I now game on a 15 year old stereo and a projector. The stereo shows up as 0ms and the projector as 15ms on Rock Band. So Much Better.



I don't think the same kind of lag correction would work though. Rock Band can correct for lag because it knows exactly what is coming next at all times (the next note), a fighting game isn't going to have this luxury.

Christopher Enderle
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That's true. I think a solution to lag (either from the hardware or just someone with slightly slower reflexes) would be worth pursuing, though. Maybe sometimes it's just an issue of hard to read attack animations.



Even with the most basic enemy in Bayonetta I would get the timing down, but then, for no discernible reason, fail to dodge over and over for periods. Another problem is when, to me, a certain attack looks like it should be hitting at a certain point, and so I try to dodge away at that point, but the actual frames the designer intended the attack to be dodgeable are somewhere else. I can give a pass to stuff like that in Street Fighter where you can practice against specific opponents and against their specific moves all day long, but a game like Bayonetta doesn't really have much in the way of practicing, except to just die over and over as you experiment, "Ok, maybe I'm supposed to dodge... NOW... ...well that wasn't it. Ok, maybe the sweet spot is... NOW... ...oh boy, this is going to take a while."

Wally A
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I am puzzled by this. I never encountered this problem.



As a matter of fact the game is extraordinarily lenient with dodging...?! The dodge animation is invincible and as a result even if you mistime the dodge you should pass right through the enemy's attack.



The only challenge was going into witch-time consistently- that took practice and "memorisation" but there are enough "easy triggers" that you do not need to learn the witch time pattern for all opponents!



Also the game has the "bat within" ability so even if you are late and fail the dodge, your character will split into bats and give you some free witch time. I am honestly puzzled that with all these concessions, there would be a lag issue....



Did you play on ps3? I heard that version had problems. I only played on 360, unfortunately.



Perhaps the issue could be input lag? I can't remember whether I played on a wireless or wired controller. Perhaps my experience/opinion is skewed by that factor...?

Jonathan Jou
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As a devout lover of Platinum Games, I'd be tempted to say things like "you don't get it" or "you just need to give it more time." But I see your points, and I'm somewhat interested to know what exactly you were hoping for.



The default difficulty for Bayonetta resulted in more than a few deaths every level for me. It got frustrating more than once, but between the bevy of items at my disposal and all the one-time upgrades I could buy, no challenge proved insurmountable. I've got several stone statues for my performances that I have no interest in fixing.



However, the easy difficulty pretty much gives you *exactly* what you were asking for. All combos are performed automatically--you could mash either attack button blindly and repeatedly while the fists fly and things died. If you were hoping to watch the game kick ass whether you wanted it to or not, Platinum Games put quite some effort into giving you an option to feel that way. There's an incredibly tricky balance between seeming "unfair" (try I Want to be the Guy sometime), and seeming to play itself. (The 360/PS3 reboot of Prince of Persia had the prince running effortlessly at the press of a few buttons, and you could never die or anything.) I agree that nailing that balance like God of War or Batman: Arkham Asylum pulled off is tricky, but I don't think an extensive combo list is something to criticize. The devs at Platinum games spent time animating, designing, and testing each of those combos, so that you would never end up with a button combination that didn't end with a bang. Wishing they'd made the combat *less* intricate is like asking for a three-hit combo and nothing else.



To compare, how did you like the combat in Fable? Molyneux touted the one-button combat system which, in theory, sounds exactly like what you were hoping for: watching your in-game character terrorize the masses while including nuanced skill at the same time. To me, monotonous domination is more discouraging than failed experimentation. I had more fun trying out combos in Bayonetta (and getting my rear handed to me for it) than I ever did clearing out whole dungeons in Fable, or Dynasty Warriors without taking a single hit.



So the fact that Bayonetta tries to be more of a fighting game than a side-scrolling beat-em up is a plus to me; Bayonetta's combat oozed style and flair, and the hoops I jumped through to be a badass, made me feel like I actually *was* a badass. The combat was so engrossing I forgave the later enemies having far more invincibility frames and far fewer weaknesses.



I got good at Bayonetta, and it kept getting more rewarding as I did. That's how I determine if a game has depth and challenge instead of unfair difficulty. I think Rocksteady did a great job choosing to reduce the variables in combat, but I also have to confess to being deeply enamored feeling like I earn the right to do the cool things happening onscreen.

Christopher Enderle
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See, to me, the frustration of failed experimentation outweighed any fun. Despite the multitude of combos, unless I opened up the combo list and memorize a handful of combos I rarely simply stumbled upon a cool move. Bayonetta's easier modes are fine, but what I really enjoy in a game is mastery. Mastery in Arkham Asylum involves utilizing all your tools, attacks, counters, dodgers, and finishers in such a well timed and orchestrated way. Even God Hand had more of a discernible tempo to its encounters: punch until they start blocking, then heavy attack, then while they're stunned do something crazy.



Now, once or twice in Bayonetta I got some context sensitive prompt, usually if an enemy was on the ground. Of course, if I ever did in the right position to stomp on them a little another enemy would quickly hit me over the head from behind, so it seemed to be a pretty worthless option. The torture attacks were great, but otherwise Bayonetta's combat just seemed to be a two note "attack" and "dodge." Maybe the tempo of Bayonetta is just too quick for anything else, or too quick for me to discern anything else, but while I liked how quick it looked from previews, I was really hoping there was a more unified structure running beneath it all. That's really more along the lines of what I was hoping for (and the ridiculous stuff from God Hand and Bayonetta's cutscenes like kicking enemies into orbit).



I'm with you in loving on Platinum, I've bought every game from them so far (Day 1, except for Bayonetta), but Bayonetta really felt more like Capcom than Clover. I wasn't expecting (well, I was hoping it wouldn't be) Devil May Cry. I've never played Fable, but I think that as long as the mastery process itself of a combat system is fun (that is, not simply memorizing long lists of button combinations) then it's a good combat system. I think it really comes down to how I feel everything jives. Bayonetta's combat just didn't seem to fit with its general presentation. Really simple combat systems like in Ico or Zelda are dear to me as well, though.

Roderick Hossack
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Jonathan took the words right out of my mouth. I'd like to add that if you complete the Easy Automatic mode, you unlock an accessory (that can be equipped in its own slot, rather than taking up one of the two standard ones) that enables that same simplified combo system in any other difficulty.



If you want to get better at a game, it takes practice. I know the in-game movelist seems overwhelming, but it really isn't. If you take the time to sit and really play with the game (there's no such thing as failed experimentation, especially not if you go back to an old level or Alfheim Portal to try things out), you'll find that it really isn't as convoluted as it might seem. And the inputs for each set of weapons is identical.



Breaking down the combo system is really easy. No built-in string is longer than maybe 6 inputs, and they're all something like this: PPPPPP, PPPPPK, PPPPKK, PPPKKK, PPK, and so on. You can add variations with pauses in between some of the inputs, like P . P . P, or holding a button down instead of tapping it, or rapidly tapping a button at the end of a combo, but that's it. Directions only come into play for special moves.



Once you learn what the outcome of any of the combos are, you can then use that to your advantage. Start a combo and end it with a move that knocks the enemy into another enemy, then use the Crow ability to quickly fly over to them, continue the combo into an uppercut, jump cancel it to continue with an air combo, cancel that with the upward kick into another aerial combo followed by a heel stomp, switch to the sword and charge up a ground pound move... All of this can be done on the fly once you learn the moves.



As you play through the game, or research it a bit, you learn things like jump canceling, dodge offsetting, and various other little tricks that look cool and are very effective. Check out some of the stuff you can pull off when you become familiar with the combo system:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ch1U73QXTsY



It's really, really rewarding.

Christopher Enderle
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Practice definitely does make perfect, and maybe it's unfair to apply my own impatient standards, but throughout my playthrough of the game, nothing ever clicked to the point where I felt compelled to replay previous segments. The Alfheim's were cool and a lot of fun, but I hardly ever found any of them except mostly very gimmicky ones.



I'm sure I could grow to love Bayonetta, and I recognize that many people hold it in high regard, but, when given the same opportunity as any other game, Bayonetta failed to deliver in the way I hoped it would. If I were to ever make my own dream game, I feel like Bayonetta had issues worth addressing and finding solutions for. I don't think I would want to create a combat system that would require some people to study a text in order to grasp and master it. I think a better harmony between complexity and intuitiveness is possible.



I still don't think I'll ever be able to get on board with dialing in combos thing. It gets back to the lag issue. It seems impossible to me to discern and (especially during intense, chaotic combat) remain aware of whether or not I pressed a button once or twice, or if the game recognized the second button press or if I pressed to slowly or too quickly, or if that extra button press which didn't result in an actual move being performed still screwed up the overarching combo I was trying to execute. That's the anxiety that plays in my mind while playing Bayonetta.

Wally A
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I agree that when given the same opportunity as another game, bayonetta would fail. You literally need an existing bayonetta fan looking over your shoulder and giving verbal tips to really "get" the game.



In that regard, it is inferior to the genre leaders.



Nonetheless the criticisms of the system itself should be revised. Mere explanation would solve most of the problems you had (except the inexplicable lag issue I responded to earlier) and platinum failed in that regard.



I repeat, repeat, repeat. Bayo is NOT about dialling in combos. It is more like- you prepare and deliver a weave attack. The "combo list" should never have been included in the game. When you understand how a weave is "prepared" you will never need to remember a single combo... it is all just organic and will flow from your consciousness like water.

Christopher Enderle
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By now a few people have mentioned how the combo system was designed to produce effective and impressive moves no matter what is pressed/what items are used. To address that point, let me first say I was personally hoping the way you and others have presented the system is the way it would work out in practice. In my experience with Bayonetta, though, I can point to one single instance to illustrate how I felt the system failed in general.



In one Alfheim, enemies could only be damaged by Wicked Weave attacks, which usually occur at or near the end of a combo. After a couple tries spamming regular attacks and running out of time (what was the time limit for this one? Three minutes? A minute and a half?) I was hardly able to produce enough Wicked Weaves to even get past the first wave of enemies (I think they were Cherubim). At this point I had to hit pause, go through the menu, and look up the quickest combo that produced a Wicked Weave.



To me, it didn't feel like a moment of, "Oh, so that's how it works. Now I understand" but more like a moment of, "Ok, game, I'll do things your way and learn me some proper combos." You could accuse me of being stubborn and unwilling to play a game the way it wants you to play, and I would agree that I can be stubborn, but that just goes back to my article's point that with better design the game should play the way I want to, not the other way around as much. It's a balance, though, I admit.



I couldn't make heads or tales of Resonance of Fate's combat system in my first battle, the tutorial didn't make too much sense to me, but I didn't want to give up on a game I paid good money for after the very first battle, so I put a little more thought into it, tried again, won my first battle and never looked back. I think once you hook a player at a certain point you can ask more of them and they will be ready and willing to give more to delve into the mastery of a system, but I was never able to even reach that point in Bayonetta.

Dennis Hahn
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I can agree with a lot of things in this article, but it all comes down to what each person likes. Sometimes I find people saying that mortal kombat is a much better game than street fighter because of the fatalities, but you know that some of the street fighter games are still being played competitively out there, while MK games are not. This doesn't mean that one game is better than other, but it's a fact that there are some gamers who want to pull some fatalities on their friends and have a good time, while there are others that want to spend years thinking of countermeasures for their friends techinques and that a cheap invincible blow would take all the fun away from the latter group.



I am, just as Jonathan Jou a devotee of Platinum Games, but I still can enjoy (and I actually loved) batman arkham asylum's combat system: it's intuitive, responsive and simple. In spite of that, I must admit that I prefer Bayonetta's combat system because of the depth. In B:AA once you unlock everything, it all comes down to nailing a flawless freeflow combo with all the "variants" and then you reached the peak of that combat system. It's not trivial, but it doesn't require much creativity. In Bayonetta I was able to pull of far more complicated stuff and it felt great (it made me stand up from my chair and roar, to be honest) but then I went to youtube and I saw a guy pulling off some combos that made mine look like playing double dragon. I am looking forward to pull off those combos one day even though I finished the game three times already (and yes, the story sucks), so to me it seems like I can keep milking the game for more fun. But again, that's me. If you find the combat system too cryptic or frustrating I agree you can pursue getting a good score in B:AA challenge rooms, hell even I did and it's a pleasure too.



One thing that I would like to add to the article is that not only the combat system requires time and practice, but also there are some very cool techniques that require more explanation like dodge offset: in a nutshell its the ability to dodge in the middle of a combo without cancelling it. This technique is crucial to pull off great maneuvers and I only got to know it by trying to unlock Platinum trophy (which I did).



For all of you saying this is a fanboy post, you may be right, but Platinum Games is perhaps the last company out there developing the games I love, so if there is anything I can do besides buying their games (even when its a subpar port as in PS3 case for Bayo) to support them, I will.

Wally A
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I agree. Batman:AA had one of my most beloved combat systems but in the end it was just too simplistic- nonetheless I had already gotten several hours of enjoyment out of it by that time.


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