A Blush Worthy Good Time - A Bayonetta Review
Developer: Platinum Games
Platforms: Playstation 3, Xbox 360 (reviewed)
From just looking at the packaging, it should be evident what to expect from a game like Bayonetta. From the flattering backside view on the back of the box to her playful wink printed on the disc, the feeling of overt sexuality is present before the game even starts. Once it does however, it doesn't let up as it is soon coupled with an over the top adventure that will certainly leave players with grins, frustration and maybe even happy pants.
Ok, maybe not. But with the barrage of heavily suggestive imagery, for that to happen wouldn't be out of place at all.
Bayonetta is a third person action game and to describe it as over the top would be an understatement. The game stars Bayonetta, a witch on an adventure to discover her past. Along with Bayonetta, the player meets an assortment of characters that help reveal parts of her memory. The problem is that it's hard to really make sense of what's actually being presented. This becomes apparent towards the end of the game, where the player is given a number of twists and revelations in hopes of drawing a conclusion. It feels cluttered at the end, and can fall apart if you don't pay attention.
The story telling itself is divided between cinematics and journal collectibles. The cinematics are also split between traditional CG and picture-esc slideshows. The former are well animated, though tend to stutter with the scenes towards the end of the game. The latter follows a type of film reel, with the screen jumping to different still frames all while keeping the voice acting. The production on both is superb. There is a campy B-list feel to the dialogue that the voice actors capture, but it goes well with a game that doesn't take itself seriously. At all.
However, this is what makes the game work. It's almost like the story shouldn't be the main focal point, since everything else is too outrageous for it to matter. To put this into perspective, Bayonetta herself is a witch whose entire skintight revealing outfit is composed of her hair. Hair that she can summon into an array of shapes and creatures to finish a combo after she is done attacking with a variety of both melee weapons and firearms - a term used loosely since her heels themselves are actually guns.
If protagonist design isn't enough to emphasize the insanity of this game, the rest of the cast doesn't let up. Enemies themselves range from corrupted looking angels, flying serpents, giants sporting baby statue faces and even boats - all that spill gallons of blood once defeated. The characters are interesting to say the least, with each encounter leaving a sense of wonder in terms of who and what you'll meet next.
A suiting soundtrack accompanies the scenery. A Victorian reminiscent score appropriately fits the Victorian level exploration as well a numerous boss encounters. This is well contrasted by more upbeat j-pop influenced tunes that background typical enemy encounters and boss conclusions. The soundtrack overall is fitting for the game, but no real melody sounds out.
As a final note regarding presentation, the actual package itself is the first indicator of how open the game is with sexuality. Every chance the game gets to present Bayonetta's overt sexuality - which is almost every few minutes - the game will unshamefully take. Cinematic shots, long pole weapon attacks and female enemy finishers all make sure that a suggestive pose or action is unsubtly viewable for enjoyment. Bayonetta is even equipped with a taunt button, which vary from tame to downright blush worthy. Again, there's a level of normalcy to this. That, in the over the top world Bayonetta takes place in, things like this seem acceptable. Sure, she isn't in the same moral league has Jade or Alyx Vance, but Bayonetta doesn't try to be nor state that she is.
Gameplay wise, this is the next gen Devil May Cry fans have been waiting for. Veteran game developer Platinum Games is no stranger to this type of hectic action. Bayonetta controls simply enough, and feels familiar to fans of the genre. Face buttons perform basic combat actions while shoulder buttons are mapped to more technical ones (As well as a taunt button, or more appropriately, make a sexy pose). They can also be customized to better resemble preferred games.
Just like its DMC predecessors, Bayonetta is an action game that especially focuses on combo centric combat. Each action Bayonetta performs can be combined with another to execute ground or air chains. These usually end with a summoned fist or knee to finish foes off. If enough magic is earned though successful combos, a "torture attack" becomes executable. When triggered, players rapidly mash a button to a torturous scene. "Climaxes" are in the same vein, but are mandatory to finish off bosses. In all, the combo system is simple, becoming flashier as the system is mastered and additional techniques are purchased. What is great about it is that new comers still get a sense of accomplishment. Even simpler three button combinations produce satisfactory finishers. Those who decide to learn the more in depth mechanics can expect even wilder ones with an even extra level of fluidity.
One of the techniques combat relies on is the notion of Witch Time. Efficiently dodging an enemy attack at the last possible moment will trigger this. The screen gets a purple filter, and time is slowed down allowing players to attack and combo a now vulnerable enemy. Witch Time adds a welcomed depth to the game with a nice risk vs. reward factor. However, its inconsistency really takes away from the experience. During encounters – properly dodging results in nothing. The problem is the game will still make the indicating sound that you've pulled it off, but will remain in real time. To have one of the key combat components not work all consistently really takes away from the experience and in a way punishes the player for doing what they're otherwise encouraged to do.
The combat also suffers when there are multiple enemies on screen. This is mostly if you want to target a specific enemy out of the lot. The game's lock-on function mostly targets the closest baddie towards you. Bayonetta however, moves a lot during these instances. In doing so, you may lose your position and lock onto someone else. Switching targets cannot be done remotely, and the player must move closer to target a specific one. This already hurts a mechanic that it isn't that fine-tuned to begin with. Mostly during boss fights, if Bayonetta isn't directly facing her target, no matter if she is locked on, she will start to attack in whatever direction she is facing. This is annoying since it takes away time from attacking enemies in their limited state of vulnerability.
The game ranks the player mostly after every enemy encounter. These all add up towards a final chapter ranking and an eventual playthrough one. Depending on how high your combo score is, the amount of time taken and how much damage received, your performance can either be stone worthy or pure platinum. This is where a majority of the game's replayability comes from. While the game can be challenging in some parts, it doesn't get to the point of frustratingly difficult. Each enemy encounter seems manageable, and can leave a feeling that a chapter be completed faster, or with receiving less damage. Coupled with tons of unlockable items, replaying levels becomes a more satisfying experience.
Mixed along with the combat are weird platforming instances. Every now and then, the player is asked to jump from different platforms. Usually this is done either through a button press or manually controlled. Both methods have their faults. The QTEs in general are timed oddly. They appear suddenly and ask for button presses at an exact moment. Manually, the camera doesn't work well, as it is difficult to navigate and time jumps. What makes these instances even more annoying is their inconsistency. Most of the time, Bayonetta will respawn at the beginning with less health, but on some occasions she will outright die. This is frustrating as a slow reaction or missed jump can really effect the chapter's final ranking.
Occasionally during the story mode, Bayonetta takes part in vehicle-based sections. Initially, these chapters are fantastic adding a welcomed variety in setting while still keeping the over the top nature. However, they drag on a little too long. Segments that would have been great if they lasted a couple minutes are stretched out long enough to lose the novelty. Bayonetta's odd pacing also extends to chapters not really having a typical length. They too could have benefited from shaving off a couple of encounters.
Though there are a number of problems Bayonetta faces, they are all pretty minor in the grand scheme of the game itself. It is jammed packed with over-the-top moments from beginning to end. The gameplay itself holds the real appeal, with a visually pleasing combat system that gets better with familiarity. The game’s all nonsense approach means that it never takes itself seriously and is chockfull of references if you know where to look. Fans put off by the difficulty of Devil May Cry 3 or Ninja Gaiden should definitely give Bayonetta a chance, as it is more forgiving but just as equally rewarding.
-Rating: 8/10, 4/5, Really good.
-Finished initial playthrough with 405/1000 achievements.
-Initial Playtime: 13:15:18
-Started January 6
-Finished: January 22
Initial Chapter Ranking List:
Game Ranking: Bronze