PlatinumGames are amongst the most sought-after developers in gaming right now. While Nier:Automata and Astral Chain stand as more recent evidence of the team’s talents, and they’re hard at work on games for Nintendo, Square Enix and Cygames, the studio’s reputation was built thirteen years ago with an exclusive relationship with Sega.
The former console maker’s star had fallen pretty far from its heyday, but they were still capable of finding incredible original content to publish, signing Platinum to a four game deal. Where Wii exclusive Madworld and the Nintendo DS title Infinite Space deserve to be spoken of with fondness, it was the action coupling of Bayonetta and Vanquish that not only cemented the status of studio founders Shinji Mikami, Atsushi Inaba, and Hideki Kamiya, but rewrote the rules of the action genre with dizzying authority.
Now fans can finally play the pair again on this generation of console, with the 10th Anniversary collection pulling the two games together and scrubbing them until they have a 4K shine. While some things are better left in the past, both of these games remain glorious, sensory-overloading love letters to action.
Bayonetta, probably the most famous witch in gaming, hasn’t exactly disappeared from view in the past decade thanks to Nintendo exclusive sequels. This first outing introduced her to the world though, and it’s an intoxicating concoction of exquisitely timed dodges, unbelievable combos and free-form dance jazz.
Building on the Devil May Cry template that Kamiya himself put in place while at Capcom, Bayonetta takes Dante – one of the most stylish and brazen characters in gaming – as a starting point and makes him look like a parking attendant. She’s lethal, sassy, and her clothes are actually her hair. Oh, and when she performs certain attacks they’re also her hair, meaning that at various points she’s *ahem* basically in the buff. While smashing the hell of angels. It’s hard to believe that this is a character that Nintendo decided to publish sequels for, let alone allowing her to batter Link in Smash.
This remaster also marks the first time that PlayStation owners can truly experience the game at its best, after the original PS3 port was bodged together by an in-house team at Sega without Platinum’s input. Over the years, the baton of the game’s best version has been passed from Xbox 360 to the Wii U and Switch, but now it’s firmly on current home consoles, with incredibly smooth gameplay and 4K visuals for those with a Pro or X flavoured console.
Vanquish meanwhile is just the right kind of bonkers. It’s tough, frantic, and its story is pure gung-ho sci-fi nonsense, but it’s the gunplay that does for cover shooting what butter does for bread.
While the cover shooter might have found mainstream popularity with Gears of War, Vanquish slathered it with Platinum’s special sauce. Both Epic and the Coalition have failed to inject the same level of outright fun into the Gears franchise that Platinum seem so at ease with here, and while there are so many surface similarities, from instantly recognisable power armour through to grumpy men being gruff about things, they couldn’t be more different to play.
Where Gears is about hunkering down and occasionally charging from cover to cover, Vanquish is all about knowing when to break away, boosting around the battlefield at high speed, before entering a slow-motion state as you line up the perfect shot.
Many enemies have weak spots on their back, so you simply can’t get away with staying in the same place. If you do, you’re dead. The cover can often be destroyed as well, so again, if you stay there you’re dead. Sam’s power armour is remarkable, but it doesn’t make you invulnerable, and where Marcus Fenix can shrug off a few hits, Vanquish will have you restarting from the last checkpoint.
It’s ridiculously tough at times. You have to find the perfect level of cover shooting, sliding, and slow-mo action movie hip-shooting in order to succeed. Fortunately, there’s a fairly forgiving checkpointing system so any failure can be swiftly retried, with a brief rethink of how to approach the Russian death robots in your way.
What’s clear from returning to both of these iconic games, is how well they’ve aged. Having played Bayonetta and its blistering sequel relatively recently on the Wii U before coming to it once more for this remaster, it’s an incredible example of escapism through mechanical brilliance. It’s so well done that I think you can probably play it forever. It’s not providing some deep-seated message, it’s not a wholly new form or genre, but it’s the kind of game your hands want to play.
Vanquish remains one of my favourite games from the 360 era, and to have it back again in 4K is just perfect. It’s not the longest game, and what I wouldn’t have given for a multiplayer mode, but as a pure, mechanical experience, this was Platinum laying out their reason for existence. You only have to play Nier:Automata to see that they’ve remained committed to the same blistering sense of pace, aiming, and achieving, the same level of exhilaration with breathless abandon.