Post Script

Plat­inum’s atyp­i­cal reweav­ing of in­vin­ci­bil­ity is a de­sign mas­ter­stroke


Of all the ways in which videogames break the rules of na­ture – their dou­ble jumps and 50ft wall runs, their guns too big for a man to carry – in­vin­ci­bil­ity is per­haps the most ir­re­sistible sub­ver­sion. This, after all, is the im­pos­si­ble dream, the ul­ti­mate rule-breaker. We wouldn’t say no to the power of flight, but through­out we’d be ter­ri­fied about mak­ing a mis­take, crash­ing into a cliff face or slam­ming into the ground. With full in­vin­ci­bil­ity? Now you’re talk­ing.

It’s some­thing that Bay­o­netta 2’ s pub­lisher knows only too well: after all, the Star­man (AKA Su­per Star) is one of a se­lect few power-ups that have been se­ries con­stants since the first Su­per Mario Bros. The Su­per Mush­room is es­sen­tially a shield, the Fire Flower is a gun, and the 1-Up Mush­room is a safety net. All are im­por­tant parts of a Mario game’s rule­set. But the Su­per Star? It’s a li­cence to run free, to briefly for­get ev­ery rule the game has im­posed upon you apart from the one thing that makes a plat­form game a plat­form game: don’t fall off the edge of the world.

In Bay­o­netta 2, you can fall off things to your heart’s con­tent. Plat­inumGames plonks you back from whence you fell and doesn’t even take an in­dus­try-stan­dard chunk of health bar as pay­ment. It’s clas­sic Plat­inum, typ­i­cally atyp­i­cal, a re­flec­tion of the ap­proach the stu­dio takes in ev­ery­thing it does: the only rule­set by which it abides is its own. It’s just as well, too, be­cause in its de­sire to cre­ate some­thing fast-paced and spec­tac­u­lar that is ac­ces­si­ble to all in so his­tor­i­cally niche a genre, it has no al­ter­na­tive but to once again carve out its own path. It’s most ev­i­dent in Bay­o­netta’s right-trig­ger dodge, a fully in­vin­ci­ble eva­sive move whose de­sign runs almost to­tally counter to ac­cepted stan­dards.

Games in this genre, Bay­o­netta in­cluded, all progress in a sim­i­lar way. The en­emy threat grows in num­ber and in size, their health bars lengthen, they at­tack faster and hit harder. While you will also be­come more pow­er­ful over the course of the game, their rate of growth has to be dis­pro­por­tion­ate to en­sure you feel in­creas­ingly chal­lenged. You have to hit them many more times to kill them than they have to hit you, and so de­fence quickly takes pri­or­ity over at­tack. You can have the most finely crafted combo sys­tem ever, but if play­ers can’t stay out of trou­ble, it will be for nought. This genre’s wheat is sep­a­rated from its chaff not just by how it lets play­ers cause trou­ble, but the means it gives them to es­cape it. How do you not get hit?

A block but­ton is one op­tion, but it slows down the pace, and a character as lithe, ex­plo­sive and an­i­mated as Bay­o­netta has no business stand­ing still. A parry-an­dri­poste sys­tem, mean­while, re­quires pre­ci­sion, which in turn ne­ces­si­tates a cer­tain style of game. Tomonobu Ita­gaki’s Ninja Gaiden games com­bine both, let­ting you counter an op­po­nent’s move by block­ing and press­ing an at­tack but­ton at the mo­ment it con­nects. While thrilling in its own way, it can only work in a game that is slow, me­thod­i­cal and clean. Coun­ter­ing is about an­tic­i­pa­tion and ex­e­cu­tion, not re­ac­tion, so you need to see what’s go­ing on. In Ninja Gaiden, there is rarely any more on­screen than the player and their foes. That won’t do in Bay­o­netta, where an­gels and demons bat­tle over­head, where at­tack an­i­ma­tions fill the screen and your view is of­ten ob­scured by show­ers of py­rotech­nics.

FromSoft­ware’s Souls games take a sim­i­lar ap­proach to Ninja Gaiden, though rather than build them around par­ries, here it is an ad­vanced op­tional tech­nique that plays far more heav­ily on risk and re­ward. Ita­gaki’s de­sign is much safer; you’re hold­ing the guard but­ton the whole time, so if you mist­ime the counter in­put Hayabusa will sim­ply re­main in block stance and take no dam­age. A Souls parry is all or noth­ing, a tap of the block but­ton de­flect­ing an at­tack if you time it prop­erly and leav­ing you wide open if you don’t. The dodge is built on a sim­i­lar model. The for­ward roll has more in­vin­ci­bil­ity than the oth­ers, but mist­ime any roll and you’re in trou­ble. Both dodg­ing and block­ing con­sume stamina, mean­ing the safest way to play is to keep your dis­tance, cre­at­ing open­ings by bait­ing mis­takes. In Bay­o­netta 2, Plat­inum has lit­tle in­ter­est in risk, only re­ward, and thinks pa­tience and safety are for bores. It wants to fill the screen with almost con­stant in­san­ity and make sure that even genre new­com­ers can mean­ing­fully add to it. That can only be pos­si­ble with a flam­boy­ant, me­chan­i­cally straight­for­ward combo sys­tem and, above all, a dodge move that is fully in­vin­ci­ble from its first an­i­ma­tion frame to the last.

It is an in­cred­i­bly ac­com­mo­dat­ing de­sign, made even more so by the fact that you can dodge up to five times in suc­ces­sion with­out a re­cov­ery penalty. Not all at­tacks are equal, after all: a boss’s gi­ant ham­mer swing takes longer to wind up than the swipe of a reg­u­lar en­emy’s claw, and while Plat­inum wants you to learn from your mis­takes, it doesn’t want you to suf­fer for them. It wants you to feel not like Ita­gaki’s hum­ble, steely ninja or FromSoft­ware’s im­per­illed ad­ven­turer, but the most pow­er­ful be­ing on any spec­tral plane – some­one who greets a colos­sal de­monic dragon wrapped around a sky­scraper with a shrug and an unim­pressed quip be­fore bal­let­i­cally and ef­fort­lessly staving its head in. Plat­inum can stack greater and greater odds against you, safe in the knowl­edge you have the means not just to sur­vive, but daz­zle while do­ing so. And it’s all thanks to the dodge, Bay­o­netta’s ul­ti­mate rule-breaker, which en­sures that what­ever God and the Devil may deign to throw at you next, in­vin­ci­bil­ity is only a but­ton press away.

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