Since her first appearance in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Bayonetta has been a controversial character, with a style designed to frustrate opponents and combos that frequently snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. A combination of factors—recent tournament success, audience backlash, and the difficulty mid to low level players have dealing with her potentially driving away new blood—have once again brought up the question of whether Bayonetta should be banned.
Personally, I think the answer is “no,” simply because none of the reasons I’ve read are solid enough or objectively quantifiable enough on their own to form a solid foundation for a ban argument. Collectively, they combine together into a murky sense of “she kills people’s desire to play the game,” as opposed to the more concrete reasoning of other banned characters in fighting games of years past. Bayonetta might be able to combo someone to death when they’re at 0% damage after a few reads, but it’s not like Super Street Fighter II: Turbo Akuma, whose could not be dizzied and had an air fireball that none could properly defend against.
Even as I disagree with those calling for a ban, however, I still find myself sympathizing with their arguments because their dissatisfaction is real. In particular, I find the idea that Bayonetta is discouraging new talent from sticking with the game to be fascinating because it’s specifically about how Bayonetta affects not the strongest players, but the ones underneath that upper echelon.
One common argument made against banning Bayonetta involves comparing her to another top character from a previous Smash Bros. game: Fox McCloud in Super Smash Bros. Melee. If you look at the amount of representation Bayonetta has among the top 50 Smash 4 players, it pales in comparison to the number of Melee Fox users. “But,” the pro-ban side will say, “Fighting Fox at mid-level is fun because you can exploit his weaknesses and combo him. You can’t do the same to Bayonetta.”
So you have a situation where, while Bayonetta is not as dominant as Fox at the highest skill tiers, this doesn’t matter to a large chunk of players for whom that might never matter. Mid-level players fight mid-level Foxes and can take advantage of their opponents’ mid-level flaws. In contrast, taking on mid-level Bayonettas requires both a combination of very solid fundamentals (in particular to not overextend and to force the Bayonetta to act first), and specialized knowledge (how to properly fall out of her combos to avoid the next hits, and the decision-making necessary to hide one’s countermeasures against those combos) In a way, if the reason you play competitively is to land satisfying combos, the study and practice needed to fight Bayonetta might feel as interesting as doing taxes or studying trigonometry.
I think all of this would be an easier pill to swallow if the reward for learning how to fight Bayonetta is a consistent plan on how to exploit her weaknesses and shut her down. Little Mac garnered complaints early on because he was difficult to fight for newer players. Lucario, like Bayonetta, is argued to go against the “rules” of fighting games by becoming more powerful as it takes more damage. Sonic the Hedgehog’s evasive style can easily wear down people’s patience. In all of these cases, better players have shown the way as to how to fight them properly and satisfyingly. With Bayonetta, even though she’s the least dominant #1 character in Smash history, she can still aggravate even the best players in the world.
Here’s an analogy that I think conveys the conflicted feeling of knowing that some of the strongest competitors in the world can still succumb to Bayonetta’s shenanigans. Imagine two people have each discovered treasure maps. They require learning an ancient language, trudging through deadly jungles, and a general toll on body and mind. For the first person, the reward is a treasure chest full of gold and riches. All that hard work yielded a mighty reward. For the second person, however, they find a contract that lands them a 9-to-5 job that pays decently well but still requires them to keep pushing ahead, and there’s not even a guarantee the job will last. It’s a “reward” in a certain sense, but that amount of effort might not seem worth it. The latter situation is how I imagine mid level Smashers feel when they look to the top for inspiration, and see many of their heroes still falter against Bayonetta. Learning all of those tricks and tips only results in relatively less stress.
Tactics and characters that can crush weaker players might not necessarily work on stronger ones. Bayonetta is in a similar situation, but the degree to which she threatens the motivation of those non-top players is still worth noting. One possible solution is to simply restrict her usage at smaller, local tournaments. However, this runs the risk of harming an important subsection of players: those who are not yet good enough to compete at the highest level, but might become strong enough. If you have a smaller scene that bans Bayonetta but have bigger settings that allow her to remain, then you’ve basically harmed those transitional players because they have to fight Bayonetta now while lacking experience against her. A blanket ban technically fixes this as well, but just as lower level players might find it unfair to have the expectations of skill and talent from the top tell them what can and can’t be done, basing a ban on how those lower level players feel can be even more stifling to the top. There’s no easy answer.