Exciting, over the top, and incredibly satisfying
Being the mastermind behind the original Devil May Cry and hence a pioneer of sorts of the "character action game", Hideki Kamiya had a lot to live up to with Bayonetta, the game that many consider the spiritual successor Devil May Cry. However, Bayonetta exceeds expectations by not only delivering a tight, well executed gameplay experience but also offering delightfully over the top and campy narrative filled with great tongue-in-cheek dialogue. From the first moment you step foot into the world of Bayonetta, you can tell that the developers aren't taking the subject matter seriously. The results are decidedly ludicrous but also deliciously entertaining.
You play as Bayonetta, a gun-wielding, shape-shifting witch who wakes up after 500 years of slumber to an unfamiliar world and no memories of her past. As the storyline progresses she discovers that in her time (500 years ago that is), there were two warring factions: the Umbra Witches, followers of darkness, and the Lumen Sages, followers of light who at present are all but gone. As you work your way from battle to battle with various angelic creatures and begin to uncover Bayonetta's past, the storyline is narrated through a series of full-motion in-engine cinematics as well as still shots delivered with often hilarious, if campy voice acting. Unfortunately though some of these cinematics are fast-paced and well produced, the lengthy bits of exposition using film-style still shots can run on for too long and break up the pace of battle to the point where it's very tempting to simply skip past these portions of the game (which I did in some cases).
But a game like Bayonetta is not about the story, it's about the action and the gameplay and in that aspect Bayonetta delivers in spades. Whether you're a casual player who just likes to mash buttons, or a gaming sage that carefully plans out each series of attacks and combos, the game can be highly enjoyable. With a vast array of combos and techniques, multiple melee and ranged weapons, as well the all so useful witch time technique (an essential technique that involves dodging an enemies attack at the last moment) the combat has almost unlimited depth and variation to suit each player's unique style of play. The sheer vastness of Bayonetta's gameplay depth may seem daunting at first, but fortunately Platinum games has included a capable tutorial along with an ingenious "training arena" loading screen that encourages players to consistently refine their techniques as well discover new ways to approach a battle. The only complaint I would have about the combat is the camera, which is always the crutch of this genre. In the case of Bayonetta, the camera can at times be a little to constrictive or two expansive, resulting in scenarios where it can be difficult to see where enemies are attacking from. It's a minor issue most of the time, but can be somewhat annoying during certain boss fights.
With the combat being so fine-tuned and well-executed, effective pacing is needed to make sure that the game can maintain its momentum from battle to battle. In this sense, Bayonetta separates itself from other games of its kind by utilizing a progressive ranking system that ranks the player not only on each chapter of the game but also each individual encounter within that chapter, with the coveted pure platinum medal being the top reward. These rankings are then put together into leaderboards, encouraging continuous competition for nearly every section of the game. This system not only give the players continuous incentive to keep progressing form one battle to the next but also results in even pacing from start to finish. Lengthy cinematics aside, there are no lulls in combat as the game is constantly encouraging you to push forward.
Not only does Bayonetta have exquisite gameplay but it also looks absolutely fantastic. The lighting effects, texture work, and character designs (especially for some of the bosses) are all brilliantly realized, with an overall graphical presentation that gives even first-party Xbox 360 titles a run for their money. Though there are few dull areas in the game, for the most part the world of Bayonetta is a vibrant, dynamic, and incredibly detailed. That coupled with some superb animation work and we have ourselves a beautiful looking game.
Technically speaking, there's not much to complain about. The framerate is quite smooth, and the game often runs close to 60 frames per second but there can be significant dips during the most intense moments. There is also noticeable screen tearing present, though fortunately it is mainly during the down-time parts of the game, and not during the actual combat. The quality of the voice work, as previously mentioned, isn't exactly top-notch but it's done in a campy enough way that it works out quite nicely. The soundtrack is also quite interesting, an unusual combination of classic jazz tunes mixed with fast-paced J-pop that ends up sounding much better than you would think, and remains one of the most memorable aspects of the game.
Though Bayonetta is by no means a lengthy game, playing through the campaign for the first time on Normal difficulty can take roughly fifteen hours or so, depending on how familiar you are with the genre. However, with a good number of treasures, collectables, upgrades, and challenge rooms (called Alfheim portals) as well as two additional difficulty levels (a word of warning: the Hard difficulty is pretty damn hard) offer nearly endless replay value. In fact, seeing and doing everything there is to do in the game can take upwards of fifty or more hours; that coupled with some competition with friends for high scores and you'll be coming back time and time again.
Bayonetta is one of the best action game I've ever played, with a perfectly tuned combat and progressive ranking system that puts most other "action" games of its kind to shame. Though the story could certainly have been better, it definitely isn't entirely a train wreck either. It's been a while, but the perfect action game has finally arrived. Now stop reading and go play it!