If there’s one truism in life, it is that sex sells. Sega and Platinum Games have definitely taken this to heart in their latest title, Bayonetta. As anyone who has seen any of the trailers or gameplay videos can attest, Bayonetta focuses very closely on every shapely inch of its title character. Usually when a game showcases eye candy to this extent, it is to cover up a lack in story or gameplay. The great news here is that is not the case at all when it comes to Bayonetta.
Bayonetta stars an amnesiac 500-year-old witch named, surprisingly enough, “Bayonetta” and the game tracks her path of destruction as she regains her memory and eventually triumphs over evil. Developer Platinum Games has worked very hard to turn upside down every preconception that gamers may have when it comes to how a game’s story should work and flow. As an example, in Bayonetta it’s the angels that are evil and your enemy, as they are conspiring with your ancient enemy to destroy the universe and remake it “better”. Whether it’s the extra pair of pistols strapped to your ankles or the fact that your skintight black outfit is actually made out of your hair, this game is full of things that will make you scratch your head in confusion. Somehow it all works and makes sense in a strange sort of way that keeps you engaged in the story.
Much has been made of Bayonetta’s similarity to the outstanding Devil May Cry series, and rightly so. It just so happens that Bayonetta’s director is none other than Hideki Kamiya, the creator of the Devil May Cry series. Bayonetta has the same graphical feel as Kamiya’s previous work, but with even more polish. Bayonetta’s visuals are absolutely amazing, from the various character models all the way through the diverse environments.
While there has been a lot of attention on the graphics when it comes to Bayonetta herself, the sheer variety and bizarre creativity of the angels are worth particular mention. One of the first bosses you meet consists of a giant, upside-down, stone head with two dragon heads sprouting from it. Fans of anime and other Japanese-influenced video games will probably take this all in stride, but for those not used to it be prepared for a long, strange trip through this world.
While there is plenty of swearing in this game, the graphics are where this title really earns its “M” rating. Many of Bayonetta’s finishing moves, especially on the major bosses, are pulled off using her hair to summon Infernal Demons to deliver the killing blow (told you it was a strange trip!). Observant readers will probably remember that Bayonetta’s outfit is made out of her hair, so when the hair is off slaying angels, Bayonetta is left with very little to cover her up. Combine this with some acrobatic poses and you’ve got some very interesting visuals.
The sound work in Bayonetta is really the only place where this game stumbles, but in a minor way. First of all, the environmental sound effects are solid as well as the soundtrack. The weirdness occurs when you hear the dialog; not from bad voice acting, but from horrible writing. With the exception of the dreadful Joe Pesci imitator at the start of the game, the voice acting throughout the game is outstanding. It’s just that the voice actors are given such bad dialog to deliver that it starts getting distracting. As much as your eyes will be glued to the gorgeous visuals during gameplay, your eyes will be rolling when you hear some of the dialog.
The control scheme in Bayonetta is darn near perfect, with the controls being easy to use and extraordinarily responsive. The usual suspects are all in place with the controls, as you use triangle to kick, circle to punch, and X to jump. The R2 button will very quickly become your best friend as that is the button that lets you dodge incoming attacks. When timed correctly your dodge will also activate Witch Time, which slows down time for you, letting you wreak incredible amounts of havoc amongst your foes.
Bayonetta has tons of combos and special moves that you can execute, making it nearly impossible to memorize them all. Instead of having to flip back and forth between the game manual or a move list within the game, Bayonetta lets you practice all your moves during any of the loading screens. While new levels are loading you can see your character and a move list on the right hand side of the screen. As you practice your moves, it shows your button presses on the bottom of the screen. This is invaluable in helping you figure out how to pull off the different moves, as it lets you know not only if you’re getting the right button presses, but also if you’re pausing in the right places for that particular combo. The game even keeps track of how many times you’ve used each of these moves in the game!
Trying to explain the storyline and gameplay of Bayonetta is probably the most difficult part of this review. There are so many gameplay elements in this title that are so cool, yet sound so strange when you put them down on paper that it can be very frustrating. Torture Attacks are a perfect example of this. During combat, if you can string together sufficient attacks without getting hit, you’ll have the opportunity to perform a Torture Attack. You’ll know that a Torture Attack is available by the circle that appears above an enemy’s head. Simply get close enough to that enemy and press circle and that will start your attack. Torture Attacks vary from kicking one of your foes into an Iron Maiden and slamming it shut, to trapping them in a guillotine, to some really unique torture devices. Implementing a Torture Attack will earn you bonus halos which are used to purchase weapon upgrades and new moves. The amount of halos can be increased by tapping the correct button (flashed on the screen) during the kill animation.
The tale of Bayonetta is the ages-old story of super powerful beings in charge of balance in the universe. The Lumen Sages represent the Light while the Umbra Witches represent the Dark. Each side was given an ‘eye’ that they can use to guide the course of history and maintain the balance. Without giving too much away, an event 500 years in the past leads to the nearly complete destruction of both sides. Fast forward to present time and we join up with Bayonetta, who was awoken out of a magical slumber several years previously with no memory of who she was or what had happened.
The story twists and turns constantly, always leaving you with more questions than answers. At many times in the storyline this is taken a little too far, as a lot of the events and cutscenes that you think would start to explain what is going on and the various characters’ motivations just don’t seem to make any sense. I realize that this is heavily influenced by the Japanese style of writing fiction, but there are plenty of occasions where you find yourself in a new area with no good reason for travelling there. The best recommendation I can give as you play through this game is to just roll with the punches. By the end of the game it will (mostly) make sense.
What truly defines Bayonetta’s gameplay is the absolutely non-stop action. This game can seem rather intimidating in the beginning as you see hordes of enemies descending on you, but very quickly you get used to the style and pacing. Before you know it, you’ll be dodging multiple enemies, activating Witch Time, and unleashing brutal Torture Attacks. With an incredibly deep combat system that continually evolves as you learn new moves, most developers would have stopped at that point. Fortunately for us, Platinum Games continued to improve this title by adding some puzzle solving instances throughout the game. The puzzle solving is fairly light and provides a nice respite from the frequent battles, giving your thumbs a well-earned rest.
To extend the variety even further, Bayonetta even has an episode that obviously draws its inspiration from the arcade classic Space Harrier. Perched atop a cruise missile heading towards a city, you’re able to control the missile’s flight in an over-the-shoulder third person view and defeat enemies that way. Using this gameplay mechanic more than once would have gotten old very quickly, but the developers hit just the right balance, giving the game some additional spice for players.
Most players will be able to complete their first run through of Bayonetta in around twelve to fifteen hours. While this may seem a little on the short side for a single player game, this title offers loads of replay value through their ‘grading’ system, among other things. Each chapter of Bayonetta is broken up into smaller episodes, with a chapter having anywhere from three to nearly a dozen episodes. Upon completion of any of these episodes, players are given a grade based on how well they performed. The quality of your grade takes into account several factors, including how fast you completed the level, how little damage you took, and how many combos and special moves you were able to pull off. The lowest grade you can receive is a stone trophy, while the highest is the pure platinum trophy. At the end of each chapter, your trophies are totaled up and this gives you an overall trophy for the chapter. This may seem like a minor reward, but it definitely motivates you to come back and try to get a better score on the levels you didn’t do well on.
In addition, Bayonetta offers the hidden Alfheim levels. All the Alfheim level entrances are hidden throughout the game and each present a different kind of challenge. While some of the challenges can be very easy (defeat all enemies using only your guns) others can be quite difficult. In one of the trickier Alfheim levels, you have to defeat a mini-boss in under a minute using only three kicks and three punches. Levels like this provide great challenges for the player, forcing you to figure out how to quickly and efficiently defeat your foes in a variety of ways.
As with any other game in this genre, there are plenty of upgrades and collectibles scattered around the world. In keeping with the general strangeness of the game, your main collectible is the various ‘Angelic LPs’. These recordings of the different angel songs are highly valued by your weapons dealer and can be turned in to him for new weapons. In yet another twist, Bayonetta collects the halos from the enemies she defeats and uses these as currency for buying weapon upgrades, learning new moves, and even buying new costumes for her to wear. All this adds up to a game that will keep you coming back for more.
Some people may label Bayonetta as nothing more than Devil May Cry with breasts and pass on this title, but they would be missing out on an absolute gem of a game. Terrible dialog aside, everything clicks in this game. The sharp visuals, the fantastic combat system, and the excellent voice acting all combine to make a worthwhile experience. We can only hope that this is just the first episode in a new franchise.