Step aside Dante, Kratos and Ryu
Release Date: January 5, 2010
Developer: Platinum Games
ESRB Rating: Mature
Reviewed by: Brian Wray
Games for the most part are like movies. Once you have seen enough, they tend to become predictable. This is not really a bad thing as there is comfort in predictability (think of your favourite meal). But every now and then comes along a title that will catch everyone off guard and provide a pleasant surprise. Bayonetta is such a game.
I have to admit that I did not have this opinion after having completed my first hour with the game and only played it less than 20 minutes. I like playing games not watching games. My impatience was tested even more as the story that unfolded in front of me was nonsensical. Officially Bayonetta was the product of famed Japanese game director Hideki Kamiya, but I cannot help but wonder if the actual script was made by his teenage son (or the neighbours teenage son if he does not have one). Bayonetta is a witch who is fighting the forces of Paradiso. Why is she doing this? She does not really know as a 500 year slumber has left her memory a little foggy. To find out the truth of who she is, she needs to destroy “angelic” beings, flirt with a guy whose father she may have killed, protect a child that calls her mommy and reconcile with a strange woman that may or may not be a friend that wants to kill her. Making things even more confusing is the animation style that appears to change speed and style quite often rendering the confusing storyline that much harder to follow. The plot is so over the top that at first it was a put off. Once I accepted the ludicrousness of the story, it started to become almost enjoyable. This is in the same way that a movie that is so awful it can actually become amusing and even entertaining in its awfulness.
The graphics appears to borrow the same over the top style of the storyline. The difference is that graphically the style works producing a game that looks simply outstanding. Bayonetta is a perfect example of this. While she is extremely well modeled and animated, her proportions are such that her legs are abnormally long and her feminine parts extremely ample. Still she is as sultry as any heroine (or anti-heroine) in recent memory. The collection of ethereal creatures that attempt to stop Bayonetta look at once angelic and demonic. Even the landscape and architecture are exaggerated and in no way practical. Once again, unlike the cutscenes, the theatricalness of the environment does not server as a distraction to the gameplay.
Likewise sound quality is exceptional in this title. Bosses not only look impressive, they also sound impressive. Voice over work is top notch, especially considering the absurdity of the script. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for the voice actors to deliver most lines without breaking into a hysterical laughter. Bayonetta sounds as sexy as she looks with her British accent.
What is not so ludicrous about the game is the combat system. Bayonetta pulls no punches (literally) and delivers one of the best non-stop action games available on any console; that is one the action does start (it can take a while). Bayonetta is unrelenting in its delivery. Most action games follow a standard formula; fight a bunch of minions, then battle a boss. Bayonetta appears to toss this formula out the window and make its own rules. Often I would battle a huge boss and barely survive the ordeal only to find an ever bigger boss battle waiting for me with no in between recovery time. The make matters worse, the same boss would reappear a little later as a simple minion, with friends. The key to the ever ramping difficulty level of the game is to have Bayonetta well versed in fighting moves and combos and well stocked in the latest angel fighting accessories.
At its simplest form, combat is driven by using the Y and B button. This game is not a button masher; constantly pressing the same button over and over again will result in playing the level over and over again. To unlock the power of Bayonetta (and enjoyment gained from the game) is mastering the seemingly infinite amount of combos available in the game. Pressing a specific amount of one button or both buttons will perform a combo. Now factor in the use of direction of attack and a few bumpers and it is easy to see how combos can become increasingly difficult to perform. The offset is that difficult combos are also extremely powerful. Still the enemies will not just sit around waiting for our dark haired vixen to complete all the required moves needed to unleash fury upon their collective rear-ends. This is where “Witch Time” becomes a crucial component to the game. Witch Time is just a fancy wording for “Bullet Time” which in turn is a fancy term meaning slowing down time. Witch Time is triggered by having Bayonetta dodge a striking blow at the last possible second (nothing like living on the edge). Witch Time will provide the player with an opportunity to complete a complex combo and deliver massive damage.
As our now favourite witch (sorry Neve Campbell, you have been downgraded) defeats the forces of good, they will leave behind halos to be collected that can then in turn be used as currency at the local shop in Inferno. Rodin, the storekeep/bartender (named after Auguste Rodin?) has a variety of goodies that will infuse Bayonetta with even more awesomeness than she currently possesses. Here she can purchase items that will extend her life or magic, teach her new fighting techniques or stock up on lollipops that will give her temporary benefits in those sticky situations. Mind you that Rodin does not give his wares away. Everything is quite costly and there are simply not enough halos to purchase everything on the first playthrough. For the completionist that must own every item in the game, be warned it will require quite a few playthroughs at accomplish. Rodin is also a lover of music. As Bayonetta dispenses certain creatures, she will find gold records that can be given to Rodin in exchange of some mighty fine weaponry.
Not all items can be purchased or found in the regular game, some will need to be earned by completing Alfheim portals challenges. These specifics for completing each challenge will vary from portal to portal. Some will require that all enemies to be defeated in a specific amount of time while others that they be defeated within a specific number of punches or kicks.
Did I mention anything about the collectibles? All over the game world there are object to destroy that will give various raw materials that can be combined to lollipops and other beneficial items. There are also birds to collect, the aforementioned gold records and halos, pieces of witches hearths and orbs and much more.
Bayonetta is a difficult game in its default normal setting. Some may find it a little too difficult. The good news is that the developers have done a great job at making the game accessible to all. The game can become quite a bit easier by selecting an easier difficulty level and near impossible to fail on the easiest difficulty level which basically has the game play itself with only an occasional button press required by the gamer. The opposite is also true in that selecting a harder difficulty setting will ramp up the gameplay from painful to excruciating and finally masochistic on the hardest difficulty setting.
I do have issues with the game (of course I do), but I assure they are minor. I really hate to do this, but I must bring back up the topic of the storyline. I understand that Bayonetta is supposed to be stylish and over the top, but there is a good way to do stylish and over the top without the need or boring the viewer. WET also featured a stylish over the top storyline; the difference being that it was told in a very entertaining manner with the cutscenes never exceeded my attention span. This was not the case with Bayonetta as they often dragged on way to long killing the high octane pace set by the game. Had it not been for the purpose of the review, I would have skipped all the cutscenes after the first one. Even worse was that the unpredictability the developers attempted to achieve with the game become all too predictable. Now before someone mentions that I am contradicting my earlier statement that said the story was almost enjoyable, know that I was stating that the shear over the top ludicrousness of the story was almost enjoyable, not the story itself.
Another issue I have with Bayonetta is with the quick-timed-elements. While most of the QTEs in the game do not require overly quick reflexes, some key moves, such as evading or triggering a torture scene, required two buttons to be pressed at the same time in the full second that the prompt is up on the screen, this during combat against a half dozen angels. This is also the only way to finish off a boss and missing the prompt will rejuvenate the entity to fight some more.
My final complaint is with the camera system that often loses track of the enemy. I can understand when there is a screen full of enemies, but when there is only one enemy on the screen, I expect that he/she/it stays well centered in my viewing area.
Bayonetta is surprisingly a great game. The action is simple enough to allow everyone to play, but deep and rich enough to entice hardcore gamers to return and test their mettle on one of the harder difficulty settings. If you are the type of gamer that found Devil May Cry, Ninja Blade and Ninja Gaiden II too easy, then Bayonetta is for you.