What are good criterias to analyze and compare hack’n slashes (Bayonetta, DMC, MGR, NG etc)?
I’d say the big fields are, attack design, enemy design, and defense design. Level design doesn’t tend to be a big factor, though enemy composition could be.
The big things in attack design for me are, how many command attacks are there and how varied in function are they? How many strings are there and how varied in function are they?
Platinum style games really emphasize strings on their characters over command attacks. Only DMC and to a lesser extent God Hand emphasize command attacks. The Platinum design ethos seems to be: here’s a bunch of strings, memorize them and perform longer or shorter strings based on the situation. Dodge enemies in the middle of your strings and use dodge offset to keep the string going so you can get to the wicked weave at the end. And maybe some strings have particular launching effects or something. Performing strings gives you magic points which lets you do powerful command attacks to get a wicked weave without doing a string.
DMC meanwhile has a ton of moves you can use at any time, and they have different area coverage, damage output, and combo potential, so their use can differ a lot based on the enemies you’re facing and the current situation.
God Hand sort of strikes a medium by having the customizable combo that acts as filler between everything else, and you also can bind moves that launch in various ways, guard break, dodge highs, hop lows, or other wacky effects.
NG has a lot of strings. I don’t really know why. Most don’t seem very useful really. You can get long combos by doing the right strings to launch and throwing shuriken at the right point in the combo to keep the juggle going.
In terms of defense design, DMC wants you to commit to moves, not allowing attacks to be canceled into defensive options generally. Also you generally jump for defense, though you can roll or trickster dodge too.
Bayonetta wants you to dodge and do it at the last moment for a big bonus, and it makes everything but wicked weaves cancelable, so nothing feels like it has much commitment except wicked weaves. They want you to juggle between doing combos and dodging at the same time without picking one or the other.
Ninja Gaiden uses a block, but the block can be broken, so you really want to block and then dodge out of block usually. And similar to DMC, attacks cannot be canceled, so an attack or string is a commitment you need to weigh carefully. There’s factors that help differentiate block from dodge so each are useful and exclusively dodging will usually get you killed.
MGR really wants you to parry correctly in the right direction the enemy is coming from and then forward dodge and BM cancel out of the parry block. Plus it had ninja run versus bullet attacks.
God Hand lets you dodge out of any attack like Bayonetta, but its dodges are much more constrained, giving a higher feeling of commitment. Plus there’s the differentiation between sidestep, weave, and backflip dodges.
In terms of enemy design, enemies can be more aggressive or passive. More mobile or static, they can be melee or ranged oriented. They can control space or time.
Enemies in DMC tend not to control space very well, being purely about timing really. DMC1 did something really clever and gave all the enemies a mix of close range and long range attacks, making up for the inability to combine enemy types together in the same room. DMC3 enemies especially were very one-note frequently, only having 1 or 2 attacks.
My gut tells me Bayonetta enemies are good, but honestly I haven’t played in long enough to really remember. I’m honestly blanking on NG enemies too. I remember them varying between clean solid design and being gimmicky bullshit a lot. Both games have extremely aggressive enemies however, which is generally nice considering how mobile the protagonists of these games tend to be.
MGR enemies were okay. Camera issues hurt some of them like mastiffs, who are great except for getting obscured off camera especially during their jumping attacks. Generic soldier enemies were a bit weak design-wise.
God Hand enemies are excellent for their ability to threaten different spatial zones, making each of your dodges differently effective versus each enemy type and their various attacks. They also used team tactics and had special quick but escapable throw moves that could vary the pacing of combat a lot. They used things like projectiles, whips, AOE attacks, multihitters, vertical and horizontal swipes, and lunging attacks to seriously vary what tactics were effective against each of them.
Nioh’s not technically in the canon, but I think it did an excellent job of combining all these factors, having a wide variety of moves, interesting and varied defense, and great enemy design.
Also I object to the name hack and slash, because that tends to describe Diablo style games more frequently, and not all stylish action games even feature swords, such as God Hand, or Bayonetta, which is primarily punching and kicking.