Some quick thoughts on Bayonetta’s combat

(I should be writing my thesis but a man’s gotta let off steam sometimes, right?)

Bayonetta is supposed to have this perfect score combat gameplay, and it IS pretty fun, but the game doesn’t do any efforts to lead the player into the depth. I’m sure there’s audience that takes great pleasure in exploring that depth on its own, but I do think you can be transparent AND deep at the same time, without being prescriptive.

Batman: Arkham Asylum is a good example. (Note I’m not good at Batman’s combat, and probably it’s too easy in comparison and for dedicated gamers.) Anyone played it knows: Batman doesn’t work with big move lists and long combo strings. The complexity comes from how you handle the enemies and varied use of your arsenal. Almost every button is mapped to a combat move, but their actions hardly change depending on the pressing sequence.

In other words, all the information is in the world — and the player can concentrate on judging the situation and (re)act accordingly. Working with this kind of ‘external memory’ is thus a more humane design than the elaborate combos no-one can keep in his mind. Ninja Gaiden has this problem too. Bayonetta is supposed to be the best of this breed — I can only hope that everything clicks when I’m more comfortable with the system.

Don’t get me wrong, so far I’m enjoying it. It’s much less frustrating than Ninja Gaiden. Cheesy cutscenes, nerd-jokes and the sexploitation certainly help reducing it. Also instead of the relatively passive block-n-wait approach of Ninja Gaiden, Bayonetta’s Witch Time (apparently evolved from Viewtiful Joe’s Slow-Mo-Power and feels a bit like SF3’s parries) keeps things more fluent.

Seems I like it better than Ninja Gaiden? Better than the second one, that’s for sure.

Yu-Chung Chen

Yu-Chung Chen is a designer working primarily on video games. He studied at Köln International School of Design and has contributed to a number of published games. Currently he works as a freelance UI designer at Keen Games.

6 responses to “Some quick thoughts on Bayonetta’s combat”

  1. Finn Haverkamp

    I’ve played the PS3 demos for both Bayonetta and Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2. I also played several levels of Ninja Gaiden Black. Though I remember loving Black (IO played it several years ago), I found it hard to love the combat system in neither Bayonetta nor Sigma 2. The presentation and style of Bayonetta was awesome. But the combat system in both games is literally memorization. Sure, you have to push buttons quickly; but ultimately, success at the combat systems comes down to how well you can memorize their reidiculously long combo sequences. I’ve don’t really enjoy this. And its the reason I don’t play fighting games outside of Smash Bros. I can appreciate how people might enjoy this memorization system, but I found it to be tedious and quite annoying. I’d much rather prefer an intuitive system. I initially did not lock the combat system in Arkham Asylum, either, but for different reasons (I thought it was too easy). But I think in the story campaign, the driving force of the combat system is getting XP, which is achieved by getting large combos. I grew to enjoy the Arkham Asylum combat quite well.

  2. Yu-Chung Chen

    Hey you’re describing my experience :) Except I never got into Smash Bros.

    At first I also thought Batman’s combat was too easy, because of the very visible counter opportunities and strikes that almost feel too fancy for a single button press.

    But now, I find it rather elegant. The focus is really on crowd control and efficiency, which fits perfectly to Batman’s character.

    I guess I should be writing a post on Batman…

  3. Shadow Skill

    I actually don’t enjoy Bayonetta as much as Arkham Asylum or Ninja Gaiden. Bayonetta is a game that tries too hard to impress the player and resorts to blinding the player in order to achieve difficulty. (You see this more on the higher difficulty levels.) Boss fights typically will degenerate into mashing fest because combos of any kind become unimportant due to the utterly gigantic size of most bosses. (To be fair there is exactly one combo that you need and that is pppk, *If* you use the Kilgore exploit.) Then there is the fact that where Batman and NG both give the player at least two out of three options in the “Golden triangle” Bayonetta only gives you one… Offense. There is no such thing as defending yourself in this game, whether through a reversal or an out right block. All encounters are reduced to a single answer every time. It also means that there are a great deal more reflex tests.

  4. Yu-Chung Chen

    The one I use most often is the obvious PKP, gotta check out the Kilgore exploit…

    Come to think of it: right, Bayonetta doesn’t seem to have a Golden Triangle at all. I’ve also noticed that you have to care much less about concrete situations, but only the strikes so you can trigger Witch Time.

    In a way, that’s a fitting frame for the system-oriented (as opposed to level design oriented) gameplay, because you actually get to try different kinds of attack strings and hand/feet weapon combinations WITHOUT suffering for each failed experiments, which is the case in NG.

    I definitely agree that NG feels more balanced and refined, while Bayonetta is all about enabling the player to literally unload the results of his practice on the enemies. Currently that semi-careless unloading (assuming Witch Time) works well for my after-school needs, though it doesn’t make the whole package genuinely convincing.

    Another thing that bothers me: As moves take different amounts of time to execute, and you sometimes have to wait for animations before continuing the inputs, the “pause” notation in the combo list is more misleading than guiding.

  5. Yu-Chung Chen

    This video on the Kilgore exploit shows how ridiculously sucky it must be to play the PS3 version, with all the pauses going in and out the pause and the inventory.

  6. shadow skill

    I have the 360 version of the game so I wouldn’t know. All you have to do for the exploit to work is switch to Kilgore right when the kick portion of pppk starts so it probably isn’t too bad. I agree that the pause notation is more misleading than anything else.


The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


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