Bayonetta is Platinum Games and Sega's newest action brainchild. It may seem crazy but it's an experience like no other.
The story of Bayonetta is a bit confusing at times and quite honestly you may find yourself skipping cinematics as you progress. It begins with a flashback of the leather wearing gun toting Bayonetta and her blonde counterpart Jeanne fighting side by side against a horde of angels. Europe is in the midst of a war between two rival clans of magic wielders: The Umbra Witches and Lumen Sages. The Umbra Witches consist of women who gave their souls to wield dark magic while the Lumen Sages are men who control magic given by heaven. Eventually, the war eliminates both clans.
Flash to present day where a Joe Pesci look alike named Enzo is seen in a graveyard with a woman garbed in white nun’s clothing. Low and behold, the woman in white garb is actually Bayonetta in disguise. While she begins to battle angels, a weapons dealer named Rodin appears and supplies Bayonetta with guns to dispose of them. After the quick battle Enzo gives information to Bayonetta about a fictional city in Europe called Vigrid.
Apparently, Bayonetta has no memory of who she is for the past 20 years. Since her awakening, she has been forced to kill angels for their halos in order to fulfill her pact with the devil in exchange for her dark witch powers. In an attempt to discover who she really is, she explores the city of Vigrid while traveling through 3 dimensions: Paradiso (heaven), Purgatorio (purgatory) and Inferno (hell). Each dimension looks similar. However, each has distinct changes depending on which you are in.
As you travel through Vigrid you learn the true history of Bayonetta as she encounters familiar faces, a possible love interest, and even a little girl who looks exactly like Bayonetta. You’ll come across corny dialogue and irrelevant flashbacks, but luckily the game comes equipped with a skip function.
As soon as you hit Chapter 1 you’ll notice how difficult the game is, and it’s not due to lack of good controls either. On normal mode you’ll find yourself getting hit constantly from behind if the camera isn’t watching your back. Also with the quick time events, I found myself slamming the controller on the floor. You have to be very precise with timing or you’re dead. It’s not quite as bad as God of War, but its close. Bayonetta is challenging enough that you know you can beat it with practice, but not frustrating enough to make you want to keep playing.
Bayonetta’s core gameplay is simple in design. You control Bayonetta through a stage, fight with enemies, go through some cutscenes, a few quick time events and move on. The game is split into different chapters with a minigame following each one. During the chapters each battle is split up into “verses”. Each verse gives you a rating of Stone, Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum and Pure Platinum. At the end of each chapter, the game totals your medals into a trophy that is the average of your medals. With five difficulty settings and tons of hidden loot to find, the gameplay of Bayonetta becomes very addicting. Sometimes they throw levels at you with more variety such as a level soley based on riding a motorcyle on a highway.
The combo system is the crux of Bayonetta’s gameplay. Combos are executed by pressing one of three buttons that controls her hands, feet and guns. To finish off a combo Bayonetta uses her dark powers to summon giant arms or stilettos that mimic her movements and bash enemies. The list of combos is astoundingly large and during load times the game allows you to practice them.
At the beginning of the game you start with four guns, one on each limb. In addition to the guns there are a handful of other weapons to find or buy. You can equip a different weapon to your hands and feet to select two weapons per set. The game gives you two sets for your weapons allowing you to swap them on the fly with a simple button push. You can also pick up dropped angel weapons and use them for a short time. The varying weapon choices are not only for aesthetics, though. Each weapon you equip changes the combos you can perform adding to an even longer combo list. The variety gets even larger when you begin to master the combos and swap weapons in the middle for longer strings. Each combo flows smoothly and transitioning from one to another seems flawless. Practice is definitely needed when you pick up a new weapon but once you find your favorite combo you’ll be ripping apart angels in no time.
In addition to the basic attacks and combos there are moves called Torture Attacks where Bayonetta summons huge torture machines like guillotines and iron maidens to mutilate her enemies. Simply smash on the appropriate button or rotate a control stick to build up power measured in “megatons” until ultimately the device rips the angel into pieces. There are also boss versions of the Torture Attacks called Climax Attacks where Bayonetta uses her hair to summon gigantic demonic beasts that rip apart the bosses as if they were mere peons. There is something oddly satisfying about watching a giant monstrous angel getting his head bitten off by a giant dog demon made of hair.
Bayonetta has a large repertoire of abilities. If you dodge an attack just as an enemy attacks, you will activate “Witch Time” where Bayonetta slows down time allowing you to mash in some combos on frozen enemies. Each successful dodge adds to your magic meter which allows you to execute the Torture attacks and perform other magical moves. In addition to her Witch Time, Bayonetta has many other abilities such as walking on walls during a full moon or transforming into a panther for added running speed and jump length. The wall walking parts of stages is a blast to play and harkens back to Super Mario Galaxy type platforming.
The enemies in Bayonetta are large in variety. Each new enemy looks bigger and badder than the last. As you progress through the game, enemies who were originally mini-bosses become standard kills and usually accompany or replace the grunt angels making you feel like you are becoming stronger as you play. Each enemy is separated into tiers called spheres.
Along the journey through Vigrid there are tons of goodies and collectibles to snag. When killing enemies you earn halos (which look suspiciously similar to the rings in Sonic games). You can then go to The Gates of Hell and visit Rodin to spend the halos for new weapons, techniques, costumes and consumable items. There are a bunch of book pages that further explain the history of Bayonetta and the Umbra Witches. Other hidden items add to the gameplay by increasing your maximum health or magic meters.
Before I even dive into the graphics, I must inform you I only played the 360 version which played smoothly. However I hear the PS3 version has massive slowdowns and load times. That being said, Bayonetta sports some good graphics. They are far from being the best, but it can compete with a lot of other games. Although simple in design, the fights take you into some crazy stages and some of the boss battles actually take place on top of the bosses themselves. There are a few seams and tears in the scenery here and there, but it’s nothing that should bug you.
The beauty of Bayonetta comes with how fluidly she moves. When Bayonetta attacks there is no hiccup or stuttering in her movement. Each attack looks like its doing the damage it’s supposed to. Even when using different weapons, her movements stay smooth such as her pole dancing technique when using enemy stalves.
The enemies in Bayonetta are some of the craziest I’ve seen in a game. The angels resemble bird-like humanoids while the bosses are unlike anything I’ve seen. Think God of War scale bosses that have faces like cherubs. As you fight angels and damage them, their armor begins to come off revealing their innards. Angel blood gushes everywhere as the angels explode from decapitation or impalement.
Bayonetta sports an unusual combination of J-pop and jazz. The theme song is Frank Sinatra’s “Fly me to the Moon” sung by Belgian actress Helena Noguerra. Throughout the battles different versions of Sinatra’s song will play in the background in addition to other jazz and j-pop tunes. Although unusual, the music manages to fit with the fighting and cutscenes well.
The only issue with the music is that it often repeats way too often. Its not terrible but it definitely gets stuck in your head. Think Street Fighter IV’s “Indestructible”. You don’t want to sing it, but you do anyway.
The boss battles on the other hand have great orchestral sounds to each one and give that epic feel. It sets the tone for the massive battles and makes you feel like a movie type soundtrack.
The voice work is cheesy at best, but that’s how it’s supposed to be. The developers were clearly making fun of themselves with the voiceovers.
Although the game lacks a true multiplayer, Bayonetta does include an online leaderboard that ranks you amongst others. It separates rankings by best Time and Combo for each chapter and also by the difficulty level. It’s nothing big, but it’s nice they took the time to make a sophisticated leaderboard.
Bayonetta definitely lives up to the expectations of Kamiya’s work and will definitely satisfy your action cravings. With its smooth combo system and large variety of weapons you will never tire of ripping angels to shreds. If perfection is your game then you will have hours of replay value mastering stages to get that platinum trophy. The game makes fun of itself in so many ways and yet still manages remain fresh and addictive. Action games coming up later this year have a lot to measure up to in Bayonetta.
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Release: January 5, 2010
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Also available on: PS3
Developer: Platinum Games