PlatinumGames has acquired a near-mythical reputation among fans of single-player games, which of course means it is of great interest to the team at OnlySP. Titles such as Neir: Automata and Astral Chain received very favourable reviews from critics and fans alike, so PlatinumGames is performing a victory lap by releasing two games from its back catalogue, Bayonetta and Vanquish, with a shiny new coat of paint for the modern era.
Vanquish is a futuristic third-person shooter which stars Sam, a soldier and scientist who has been outfitted with a high-tech battle suit that boosts his reaction speed to such a degree that time seems to slow down. The suit also offers a number of other advantages, such as the ability to ‘boost slide’ rapidly across hostile terrain, or give enemies a rocket-powered punch.
The suit mechanics are half of what sets Vanquish apart from other cover-based shooters of the same vintage. The other half is the style and design, two things that PlatinumGames is capable of providing in large amounts. The environments are stunningly designed and rendered, and the improved textures and smooth animations make the gameplay a pleasure to watch. The outdoor areas are particularly impressive, giving a feel of a real place with consequences that go beyond the confines of tight corridors or narrow streets.
That said, Vanquish is the sort of game that is best played in short bursts. The gameplay loop is largely designed around high-speed movement and flashes of intense action, and it can either become too intense, or the player becomes locked in a slightly tedious repetition of action.
Unfortunately, the story is thin. Protagonist Sam is very generic, and the player is told repeatedly that he is a scholar and scientist as well as a soldier, but this rarely comes up organically,making it a case of ‘telling not showing’. The other characters also do not seem to have much in the way of personality, with many of them being typically gruff-voiced military types to such a degree that it feels like parody.
With the nature of the over-the-top action and the general nature of the characters, to suggest that Vanquish could have benefited from going the whole hog and leaning into satire a la Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers is tempting. As it stands, Vanquish is entertaining for short periods, but ultimately feels somewhat hollow.
Bayonetta is a sharp contrast, gleefully embracing outrageous levels of camp and outrageous action set pieces, along with a degree of vaguely sleazy sexuality that make it feel at times like The Rocky Horror Show: The Video Game.
The way that Bayonetta herself is depicted in such a sexualised way that it can be uncomfortable, but once the game really gets going, the depiction becomes so over-the-top that it is more amusing than anything else.
Gameplay is broadly reminiscent of Devil May Cry, which makes sense considering the involvement of Hideki Kamiya. At difficulties above Easy, the gameplay is satisfyingly challenging without being too frustrating. Bayonetta moves in such a smooth way that the moves, while ridiculous, are visually impressive, particularly the ‘wicked eaves’ when she summons a demonic force with the power of her hair to devour an enemy.
The story is considerably more developed than Vanquish, as it concerns two clans of magic users: the Lumen Sages and Umbral Witches. Bayonetta is one of the few remaining Umbral Witches after a devastating war, where the forces of Heaven turned humans against the witches. Bayonetta has lost much of her memory, and through the course of the game is on a journey to recover her lost past. The story gives context to the action, and makes the journey through the various beautifully rendered locales feel meaningful.
As expected from PlatinumGames, the environments are all lushly designed, with many areas feeling like they are built up of layers of history and culture that make gorgeous backdrops for the many stylish battles that take place.
SEGA fans will be joyed to find a number of amusing Easter eggs hidden away. The angelic halos that act as the game’s primary currency look suspiciously like the gold rings from Sonic the Hedgehog, while the fake funeral at the start of the game is ostensibly for someone repeatedly called ‘Eggman’. In addition, remixes of several iconic SEGA music tracks are scattered through the soundtrack, such as Magical Sound Shower from OutRun.
Bayonetta is quite a silly game in many ways, but it does everything with such panache that players will not be able to help sporting a big, stupid grin as they play, throwing angels into iron maidens and taking down energy barriers with a blown kiss.
Of the two games in the re-release pack, Bayonetta is the one that stands out the most, as it is easily the most fun. Shooter fans might have some fun with Vanquish, but anyone who likes action hack-and-slash titles such as God Hand or Devil May Cry should grab a copy of Bayonetta immediately, if not before.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4. Also available on Xbox One.
Bayonetta is also available on Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Wii U.
Vanquish is also available on PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360.