Tipped as a spiritual successor to the popular demon-slaying franchise Devil May Cry, the Platinum Games developed Bayonetta has received much attention from the gaming press, in turn becoming one of the most anticipated games of 2010. While Bayonetta does indeed feature a combat system akin to the series from which it’s been inspired, anyone hoping for a successor in more traditional terms will find themselves bemused, confused and utterly overwhelmed by what’s on offer. Bayonetta is daft, overtly sexual and so incredibly camp that using the term ‘unconventional’ would already make for understatement of the year. The game is also highly enjoyable when accepted as the deviant and over-the-top piece of entertainment it is, even if certain aspects of its design result in a few unpalatable moments.
You play as the last Umbran witch Bayonetta, an overseer of the world and pistol-toting angel-kicker extraordinaire currently suffering from a bout of amnesia. What follows is explained very poorly and will likely frustrate as the story often affects the events in any given level. Our heroine will run into various locations, triggering cutscenes consisting of nonsensical ramblings and vague references to a past we as an audience have no knowledge of and never truly get to understand. There are elements of saving the world from an apocalyptic joining of the worlds but even if the ideas are there, the ineptitude with which the tale is told goes some way to diluting the experience and may even put some gamers off completely.
It’s rare to jump into a review with the negative first but it’s also the very first thing the game throws at you. Camp and crazy is fine but when the characters are so dislikeable it becomes a struggle to get invested in the plot at all, even when it’s being drummed into you via abundant cutscenes. Characters come and go throughout and one Danny DeVito rip-off in particular takes up far too much screen-time in the opening act – his name in itself is a DMC homage – only to vanish until the credits roll. There’s an irritating love interest who comes and goes, a mysterious face from Bayonetta’s past and a child who serves as little more than a plot device for a twist you’ll see coming from the moment she appears. Motivations are unclear and flashbacks are plentiful but thankfully all these scenes are skippable – and skip you will should you be faced with the option of viewing them more than once. This extends to the half-baked storyboard moments you’ll come to dread, unfortunately equating to around forty percent of the game’s storytelling technique.
Thank the heavens then that the combat is an absolute joy, encouraging offence and evasion in just the right amounts to keep the heart pounding and fingers twitching. All you need to know is Bayonetta wields guns in her hands and on her feet and has access to a host of unlockable weapons with which to demolish the angels of Paradiso. A sword, a whip, shotguns and flaming claws all make an appearance and can be selected on the fly should you equip them in your quick-select slots. This all makes for a good deal of variety to the creative proceedings and it won’t be long before you’ve tried, tested and mastered your favourites to devastating effect.
Regardless of your wielding preference, the most impressive weapon in Bayonetta’s arsenal is her hair. Not only can a simple combo trigger an enormous demonic stiletto from thin air in the Wicked Weave, but every time a major enemy is bested a ‘Climax’ move is triggered resulting in some of the most impressive hair-based finishers seen in gaming to date, though admittedly that’s not saying much. Summoning an Infernal Demon made of hair is a sight to behold and lends the game some truly jaw-dropping moments. She also has access to some devastating and bloody Torture moves. True, some of these appear more regularly than others but all allow for some brutal kills should the magic meter be filled. This all sets the gameplay apart from that of its predecessors, providing the title with its own identity outside of the cutscenes.
Even with such power at your fingertips, Bayonetta is not an easy game – far from it. Enemies will come at you in their droves and you’ll often find yourself taking on a plethora of foes at once, including some initially presented as a big deal in earlier levels. Newcomers to the formula can play the game on Easy Automatic or Very Easy, where mashing the Y button will result in flashes of colour filling the screen regardless of skill level. The automated moves triggered in these modes means you won’t have to delve into the otherwise robust combo system to make the battles look good; the game will do it for you with all the flair of someone willing to take full advantage of Bayonetta’s complexity.
To mix things up further, the game features basic platforming sections in more levels than you might expect. Jumping over lava, running along walls and double-jumping your way across disappearing tiles is all commonplace in Bayonetta and despite a few niggling camera problems resulting in the occasional death, these sections frequently lead to some of the game’s more serene moments later on. To tackle some of the more devious traps, Bayonetta has access to a few impressive magical forms; the panther giving her a boost in speed for example. Other forms and moves can be purchased through the Gates of Hell store using the copious halos collected but most of them are so overpriced, subsequent playthroughs will be required to purchase them all. This along with a medal based scoring system make for decent incentive to keep playing once the eight-hour story is beaten.
While hoofing it lends itself to some visceral thrills, the game does suffer from two off-putting vehicle sections. Although typically fast-paced and demanding in concentration, these are overly long, repetitive and uninspired, particularly given the rest of the game’s level of creativity. They not only pull you from the experience when they occur but also outstay their welcome, each claiming one of the game’s seventeen levels. A chapter select function is available however, so they need only be replayed should you wish to try for a better medal or completion on a higher difficulty setting.
You need only glimpse the screenshots to know that Bayonetta is a beautiful game. From the gothic architecture of Vigrid to the sun drenched flowerbeds of Paradiso, it’s clear that Platinum Games has pulled out all the stops when dealing with the environment. Level design is top-notch with an art direction extending to the angels who are themselves contrasting in theme. Beautifully rendered yet featuring a malformed twist on clichéd ideas, tentacles sprout from mouths, heads hang upside down and bulky frames are offset with childlike cherub heads for good measure. It all runs smoothly overall, just occasionally slowing down for some of the more hectic battles that light the screen with activity. Screen tearing will rear its head from time to time on the 360 version, and while we’ve not had a chance to take the fight to the Playstation 3, things reportedly get far worse due to a shoddy porting process for Sony’s usually impressive piece of kit.
Bayonetta is an odd beast, sporting beautiful environments, enemies and a combat system to rival any other action game available to date. It’s through these fantastic mechanics and creative ideas that our madcap heroine now holds a respectable place in the gaming pantheon. The action is fun, fast and varied and makes for an enjoyable romp fans of the genre would be foolish to pass up. True enough, the story makes no sense at the best of times and the characters pull the experience down considerably, yet when presented with such flash and spectacle as pushing an angel into a guillotine then ripping another in half with a chainsaw, all is forgiven. Ignore the cutscenes, strap yourself in and prepare for one adrenaline-fuelled ride. Let’s rock, baby!
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