Over 10 years later, Bayonetta is still one of the best action games

(Image credit: PlatinumGames)

There's no other game character quite like Bayonetta. Platinum's Umbran witch is the height of sexy style, combining the poise of a model with movie-star confidence and a devilish hedonistic thirst. Best of all, for an action game, she brings every ounce of that personality into combat, ensuring the game with her name on it is a constant delight.

Bayonetta works for a lot of reasons, but first and foremost is its towering protagonist. Clad in skin-tight black attire (made out of her own hair – a trend we hope doesn't catch on) and platform heels she clearly likes to dominate, and that's exactly what she does. Facing off against the angelic forces of Paradiso, she moves with power and agility, spanking her foes into submission, tossing out innuendos as they explode. She's so slick and composed, it's a privilege to be permitted to control her; one you shouldn't waste with mediocre performance.

A witch in time  


(Image credit: PlatinumGames)

Fortunately, you're given a comprehensive suite of offensive and defensive options, including a range of punch and kick combos and the four pistols Bayonetta straps to her limbs, allowing you to follow up strikes with volleys of shots. And not only pistols, as you acquire more armaments on your travels, enabling you to mix and match hand and foot pairings. How about taping bazookas to your legs and ending each kick with a rocket, paired with flaming claws on your hands? Or maybe try the harmonious duet of ice skates and a whip? Bayonetta handles it all, strutting, pirouetting, and even posing to the disco soundtrack purely for her own pleasure.

Of course, Bayonetta is not merely an agile assassin, she's a witch, and magic accompanies her every step, from butterfly wings that sprout as she double jumps to much more brutal eruptions. Her niftiest trick, though, is 'witch time', which triggers automatically if you somersault through an enemy attack, briefly sending the world into slow motion. As you dance around your assailant and rattle off a combo into their leaden body, it's like punishment for them daring to try to touch you. 

You might then end your riposte with a 'wicked weave', crushing the offending angel with a giant stiletto, or, if you've built up enough spell juice, a deadly 'torture attack', such as conjuring a guillotine and delivering a helpless foe to its blade with a boot up the bum. As for larger opponents, Bayonetta pulls one of her giant demonic servants from hell to chomp them down whole.


(Image credit: PlatinumGames)

"Besides its exquisite move-set, Bayonetta features some of Platinum's most inspired/absurd level design."

The resulting show is spectacular, and like a paddling duck, maintaining Bayonetta's gliding serenity requires a frenzy of inputs. Hammering away without a plan won’t get you far. You have to invite attacks to trigger witch time, isolate targets, save torture attacks for tougher opponents, and keep moving. The exercise gets faster and busier, until the highest difficulty disables witch time altogether. Surely it's impossible to cope without it? But somehow it isn't. Like taking the stabilisers off a bike, you realise you don't need it after all. Besides its exquisite move-set, Bayonetta features some of Platinum's most inspired/absurd level design. 

The tone is set from the off as you get to grips with the basics while standing on a chunk of a clocktower that's plummeting through the sky. Later you're thrown into a sequence that recalls arcade classic Space Harrier, culminating in a boss fight against witchy rival Jeanne while riding a series of giant missiles. Regular battles, meanwhile, are boosted by the grotesque, Biblically-based design of the angels, from bird-men with sharp beaks and claws and cackling winged heads to bulbous monstrosities with upside-down faces and dragon neck arms. It's easy to feel quite at peace with kicking the stuffing out of them. 

In the end, the only time Bayonetta sags is when the violence stops, in cutscenes (that you can skip) which feature a lacklustre supporting cast, including Enzo, a bad Joe Pesci tribute, and a camera that stares too often at Bayonetta's behind - a tacky move on a character who's otherwise sexy on her own terms. This is an action game that works best when its star is calling the shots. Bayonetta remains the queen of the genre.

This feature first appeared in Play Magazine issue 16. Subscribe today here to get more fantastic features, interviews, previews, and more. 

Freelance Games Critic

 Jon Bailes is a freelance games critic, author and social theorist. After completing a PhD in European Studies, he first wrote about games in his book Ideology and the Virtual City, and has since gone on to write features, reviews, and analysis for Edge, Washington Post, Wired, The Guardian, and many other publications. His gaming tastes were forged by old arcade games such as R-Type and classic JRPGs like Phantasy Star. These days he’s especially interested in games that tell stories in interesting ways, from Dark Souls to Celeste, or anything that offers something a little different.