I’m dumb. Some of you may know this, but I just came to the realisation recently. Basically, I realised I was dumb for ignoring Bayonetta for so long. I should have known better. I mean – I played Nier: Automata last year, and it instantly became one of my favourite games ever, but I never put any thought into WHY it was so good. Turns out it has a little more than something to do with the developer, Platinum Games. And I discovered this when I played Bayonetta recently and realised almost instantly that THAT would also become one of my favourite games ever. This is when I put two and two together. See? I can be clever sometimes.
As it turns out, Platinum Games has a fairly standard formula for their third-person action-adventure games: Players move in three dimensions. Players have both a melee weapon and a ranged weapon. Players can use combos. Players can move fairly acrobatically and are able to evade enemy attacks. Certain “well-timed” evasions are rewarded by slowing of time. All of this together results in extremely rewarding and enjoyable gameplay.
This rewarding and enjoyable gameplay is something that Platinum Games has milked. Bayonetta uses it. Transformers: Devastation uses it. Nier: Automata uses it. And several other games that Platinum Games has made (including Vanquish, Mad World, Anarchy Reigns, and Wonderful 101) use variations of it.
But what makes this work so well for some games, and not so much for others? I’ll use the three titles mentioned above to look into this further.
Let’s start with Transformers: Devastation. This is another game I never played until recently. Initially, I thought it was based on the movie series that I’ve worked very hard to avoid. However, on falling in love with Bayonetta, I thought I should give it a try – and godDAMN it’s good. But it’s not amazing, hence the less than stellar review scores (don’t get me wrong – it reviewed fairly well, but it will never be regarded a classic for reasons I’ll get into).
On the positive side, it gets the action mechanics RIGHT. Using the not-actually-patented Platinum Games method, it’s just fun to play – plus, you can switch between Autobots, transform into a vehicle and zoom around the level – it’s a blast. Further, the voice acting is bang on – it has the same feel as the cartoon, and instantly transported me back to my childhood.
But there’s a lot it gets wrong. On one hand, the environments are quite bland. I guess they were again trying to emulate the cartoon, which itself was plain and dull by design (to save the animators from having to draw too much, you see), but this approach does not work for a video game. It gets very repetitive, very quickly. Further, the weapon and levelling system is downright confusing. All of this resulted in an average game with fun mechanics, while it could have been so much more. Still – I’d recommend giving it a try because it IS fun and it really feels like you’re playing the cartoon, and that’s a bonus (particularly if you grew up in the 80s – while this game is actually based on the more recent series, it feels just like the original).
Then there’s Bayonetta and Nier: Automata – these two ABSOLUTELY got it right. They aren’t the same game, and each has it’s niggles, but for some reason (a very important reason), none of this matters. And I think I’ve nailed it down to one thing: charm.
Both games have the right mechanics, and thus, both are fun to play. Both games have great graphics (although Bayonetta is starting to look at little dated), and yet still are a little bland (particularly Nier: Automata, which tends to use a bunch of greys and browns as a colour palette). Both have amazing music – Nier: Automata had me enchanted from the start, so much so that I even bought the soundtrack, while Bayonetta uses Jazz to perfection – and this is coming from someone that is not quick to appreciate Jazz. Both have impeccable stories, with twists and turns and craziness injected throughout. But bottle all of this up, and you have that one thing that was missing from Transformers – charm.
Bayonetta has a quirky style with a healthy dose of arrogance. Often this can be grating (see Grasshopper Manufacture with No More Heroes), but here, it simply adds to the charm – without the swagger, without the overacting, without the sheer stupidity (her costume is her HAIR, FFS), it wouldn’t be Bayonetta. But built on top of this is a solid structure, all built around religious mythology, with a twist on all of the above – a touch of evil, a taste of the divine. It absolutely has to be played to be understood. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s so fun to play.
Nier: Automata, on the other hand, has another kind of quirkiness. The game is an investigation into the human condition, and yet there are no humans to speak of. It’s essentially a war between Android and robot, played out in a post-apocalyptic setting. It’s equal parts sadness and euphoria, equal parts emptiness and childlike wonder, equal parts pessimistic and naively optimistic… The story itself twists, turns, ends and starts over again (there are 5 primary endings). The gameplay switches from third-person Platinum Standard Mechanics(TM) to multiple other gameplay styles, from bullet hell shooter to platformer, and beyond. It’s one of a kind, and absolutely a must-play title (although it’s probably also not something that everyone would enjoy, which could be said about everything, I guess).
I’m yet to play Bayonetta 2, but I’m sure it’s just as mind-blowing as the first (and I’m now on the Bayonetta 3 excitement HYPETRAIN). I’m also yet to play Vanquish, but it’s high on my list, as I’ve got the feeling it may also have that something special. The rest of the Platinum Games portfolio? I’m not terribly interested, to be honest. I’ve played Mad World, but I can’t remember how I felt about it, and that can’t be good. But the fact that I’ve found 4 new games that I definitely want to play through to the end is enough for me. Not to mention I’m now a Bayonetta fanboy, which is a surprise, to say the least.
I look back at myself several years prior (let’s face it – I still felt this way LAST WEEK), and I recall how I felt when friends of mine told me to play Bayonetta. “I’m not interested,” I’d cry, “it just doesn’t look like something I’d enjoy.” Boy, was I wrong.
It’s EXACTLY the kind of game I enjoy.