Posted March 2nd 2010 by Jordan Mammo.
I've never put a game into the disc tray of my Xbox 360 with more preconceived notions than I did with Bayonetta. I had heard nothing but good things about it, but couldn't get past a personal stigma brought on by the overtly sexual design of the titular character. In the past, games like Dead or Alive: Extreme Beach Volley Ball have been made in the hopes of cashing in on the sexiness of the characters, and in doing so, forsook game play. So I chalked it up to the possibility that the young men who grew up with strange feelings brought on by cartoons like Sailor Moon might be writing these reviews, but nonetheless I fired the game up. What followed was possibly the most convoluted, ridiculous story ever told in a game juxtaposed with what might be the greatest action game mechanics in recent history. Make no mistake, when you break through all the in-your-face sex appeal of Bayonetta, you'll find that this is just a great game, plain and simple.
The mastermind behind this game is one Hideki Kamiya, and while you may not recognize the name, you've definitely heard of his games. A former Capcom alum now working for SEGA, this man is responsible for the quirky action side-scroller Viewtiful Joe, but more important is his creation of the ass kicking Devil May Cry series. I say more important because Devil May Cry is the game from which most people will draw comparisons to Bayonetta. Some might even go as far as to say Bayonetta is nothing more than a female version of DMC but that would be doing a huge disservice to this game. While both games' paces go a mile a minute with more action than a late '80s Schwarzenegger flick, Bayonetta takes all the things that made DMC great, character design, controls, action sequences, and turns them up to 11.
Now before I sing this game's praises any more I must say that the story is terrible; there's really no way around it. It has a light-versus-dark theme, but not only are the sides not clearly defined, you might have to keep a journal to understand what either sides are fighting for or against. Bayonetta plays for the Umbran team, a clan of witches that call upon demons for their magical abilities. Her enemies are part of the Lumen sage clan, using the power of light and often taking the form of angelic creatures. Bayonetta subsequently takes on the guise of an antihero, but at times she seems like an agent of chaos and at others a proponent of balance. And as if all that weren't confusing enough there's a deep, yet unintelligible back story as well. All of this can be seen in skipable cut scenes that are at times entirely too long. Sometimes Bayonetta herself even comments on how the dialogue seems to just drag on. The only games I think can get away with five-plus minute cut scenes are in either in the Final Fantasy series or the Metal Gear Solid series. But those games are lauded for their narratives, a category that most action games have struggled with, but luckily Bayonetta has enough of everything else to make you happy.
The gameplay in Bayonetta is truly the shinning star, even more so than Bayonetta herself. It's not often that an action game reaches the depth of combat that Bayonetta reaches without sacrificing enjoyment. Not only is obliterating the angelic Lumen as Bayonetta fun to do, it's easy to catch on to. The B and Y buttons represent your kick and punch actions respectively, and from the get go, a ton of awesome combos are at your fingertips. These combos range from a button mashing style that one might expect from a game like this, to a more precision timing based style. The X button is linked to your guns which serve your long ranged needs and can break up or supplement the rest of your attacks. Another timing based aspect of this game, Witch Time, is your ability to slow time by dodging attacks at the last possible moment. This comes in handy when fighting a lot of enemies, and even more so against the heavy hitters later in the game.
One of my favorite thing about this game was the collection and upgrade aspect of weaponry and how it affected your move set and attributes. Bayonetta is supplied weapons and items throughout the game by a man named Rodin, a marginally demonic entity with a affinity for halos and vinyl records, both of which are dropped by your slain enemies. While the halos, which might remind you a lot of the rings from another SEGA game, will allow you to buy healing items or attack buffs, the LP's get you the real goods: new weapons. Any two sets of weapons can be set to your feet and/or hands which make for a myriad of cool combo ideas. These weapons matched with Umbran magical hair attacks make Bayonetta more than a force to be reckoned with. She's a one woman wrecking machine. She can also apply torture attacks to her victims, which, surprise surprise, do nothing to dispel the S&M librarian vibe she's pumping out. These torture attacks can be queued up after a string of successful combos and they trigger a button mashing sequence that can net you a ton of halos to put towards new combos and items.
The awesome action sequences are punctuated by fantastic platforming and inventive puzzles. Obviously these aspects take a back seat to the destruction of your enemies, but they didn't take a back seat in development. All the polish that went into the crazy magical Umbran hair attacks also went into the rest of the game. Bayonetta's adventure takes her into different dimensions, through space and time, and even bends the laws of physics. The world in which Bayonetta takes place is not one that you run through to get to the next open area, counting the seconds till your next encounter. It's a rich vibrant world that is a joy to explore.
Vigrid is the city in which Bayonetta spends most of her time. This fictional European city is filled with wonderful Gothic architecture and its design really reaffirms one fact: this game is beautiful. While most of the cutscenes seek to draw your attention to every curve the deadly lady owns, the background world is just as striking. Early on, when we're just getting to know Bayonetta, the world is bright and even fun. But as the game and story progress and new issues and enemies are brought to light, the game takes on a darker tone. The changes are subtle but really help the pacing, and lay a solid foundation to the aforementioned ridiculous story.
Like you I had many preconceived notions of what to expect from Bayonetta, but after picking it up cheap a couple of weeks ago and playing through it over the past few days, it's an excellent game. It embraces the OTT craziness and it makes the game better because of it. Again, like you, I'd highly recommend it.
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