Bayonetta and Vanquish are out again, remastered, for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One – and, frankly, you need to play these games. And if you already have, there’s nothing for you to see here. No need to read any further. Well done, you. You know a great game when you play one. Why not read about Sonic parody porn, or Animal Crossing cuteness. Whatever does it for you.
And back to those who’ve stuck around…
These two action masterpieces, both developed by PlatinumGames (who have, in more recent years, produced Astral Chain and Nier: Automata), are out now in a tenth-anniversary double-pack courtesy of publisher SEGA. They are alike in some aspects and wildly different in others, with Bayonetta an up-close-and-personal hack-and slash affair absolutely at the top of its game, and Vanquish a third-person spin on the most adrenaline-rushing bullet-hell mayhem around. Not entirely natural bedfellows for a bundle, but oh boy, will we ever take it.
What truly binds them is their reputation: while neither has been a huge seller in the years since their original release(s), these are games that have reached beyond cult status to become cornerstones of their genre. That genre, in the broadest sense, is ‘action’. But, really, that doesn’t come close to nailing down what these games are all about. They’re games where the playing does all of the talking necessary.
Bayonetta is about battering angels into bloody pulps courtesy of the most stylish combos around, with a simple interface allowing for maximum accessibility (there are just two main attack buttons to worry about). With guns in hand – and strapped to her ankles (as you do) – Bayonetta is a force of furious devastation, and her hair’s pretty wicked too. And if you perfect your dodging to open up slow-motion attack windows, aka Witch Time, you’ll soon be seeing platinum-grade ratings come your way.
The story of a witch rediscovering her past – and repeatedly punching heavenly bodies in their big, stupid faces – Bayonetta is a wild ride of over-the-top sequences that will leave you breathless – if you give it a chance. Which is to say: write this off as another basic button basher at your peril, as those striving for zero-damage encounters will be getting their highest of high kicks out of this one for a long time, such is its I’ve-gotta-master-this replayability.
That Bayonetta, the character (real name: Cereza), has crossed over into other games and other media – she appears in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Platinum’s own Anarchy Reigns and The Wonderful 101, and in the anime film Bayonetta: Bloody Fate – says much about her instant appeal amid the gaming audience. We’d simply never seen a protagonist quite like her before, and her first headline game is as beautifully brutal as it was the first time we played it, back in 2009. It might look a little muddy around the edges, even remastered, but its purity can only be admired.
Bayonetta isn’t slow by any means; but Vanquish takes that speed and triples it, courtesy of some rockets strapped to the arse of protagonist Sam Gideon. He’s decked out in a special, one-of-a-kind Augmented Reaction Suit (‘ARS’, lol?), which grants him super speed. And he needs it, too, as from its opening moments – once the cutscenes have subsided, that is – Vanquish is all light, all noise, all chaos. With you, as Sam, at the centre of it all.
Sam’s sent up into orbit, alongside a few thousand space marines, to take back control of a space colony that’s been taken over by the Order of the Russian Star. Getting Cold War overtones? Yeah, that’ll happen; and the intro goes an extreme step further, as said rebel group melts a large section of San Francisco using a super-hot laser. The United States is pretty peeved at that, hence sending a whole army into space.
While Bayonetta is largely about a witch’s heels forcefully impacting enemy faces, Sam’s weaponry is more of a traditional third-person shooter affair at first glance. The difference being that his gun actually morphs into different modes, through the BLADE system (yes, it’s kind of the same idea that Control used in 2019). There’s cover, too, giving Vanquish a Gears of War-like look in screenshots; but speed is of the essence when it comes to keeping Sam alive, and both rushing and flanking enemies is a better approach than hunkering down and hoping those millions of bullets coming your way somehow miss. (Spoiler: they won’t.)
Vanquish is – for my money – more demanding than its companion game in this remastered set; or perhaps unforgiving is the word I’m looking for. Bayonetta allows the player to maintain a degree of crowd control, with few enemies carrying ranged weapons, at least at first. Vanquish offers you no such protection, and from the very first engagement with the Russian Star’s robotic forces, you almost daren’t blink for getting shot in the backside. Like Bayonetta, the real challenge is the mastering of the game’s mechanics, rather than the waves of enemies coming at you. And while there are some hiccups in this game’s campaign, Vanquish moves along at such a rate that an hour’s play feels like five minutes.
It’s also a lot bleaker than its bundle-mate – despite a histrionic energy, the story of Vanquish is marked by a number of twists that see [REDACTED], for all manner of wicked reasons. Come the credits, you’ll have loved the action but maybe not the sour taste that ‘victory’ has left you with. Sure, the dialogue is corny and the characters larger than life – sometimes literally. But nevertheless, there’s a dark heart to Vanquish that I’d kind of forgotten about until I revisited it for this write-up.
But, really, it’s not the story of Vanquish that it’s remembered for, and what its reputation since its first release in 2010 has been forged with. It’s all about that extreme-tempo action and the innovations within it – innovations that PlatinumGames have always put at the forefront of their productions, for better and sometimes worse (sorry, Star Fox Zero). If there was a Criterion Collection for video games, when it comes to action titles, these two would be in it.
So yeah, if you love video games, and you’ve not done so already, you need to play these. They’re premium-grade, blow-your-mind amazing experiences that will make you laugh, make you dance around the room as you smash a boss to pieces, and might just make you realise how many so-called essential action titles actually remain in the shadows of these titans.
We (re)played Bayonetta and Vanquish on PlayStation 4, using code supplied by SEGA.