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Bayonetta and Vanquish Helped Legitimize the Video Game Cult Classic

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    “Cult Classic” isn’t so much a genre or a label with a concrete definition anymore. The media landscape has come a long way since “so bad it’s good” or “guilty pleasure.” Sincerity is at an all-time high, and entire studios have built their brands atop a foundation of beloved trash. Hausu is in the Criterion Collection, for chrissakes. But while “cult” fanbases can support underground film releases, “cult classic” in video games usually means trawling auction listings for out of print discs. Digital stores have brought some exceptions, but retail depends far too much on new releases and blockbusters. But two games in particular not only put a rising developer on the map, but reappeared several times over a decade despite their relative obscurity: Bayonetta and Vanquish.

    PlatinumGames and Sega are celebrating the tenth anniversary of both Bayonetta and Vanquish. They’re doing so with a celebratory PlayStation 4 release, the Bayonetta & Vanquish 10th Anniversary Bundle. In a vacuum this isn’t a spectacular release; functionally it makes these games playable on PS4 natively, but doesn’t come with anything new. There are special themes you get for buying digitally, but the games come as separate, no-frills downloads. However, there is a retail version, which includes both games on the disc and a steelbook case with some nice, new cover art celebrating both games.

    When you look at retail video game re-releases, they’re usually institutions. Remasters are popular, ensuring series like Resident Evil or Uncharted are playable on current hardware. Usually these projects come to promote a new release (Devil May Cry), or to get content on newer platforms in-between franchise entries (Assassin’s Creed), or to keep classic games alive and accessible (Mega Man). But the common thread in these releases is, if they’re retail, they’re projects that have plenty of renown and past success, guaranteeing interest and sales. There are exceptions, but those are usually limited or super niche like the GameStop-exclusive Metal Wolf Chaos XD or Limited Run’s Night Trap.

    In my mind there are two key points that make this Bayonetta and Vanquish package special. One, this is a full retail product. It isn’t a specialty preorder or limited print run sort of deal. You can just walk into a store and buy it. Two, Bayonetta and especially Vanquish are not the usual sort of games to get a release like this. And yet, both games have managed to survive well beyond expectations. PlatinumGames is pretty big now for sure, but at the time these two dropped, the company was barely figuring itself out after forming from the remnants of Capcom’s Clover Studio.

    Bayonetta was a critical darling, but as a project ended up being a huge risk that could have jeopardized PlatinumGames as a company. It sold under PlatinumGames’ own expectations, and that’s after its first two titles (Mad World and Infinite Space) had already hampered the budding dev’s relationship with Sega. Vanquish was a more modest project that wasn’t totally sunk by its okay sales, but it was also more of a niche even with critics. These are not the kinds of games to typically get the royal treatment, yet here we are.

    Both games have been re-released on PC, Bayonetta is part of the Nintendo family, and they were both part of Microsoft’s limited Xbox One backwards compatibility initiative. Now, here’s a full retail release of both for the PS4, with Sega, a company that once struggled with localizing its smaller Japanese games, doing a fan-oriented release akin to a “cult classic” home video release.

    Only a few years ago, Sega nearly cancelled Bayonetta 2. Now, the original is re-released, at retail, with official messaging like “We know how special Bayonetta and Vanquish are to fans, and they’re an important part of Sega’s history as well, so we wanted to go big for their 10th anniversary.” No mention of sales or success here, but rather historical language. To me, this shows games have started to reach a milestone. The Cult Classic can be a viable presence, not just for fans and the secondary market, but for publishers and developers too.

    Bayonetta & Vanquish 10th Anniversary Bundle is headed to the PS4 on February 18, 2020.

    Lucas White
    Lucas writes about video games a lot. Sometimes he plays them. Every now and then he enjoys one. To get on his good side, say nice things about Dragon Quest and Musou. Never mention the Devil May Cry reboot in his presence. Backed Bloodstained on Kickstarter but all his opinions on it are correct regardless.

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