Bayonetta represents the best the genre has to offer
As someone who has always harboured a deep love for the Devil May Cry games, Bayonetta seemed like it would be exactly the kind of game I'd enjoy. With Hideki Kamiya (the man who envisioned the first Devil May Cry) behind the game, Platinum Games' effort is about that same third-person action with plenty of melee weapons and guns with infinite bullets. Aside from the insane, stylish action, Bayonetta is also filled to the brim with complete craziness. It's one of these games that is described by the Western world as “Extremely Japanese”, and with good reason. The game always moves at the speed of light, the titular lead character's design is so focused on sexual themes it's hilarious, and the game will constantly throw weird mini-games and references in your face. This all adds up to a glorious experience, filled with tough foes and great set-pieces.
As you might expect from the description in the above paragraph, Bayonetta isn't the type of game that you should play for the intriguing plot and deep characters. Much like in Devil May Cry, the cutscenes are excellently animated and chock-full with awesome action. Or at least, some of them are. Certain cutscenes are made up entirely of stills with voice-over recorded to narrate them. These cutscenes are not as good as the fully animated ones, and seem to have been rather arbitrarily chosen to have this unfortunate trait. There are action sequences that were begging for the awesome all-out treatment, but instead come off as lacking in oomph because they aren't even moving. One could defend this as an artistic choice, but it doesn't add anything to the feel of the story, and it leads me to believe that Platinum Games either ran out of time and money or was bored with the whole thing.
It's a bit unfortunate these interludes between the set-pieces—because that's the role cutscenes really fulfill in these games—don't manage to combine into a sensical and compelling story. Bayonetta herself is basically the sexy librarian archetype taken to its extreme. Her legs alone are longer than the average man is tall, her hips would have no trouble giving birth to twins without her even feeling the delivery taking place and she bends over and blows kisses at a barrier when it needs to be removed. When you've got a lead like that, you have to make the other character almost as over-the-top in order to justify their place, and Platinum Games have succeeded there. You've got Bayonetta's antagonistic counter-part, the equally sexified witch Jeanne. You've got the Joe Pesci-type whiner with the Italian accent, who thankfully only appears during the first couple of levels. There's a shopkeeper called Rodin who spouts one-liners as you enter and exit the store and supplies you with awesome weaponry. A little girl called Cereza and a random young journalist Bayonetta names “Cheshire” round out the cast. That all sounds like quality material for a fantastic parody tale, but Bayonetta seems reluctant to use it. The game starts off pretty strong, with some decent exposition and great action in the first few chapters, but then seems to forget about following that start up with tangible story elements. There are plenty of cutscenes, but they don't actually expand the story. The game waits until the very last level to resolve the plot, and does so with some extremely long scenes. This is not the way storytelling ought to be done, and it left me sort of miffed.
Thankfully, the other elements in Bayonetta do succeed at being fantastic. The heart of the game is, of course, the combat. You spend your time fighting angelic foes (as Bayonetta is a witch) that are well designed and refreshingly tough to fight. Each enemy poses a challenge, but the game manages to impose the player with a real sense of power. The tall witch can't block, but she can shoot four guns at once (two of which are on her ankles), use weapons that Rodin gives her and pick up the weapons from fallen foes, to be used until they break. She can also dodge and jump around attacks, and if you time her dodges just right, she'll activate Witch Time, which is a stylized version of temporary Bullet Time, if you will. If you've filled up her magic meter enough, you can use torture attacks that usually involve mashing the button as the protagonist performs a canned and pain-inducing animation on the adversary. The game moves so fast and Bayonetta is so nimble that all these elements form into one of the greatest combat systems I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing in a video game.
That tight little suit Bayonetta is wearing isn't just for show: it's not made out of latex, but out of her own natural hair. Before you even start thinking about how long it must have taken her to grow that, let me tell you that she can use magic on her hairdo and allow it to take the shape of dragons and birds and weird scorpion-esque creatures that can crush the larger opponents in the game. These special attacks become available to you once you've stripped a big foe of a certain amount of health, and they always look awesome, and get your blood pumping as you're madly mashing a button in order to get the maximum amount of power out of the dragons' jaws.
When you're not running around in good-looking cities or fighting small-time angels in their streets, huge “Cardinal” bosses will present you with a major challenge. These fights come both in the larger-than-life and nimble human-on-human flavour, and they never fail to please. The final boss fight, especially, has reserved a place in my heart, and if you loved the Vergil fights in Devil May Cry 3 like I did, you're sure to find an equally—if not more—awesome counter-part of that here. These fights always end with Bayonetta rearranging her hair into more complex tools of destruction, and those finishers always give you that final rush as you tear the boss in two.
One has to consider, of course, that the hair that is formed into side-kick dragons has to come from somewhere. Bayonetta will frequently brave the cold with her naked form off-screen as you're beating up a Golem-type enemy with big hairy fists. This leads to the question of whether Bayonetta shouldn't be considered too explicit for teenagers. Honestly though, with the humorous way the game handles all of its sexual innuendo, such as the off-hand remarks made by the lead character herself, the frequent booty shots and cuts that are just barely censored enough, it's more deserving of being called a parody, and shouldn't be called out on it for that. Seeing Bayonetta's flesh is simply a funny reward for pulling off some of the game's more complicated combos, and it always made me chuckle. And for something that was marketed as a pretty major aspect of the game, the nudity comes off as a very small part of the package.
Random, weird content seems to be the concept that Bayonetta attempts to trademark. Between every chapter, you get to play this little first-person shooter mini-game called “Angel Attack”, which gives you free extra items if you perform well in it. To further mix things up, there are random gameplay bits such as a cool motorcycle sequence and a very annoying and drawn-out rocket-riding chapter. The game ensures that you will never be bored, either by mixing up the gameplay or with a constant stream of new weapons, braces that give Bayo special benefits and new attacks. After you complete the game, new difficulties will be opened up, and Bayonetta will retain her attacks, health upgrades and what have you on the new settings. You can replay any chapters at any time in order to increase your ranks and get more money for it, which in turn allows you to unlock more great stuff. The game can offer some serious value if stuff like that appeals to you. I currently have about 15 hours clocked, and I haven't even started Hard mode and still have a tonne left to see and unlock.
It all looks great too. The character models are detailed enough, and the textures up to par, but the game mostly gets its good looks from superb animations and great effects in the combat. Everything moves so fast, as you are weaving in and out of Witch Time, and summoning big hairy boots to kick dudes with, that it can be somewhat disorienting when you first play the game. If you have epilepsy, this game probably isn't for you, but once you can get accustomed to the pretty lights and flashes, you can completely lose yourself in the Bayonettation. The music seems odd at first, but if you're like me, you'll quickly grow to love it.
Bayonetta is just bursting with great set-pieces, hilarious antics and exhilarating combat. If you enjoy games such as the likes of Ninja Gaiden, Devil May Cry or God Hand, Bayonetta is for you. I have no problem proclaiming it to be one of the best games to come out in this particular category, and it is super-easy to recommend to just about anyone looking for a good time, and some great value.