I’d like to establish upfront that I both believe in God and am blocked by Hideki Kamiya on Twitter. I think that’s important for you to know before my next statement, so as not to come off hyperbolic or biased. Please keep these two things in mind as you read on.
There has not been a single game better than Bayonetta since it was released in 2009 (early 2010 outside of Japan). The only thing that has ever come close released in 2014, which was Bayonetta 2. Put simply, the Bayonetta series is the peak of gaming. While I think there are plenty of games released before 2009 that are better than Bayonetta, such as Deadly Rooms of Death, Tony Hawk’s Underground, that Matrix mod I had as a kid for Max Payne where you played as Neo in the government lobby shootout, and Street Fighter II, nothing since has reached the heights of PlatinumGames’ premier character action franchise.
I pray every single night before bed. This has, by my estimation, secured me a rightful spot in Heaven and saved me from eternal damnation. As long as I go over that largely scripted three minute prayer, no matter what I do on Earth, I should be sitting pretty in death. My faith is important to me, a way to take inventory of my day and cap off my night with a bit of reflection. But my faith isn’t infallible, because as far as I’m concerned, the coolest thing ever designed, coded, and scripted into a video game is the combat of the Bayonetta series, which has you beating the Holy Hell out of God’s legions of angels.
Character action games such as the Devil May Cry, God of War, and Bayonetta series only work based on how good they feel to play. Because the action is fast and there’s a lot happening on screen at any given moment, controls have to be responsive, quick, and feel right in order to not get lost in the chaos; it should look out of control, but the player should never not be in control. Bayonetta is one of the best examples of a character action game done right. Easy to play but tough to master, even when button mashing, you always feel in control of the flow of action. As you get better at the game, that control shifts to being in command of the action. Combined with stylish presentation, little details like time slowing just before an enemy attack (which in turn allows you to dodge, activating the time-stopping Witch Time, giving you the upperhand), and the ability to switch between two different weapon sets on the fly, combat feels incredibly precise.
The Bayonetta games were directed by Hideki Kamiya, one of the four co-founders of PlatinumGames. Early in his career, Kamiya made a name for himself directing Resident Evil 2 for Capcom, but it was his stylish action games that developed his legacy, directing the landmark Devil May Cry and the cult classic Viewtiful Joe. Bayonetta is born from a long history of making these types of action games. Alongside Kamiya, there are a number of Platinum employees with a hand in the development of other character action games – including co-founders Atsushi Inaba and Shinji Mikami (most well-known for creating Resident Evil).
In a lot of ways, Kamiya has become the face of the character action genre. Seeing the director’s name in the credits for a game like Bayonetta usually means that at the very least the game will feel good to play. Bayonetta, as far as I’m concerned, is Kamiya’s magnum opus, and one of the greatest games ever made without competition. Kamiya blocked me on Twitter for reasons I do not remember, so I’d like to point out this is an objective fact and not a biased opinion or fanboyism, as my personal feelings on him are that he shouldn’t have blocked me. I have really good tweets.
I know a lot of people will take issue with such a bold statement. That in 12 years no developer across the global game industry has been able to top the heights of the Bayonetta series. I can hear the arguments now, about games such as The Last of Us, Red Dead Redemption 2, The Witcher 3. But let me ask you: what do we always praise when we talk about these games? The stories. You know what else has stories? Books! You know what books don’t have? The ability to spank an angel you just beat the s–t out of with big giant hair monsters and guns attached to stiletto heels, that’s what. You show me one page in The Canterbury Tales where that happens and I’ll change my tune. But until then Chaucer can suck a lemon for all I care.
The stories in games like The Last of Us, Red Dead, Witcher 3, they’re good, yeah. Mostly derivative and done better in other mediums, but they are good. Are any of them fun to play? It’s a trickier thing to answer. The Last of Us can be a mediocre cover shooter. Red Dead Redemption 2, for how much I liked its stories and characters, was bogged down with more systems than it knew what to do with, oftentimes at odds with each other. The Witcher 3 feels terrible to play and you literally cannot tell me otherwise.
Can your game be unfun to play and still have a great story? Of course it can. Naughty Dog has released a lot of games at this point. But I do sometimes wonder if in these conversations we’re blinded by how expensive a game looks, giving passes to poor gameplay or fundamental issues because the acting is good, and the faces are animated realistically. (Also, I am not implying this is the metric we judge every game on. Tetris is also one of the greatest games ever made because it is fun to play. However, I do think more recently we get hung up on technical presentation over gameplay as games get more technologically advanced and the storytelling attempts to get better)
The Bayonetta games have stories – a lot! It simply does not matter to me, though. That game could do or say anything, and I will still press the buttons to destroy those angels. How could I not? Bayonetta is one of the only games where simply seeing footage of the game in a YouTube video or something will cause me to drop everything and play it myself. The story is there, it might be good, I don’t know, but more important is that Bayonetta is a game I want to play. And there’s not a game I know of that feels better to play. As far as I’m concerned, that makes you a prime contender for one of the greatest games ever made. Easy. No contest. A lot of games have come out since the first Bayonetta was released in 2009, but between them and dipping back into the Platinum well, I’m going with the one of that feels best.