When you stop and think about it the action game genre has some truly memorable characters. Kratos from God of War, Dante from Devil May Cry and of course Ryu Hayabusa from Ninja Gaiden (and his well-endowed sidekicks who no one pays attention to) all spring to mind. Hideki Kamiya may not be a household name, but I guarantee you have played one of his amazing titles. The creator of such classic franchises such as Devil May Cry, Okami and Viewtiful Joe returns to the action genre with a character who may become the most renowned figure in action gaming. Mixing sexy dance moves and hair that can summon demons; I can only be referring to Bayonetta.
Trying to follow the story of Bayonetta is like playing darts blindfolded. The most important thing you need to know is that she has been in the bottom of a lake for 500 years, she has amnesia and she is trying to figure out why. The cut scenes are long and surprisingly interesting, mostly due to the fact that they are about as insane as you can possibly fathom. I really tried to follow the story, and after the end credits roll I did feel like I had a grip of what was going on, but still I was confused about a lot of things. The voice acting is really well conveyed and as I mentioned the cut scenes will keep you glued to the action, but rarely did I find myself nodding my head like I knew what was going on.
Of course the story is merely a catalyst to slay legions of angelic enemies on your mission to figure out your past. This is where Bayonetta shines. The action in the game walks the delicate line between being easily accessible and legions deep. On easy and very easy you can simply mash the buttons in any order and pull off flashy combos with any set of weapons. On normal the game is forgiving, but not so much that it is not a challenge, you will die often. The best thing is that whenever you die you know it is your own fault. Never once did I feel like the game cheated me or that I died due to some unfair camera angle or cheap enemy. The balance is nearly flawless and reminds me a lot of the skill it takes to master Ninja Gaiden.
Combos are performed by tapping two of the face buttons in various combinations. You also have a firing button for your guns and of course the quintessential leaping button. The most important button though is your dodge button. Pulling down the right trigger causes Bayonetta to quickly shift out of the range of danger. If you perform it at exactly the right moment you will activate Witch Time. As you can imagine this slows down all the enemies onscreen for a few seconds giving you a chance to unleash a fury of combos on them without any resistance. If you want to master the game on the harder difficulties, this is a must.
Bayonetta can also use her hair to perform some of the more advanced combos and attacks. These are called Wicked Weave attacks. Charging up a standard combo is great, but when you close it out with a giant six-inch heel dropping from the sky you get a sense of satisfaction. You can also use your hair to perform finishing moves on bosses that cause Bayonetta to summon up some of the most obscure demons I have ever seen. Some of these sequences are downright impressive to watch, and some are even hilarious including the beach ball scene, which needs to be witnessed to believe.
As you fill up your magic combo meter you will also gain access to what are called torture attacks. Theses allow you to get in some nasty damage on your enemies, while also giving you quite the show. Each enemy has a different torture attack they will go through and when activated are some of the more gruesome events in the game. Everything from a torture wheel to a guillotine comes into to play here. You can also mash the buttons to increase the attack power and combo score, which in turn will earn you halos; the game’s form of currency.
Earning halos is as simple as defeating enemies, but in order to really rack up the money you have to get a good combo chain going. The more hits you drop in succession the more halos you earn. Even after one playthrough I was well away from unlocking all the various moves and combos you can purchase with halos, so the replay value for multiple times through the game is definitely there. The amount of weapons found in the game also ups the ante when it comes to attacks. Bayonetta can equip two weapons at a time and she has two preset layouts that can be switched on the fly. You can opt to have guns on your hands and feet, or a combination of anything else which includes a whip, a samurai sword, and even a pair of ice skates.
Upgrading and purchasing new items quickly becomes addictive. There are a plethora of new items that, while not required to finish the game, do make it a bit more enjoyable. The area where you purchase new items and outfits is called the Gates of Hell, and it is a bar run by a man named Rodin who lays down more videogame quips and puns that should be allowed. You can enter this anytime between levels and you will even find them scattered around within certain chapters in the game. Rodin will also take the hidden LPs you find within the game and turn them into weapons for Bayonetta to use. Each new set of these weapons comes with unique combos and more gameplay aspects that make playing through multiple times not only a necessity, but also a blast.
Bayonetta is a genuinely long game; my first time through ran me just under ten hours on normal and my subsequent levels to earn more halos have my game clock running long into the double digit hours. There is just so much to see and do and none of it ever wears on your nerves save for a few key areas. For instance the three main bosses you encounter in the game will repeat over and over ad nausea throughout the duration of the game. There are also a few vehicle segments that tend to run on a bit longer than they need to. Outside of that the core game is enjoyable enough that making your way back through the levels is never boring or feels like a chore. Add in the challenge rooms that play tunes from classic Sega games such as Outrun and Space Harrier, and you have one massive package of action game goodness.
This is the part of the review that I hate to write. Speaking solely on terms of visuals this is one of the few games where which system to purchase it on comes into play. The Xbox 360 version of Bayonetta is simply superior to the PS3 one in every way technically. The frame rate is better, the loading times are better and the overall look and feel of the game is just better. I absolutely love the art style in the game. The gothic architecture mixed with gorgeous animation and interesting character designs make this one of the more appealing games this generation. It just sucks seeing it washed out on the PS3. If you have a choice I highly recommend settling with the 360 version as it is superior in every fashion, however if you are limited to only owning a PS3 the drawbacks are still worth the experience in my opinion.
Bayonetta is the kind of game that makes me appreciate why I love videogames. It really defines a time when things were not taken too seriously and the focus was more on style and gameplay than anything else. The outlandish boss battles and over-the-top action really make this game stand out amongst its peers. It also helps that the action has been so finely tuned that gamers of any skill can pick it up and feel satisfied. Bayonetta is one of the most interesting game characters to be introduced in a long time. I just hope she manages to stick around longer enough to get a proper sequel.