Console: Xbox 360, PS3
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
Hours Played: 18
Progress: Finished the game on “Normal”
Hideki Kamiya, director of Bayonetta and the man behind revered action titles such as the original Devil May Cry and Viewtiful Joe, brings us one of most stylish and action-packed games of this console generation. Bearing elements of titles such as Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden, Bayonetta brings us a heroine whose sex appeal, moves and skills have not been seen since Lara Croft arrived on the scene in 1996. First launched in Japan at the end of last year, Bayonetta was heralded to the tune of rave reviews and much hype, now having hit US and European shores the question is whether the game is really that good, read on to find out…
Anyone who’s played their fair share of JRPGs (Japanese Role Playing Games) knows that Japanese developed games can have… convoluted stories and Bayonetta sadly continues that trend. Without giving too much away, you take control of the titular Bayonetta, you have awoken from a slumber that lasted many years and seem to be the last of the order of Umbra Witches who represented the dark side of the age old balance between Light and Dark, the former being represented by the Luman Sages. A great conflict between these two orders seemingly eradicated all the witches and sages and now, with most of her memory gone, Bayonetta supported by the demons from Inferno (Bayonetta‘s version of hell) must fend off the forces of Calypso (Bayonetta‘s version of heaven) while she tries to rediscover her role and ultimate purpose. The biggest problem with Bayonetta‘s writing is that the player is intentionally kept in the dark about the role the game’s heroine and supporting cast play, while the history of what has happened in this universe is never fully explained… until the very end. This is a common mistake, where writers believe that not unveiling vital plot elements until the end of their tale creates suspense; in actuality, it makes it harder for gamers to follow the game’s proceedings and makes them tune out long before the story reaches its conclusion. I must admit that we are granted more cut-scenes and story clips than commonly found in action games like this, which with the fantastic animation and stupendous grace of the game’s heroine, keeps the player entertained, but the frustration of never quite knowing what’s going on story-wise is still ever-present.
From the first moment you start up Bayonetta you’ll be dazzled with fantastical locales and bright colors. Set in an alternate, slightly steampunk-ish version of Europe the player will be taken to otherworldly realms filled with crazy physics and angelic beings. Architectural models are nicely detailed and diverse, no two stages look significantly alike and vary from the occasional dungeon or other indoor locale to the more common outdoor stages, which can range from ancient cities to heavenly gardens. This makes the game feel less cramped than the Devil May Cry franchise, for instance, and more interesting to look at. Significant praise has to go to the level of animation, especially on Bayonetta herself. The range of moves and fluidity of transitions is breathtaking, you can see the developers really embraced this as they take any opportunity available to have our heroine pull off seductive dance moves in between carving up Calypso’s minions. The character design is top notch, Bayonetta herself looks amazing (the best digital tush you’ll ever see) and is equal parts seduction and sophistication (okay, maybe a tad more seduction), however the creativity in designing the creatures from Calypso is equally impressive. Base-level minions are loosely based on angels, while the boss characters are unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Often massive in scale they combine heavenly elements with perverse characteristics such as massive claws or long tentacles to form imposing figures that often require different approaches to defeat. [Ed. note: These enemies often seem more mighty and majestic than horrible and decrepit like most of modern video games’ enemies. It is a refreshing change in art direction and gives an unexpected slant on gameplay making one realize that Bayonetta is more of an anti-hero than people originally expect.] Colorful, detailed and well animated, the visuals in Bayonetta are excellent, it is however important to note that the PS3 version, which came out February 5th, suffers from excessive slowdown and frequent loading times. Our review is based on the Xbox 360 version, which plays very fluidly, does not suffer from slow down or significant loading times, we’d obviously recommend you investigate the 360 version over the PS3 one if you own both consoles as part of Bayonetta’s appeal is its fast, fluid combat.
Bayonetta sports an energetic soundtrack, which combines church-like organ music with J-pop. The songs are mostly upbeat, but can be menacing at times. Bayonetta’s music keeps pace with the frenetic action very well. The voice acting is quite good, especially considering the fact that this is a Japanese-developed game (which often suffer from poor English voice-overs). The voice-work of Bayonetta herself is especially well done, her aloof British accent compliments our heroine’s graceful physique very well and adds to the superior character design. Voice-overs for the supporting cast can be a bit spotty, but we have to compliment the developers for creating an “angelic” language, seemingly from scratch. Often when Bayonetta encounters a boss character, who hail from Calypso’s upper echelon of enforcers, dialogue ensues and is done in Calypso’s native tongue (don’t ask me what it’s called) by the baddies, this language sounds impressive, nuanced and pretty darn believable. All things considered the angelic language is a pretty nice touch.
At a glance the controls in Bayonetta seem pretty routine: left thumstick moves your character around, right thumbstick moves the camera (clicking it centres the camera), Y to punch, B to kick, A to jump, X to fire guns, the D-pad allows you to toggle between weapon sets (a combination of guns and a melee weapon), the left bumper button allows you to taunt enemies, while the right bumper button locks onto targets. It’s here where some of Bayonetta‘s issues become apparent; being able to lock on to enemies is a very useful option, as you’ll often be surrounded by many of them, some of which have sizable health gauges, the last thing you want to do is flail your weapons around randomly instead of dispatching enemies in turn. Unfortunately, the game requires you to hold the right bumper button down to stay locked-on to an enemy, this is extremely impractical, especially when you consider that the dodge button is the right trigger behind it. Considering that dodging is vital to survival, as it activates “Witch Time” (this slows down time and is sometimes the only way to take care of enemies), you would think that the button proximity would have been better thought out. You end up trying to keep the right bumper button pressed with your index finger and hammer the right trigger button at the same time with your middle finger, which is extremely awkward and uncomfortable. It makes kissing your hairy aunt’s lip seem like a walk in the park! Due to this ineffective control scheme (they should have made a simple press of the right bumper keep you locked on to the nearest target and allow you to toggle between targets by pressing left or right on the D-Pad) I basically forsook locking on altogether and instead rushed the opponent of choice to close in and ensure that my attacks would mostly only strike it.
Then there’s the camera… ah yes, the camera… an acrimonious beast at best, it never stays in one place very long and constantly gets caught behind scenery or inside walls, it can also spin and turn at dizzying speeds, leaving you more disoriented than Paris Hilton in a library. Clicking the right thumbstick centres the camera behind your character which is handy, however because of the furious combat it has a hard time keeping up with Bayonetta and in cramped surroundings (fortunately there aren’t that many of them in the game) you’ll often lose your view of the enemies, more than once this messed up my combo count or occasionally caused a frustrating death. You’ll learn to manage though, it just means that you’ll have to work the right thumbstick a bit more to keep the camera in check.
Bayonetta is a 3rd-person action game where the player uses a combination of melee weapons (swords, claws etc.) or fists alongside pistols (think Devil May Cry), which our creative heroine not only carries in her hands, but also has strapped to her boots. Gameplay centers around building up large combos, which prevent enemies from retaliating. By combining the punch and kick buttons (and sometimes the fire button) into different sequences, a dizzying list of different moves can be pulled off. During early level loading screens a list of different moves shows up on the right side of the screen, allowing the player to practice Bayonetta’s imposing arsenal of moves. Because this mostly involves only the Y and B button, pulling off special moves tends to be a button-mashing affair, it’s hard to remember the button presses for the many attack combinations and players will eventually resort to using just a handful of their favorite moves. The trick is to employ the right type of move at the correct time so that you can keep your combo count going, the best way to do this is by using your pistols to continue a combo after pulling off a special move has separated you from your enemy. The second aspect to the combat is evading attacks (by using the right trigger), by dodging an attack just before it lands “Witch Time” is employed, which slows down everything around you and allows the player to exploit the enemy’s weaknesses, mastering this technique is critical in order to progress through the game.
Combat is fast, fluid and responsive, there is a wide assortment of enemies and not just your mindless grunts mind you, Bayonetta throws many mini-bosses and massive end-of-level bosses at you, the latter usually necessitating a multi-step process to defeat. Splattered throughout the game are agility sequences that require Bayonetta to run, jump, turn into a panther or even ride a motorcycle. These are a bit more hit or miss than the excellent combat, however when they work, they can be extremely intense and add to the furious pace the game keeps pushing on you. As mentioned in the “Controls” section of this review, the twitchy camera and annoying lock-on system get in the way of total enjoyment however they don’t cripple the experience by any means. By avoiding damage, pulling off long combos and completing levels quickly halos are earned, these work as a type of currency that can be spent at “The Gates of Hell” a bar and weapon shop run by demon-smith Rodin. There more special moves, weapons, power ups and accessories can be bought to strengthen your arsenal. This level of customization keeps things fresh and entices the player to play at their best.
There’s a lot of content in Bayonetta; there are approximately 15 levels, most of which are quite large, the entire experience should take about 12 to 15 hours on normal. There are hidden items and treasures scattered throughout the levels as well as hidden portals that take you to “Elfheim”, where different challenges await that reward you with health and magic boosts, and provides incentive to replay the levels. What’s also a nice touch is that after finishing the main quest, you can replay the game with your stats and abilities intact at the higher difficulty, which allows you to purchase skills and accessories you didn’t have the chance (read: halos) to buy before.
Another fun element of this title is the way it plays with Bayonetta’s ability to defy physics, a great example of this is one of the boss fights where, when the massive boss drops his tongue (best not to ask, really), our heroine jumps on top and runs along it, circling around the edges as the world spins upside down around you. Another is during one of the later levels where you’re standing on a large piece of rock that got separated from the main area of the level by a large enemy, as it is blasted loose it starts spinning on its axis, you then need to jump to another platform, lining up your jump as the world seems to spin around you (of course it’s actually you doing the spinning). It’s great to see that PlatinumGames has taken some chances with the level and game design, because at its core this is a game formula we’ve already seen.
Bayonetta is a fast, slick and intense action game that introduces us to a great new heroine and fascinating game world. A twitchy camera and poor lock-on system hamper the game experience a bit, however fans of action games, especially titles such as Ninja Gaiden and Devil May Cry, are encouraged to check this game out.
+ Great character design
+ Plentiful cut-scenes
– Hard to follow story that doesn’t become clear until the end
+ Great environmental detail and use of colors
+ Fantastic character animation and design
– PS3 version suffers from slowdown and excessive loading times
+ Energetic music
+ Good voice acting for the main character
– Some of the lines and voice work for the supporting cast can be painful
+ Easy to pull off special moves and combos
– Placement of target lock-on button (right bumper button) and need to keep it pressed is awful
+ Fast, fluid and fun weapon-based combat
+ Interesting level design
– Twitchy camera can obstruct view at times
+ Good number of levels with solid game length
+ Lots of hidden items and artifacts to collect
– Platforming sections are not nearly as much fun as the combat