Review – Bayonetta
Hack and slash
Well that’s every gaming event for the next decade dominated by Bayonetta cosplayers…
It’s been an incredibly strong start to 2010 and, along with Darksiders, we kicked off the year with Bayonetta. From Platinum Games (MadWorld) and the creator of the original Devil May Cry, the core gameplay will appear familiar to fans of the hack and slash genre, but there is little else out there like it.
You play as the titular Bayonetta, the last surviving witch, as she tries to regain her memories after awakening from many centuries worth of sleep. She is constantly harassed by surprisingly hideous angels along the way however, trying to end her wicked ways. Being a powerful witch this isn’t too much of a problem however, as Bayonetta has many powers at her disposal.
Basic combat centres around punches (Y button) and kicks (B button) and there is a huge amount of combos available just from the combination of these two buttons. Initially armed with four handguns (one in each hand and on both feet), there are other weapons to unlock which will open up further combos. You can set up two weapon combinations which you can switch between on the fly with the Left Trigger to create even more freeform combos if you’re good enough.
So the combat seems pretty deep, but how does it feel? Very fast paced and easy to control. Hitting the Right Trigger allows you to dodge, and you can press it at any time during a combo to get out of danger which allows for a very offensive style of play. Dodge at the perfect time and ‘Witch Time’ will initiate, effectively freezing time, allowing you to freely beat your enemies for a short while. The timing isn’t easy, but getting this skill down will make your life a lot easier, especially against the bosses.
Not only do you get your more common forms of weaponry, but Bayonetta can use her hair as a weapon. Not in a direct sense, but pull off the right combos and Bayonetta will use her hair to create giant hands or feet to cause extra damage. Your hair will also be used to summon large demons from Inferno (Hell) to help you finish off bosses. As Bayonetta’s clothes are made from her own hair (yeah, I know, try to keep up) the more hair she uses for an attack the less clothing she’ll be wearing, which doesn’t really add anything gameplay-wise but does fit in with the game’s attitude pretty well.
Similar to the boss killing ‘Climax’ moves are the ‘Torture Attacks’. Under your health bar is Bayonetta’s Magical Gauge. If this is full enough you’ll be able to pull off these moves for massive damage on regular enemies. Devices such as a guillotine or iron maiden are summoned and can be powered up by tapping the appropriate button, quite often instantly killing an enemy. Each enemy type has at least one form of torture attack you can use against them, and thanks to the button tapping and the quick nature of the scene that plays out the gameplay doesn’t get slowed down and it actually adds to the madness of the whole thing.
It’s with these moves (and the boss finishing Climax moves) where you’ll notice just how gory the game is. Enemies get cut in half by chainsaws, crushed in vices, torn limb from limb, which is surprisingly at odds with the playful nature of Bayonetta herself. It would have been incredibly easy to make this game dark and gritty or emo but instead the developers have gone for a very camp and overly sexual atmosphere which makes this more like Carry On Bayonetta. This is a good thing.
From the trailers I thought I’d hate Bayonetta as a character, but she grows on you incredibly quickly thanks to the contagious atmosphere of the whole game. The dialogue, the music, even the cutscenes are mental and shouldn’t really work, but Bayonetta (the character) ties all these aspects together and makes them not only work, but a joy to behold.
The cutscenes actually remind me of the ending cinemas from Dead or Alive 4, and anyone who’s played that will know that that should be a bad thing. However they are so over the top, stylish and well done that rather than be cringeworthy and embarrassing like in DoA4, they are actually really good, exciting and funny, if sometimes overly long.
If you’ve been playing games for a while there are even more reasons to smile whilst playing Bayonetta as it references lots and lots of other games, new and old. Sometimes it’s just a musical cue from a classic Sega game, other times it’s whole sections of gameplay. From Sonic to Assassin’s Creed, there are plenty of moments where you’ll just think â€œOh my God, that’s!…â€ and smile to yourself.
When I saw the first cutscene in Bayonetta it felt like love at first sight. The over the top action and bizarre J-pop soundtrack had me in fits of delight and made me all warm and fuzzy inside.
Just like with most flings though things start to change and reveal their true nature. You see, Bayonetta can be a harsh mistress, I found myself growing increasingly tired at just how damned unforgiving it could be, constantly failing to meet the games requirements to be constantly “awardedâ€ with the consolation prize of a ‘Stone Award’ just made me feel even worse. Its the gaming equivalent of a lover whispering ‘oh well you tried your best’ into your ear after many failed attempts to satisfy her/him in bed.
I have only touched on one aspect of the game though it does have a lot of charm with its references to SEGA’s heyday, making for some great cameos like Magical Sound Shower on the car stereo. The action is wild and very refined with the Witch Time mechanic and the sheer mania that appears alongside the main character and the entire population of Heaven. But the difficulty for me takes away the very reason I wanted to play the game. After retrying a single boss for the 38th time It became apparent that I wasn’t having fun any more.
Bayonetta is a great game if you are tried and tested fan of scrolling beat em ups, but accessible it is not. People new to the genre should start elsewhere before pinning their hopes on this being the one.
Secondary Score: 7/10
Bayonetta isn’t perfect however. Aside from the odd bit of screen tearing here and there, visually the game is fantastic but as is often the case with games of this type the camera can have trouble showing you all the enemies. In other games this may not be a problem as enemies attack you one at a time, but here the enemies are pretty relentless and quite often you’ll get hit by something off screen as you had no idea it was coming. There are sound cues to go along with the moves but many times I’d dodge only to break my combo and find I would have been fine if I’d stayed where I was, so you have to decide whether to be overly cautious or not, which shouldn’t really be an issue. If you could see everything all the time, and to be fair more often than not the game achieves this, then you wouldn’t have to be second guessing the game.
Honestly, that, along with some instant death QTEs, is the only real negative I can think of. This game won’t be for everyone, like those who don’t enjoy this type of gameplay or who simply won’t appreciate the game’s personality. The difficulty is pitched pretty nicely and unless you want to go for the Platinum grades getting killed doesn’t hold too much of a penalty. Completing Normal mode (took me about fourteen hours) unlocks Hard mode (with more difficulties beyond that) if you’re looking for more of a challenge and there are a lot of unlocks (costumes, etc.) and upgrades that you simply won’t be able to get in one playthrough. Even if you do only play through it once though fourteen hours is a decent length.
Arguably the best game of its type (easily this gen), this, MadWorld and Clover Studio’s back catalogue show Platinum Games are an incredibly talented company who manage to let the style enhance (rather than replace) the gameplay. Hopefully they’ll have a long and fruitful future, and we’ll have an amazing 2010 in gaming.