Recommended: The story is daunting at first, but Bayonetta offers a brilliant and varied spectacle fighter. The depth of combat options and great flourishes in art design have a lot to offer, as does how the protagonist absolutely exudes character. It can be a bit difficult, relies on some pretty bullshit QTEs in part, and has some rough edges, but it is nonetheless a quite fun game.
Bayonetta is a third person character-action game developed by Platinum Games and published by SEGA, in the vein of titles similar to God of War, Devil May Cry and Dante's Inferno. Directed by Hideki Kamiya, it is the spiritual successor to the Devil May Cry series. While borrowing concepts from its predeccessor, it manages to expand on them and create an identity of its own.
Set in the fictional European city of Vigrid, as well as Paradiso (Heaven), Purgatorio (Purgatory) and Inferno (Hell), the game revolves around a witch named Bayonetta. Awakened after 500 years sleeping at the bottom of the ocean with no memory of who or what she is, she is drawn into an age old battle centuries in the making. While fighting for her life, she must recover her memories, slowly piecing together who Bayonetta was.
The game is told through relatively short cutscenes, shot in an unusual manner. Most cutscenes are shown via a traditional film reel, with actual stills and sprockets visible as the story unfolds. During these scenes, the character's mouth doesn't move despite dialogue scrawling across the scene. This can be a little off-putting at first, I won't deny. It's an artistic choice clearly, but these are sparingly dispersed in between normal cutscenes and never detract from the plot.
Another way in which the plot was directed at me was via diary pages scattered throughout the game. Some were hidden, while others would sit in plain sight. These pages provided very helpful context and background to the life of the witched, the infernal demons, and the angels as well as the religious overtones throughout the title.
The plot at first can be a bit daunting. I don't mind saying for the first half of the game I was stumped as to where it was heading and at one or two points I nearly gave up. I took a day's break and I'm glad I did. The second half of the story starts to fill in much needed information and answer questions that will be nagging you from the very beginning. While the ending was somewhat jarring, it still fit within the confines of a game like Bayonetta and I'd be lying if I said I hadn't half expected something that stylish.
The mechanics are familiar, but varied and well-realised
The gameplay of Bayonetta is somewhat reminiscent of Hideki's previous action outing. While the style metre is slightly different from Devil May Cry, the idea is the same. Depending on how many combos you pull off and how effortlessly you avoid damage, you are awarded Halos—essentially the currency of the game.
The Halos can then be used in between chapters or at set areas in-game to purchase all sorts of items from the "Gates of Hell" bar, a seedy dive owned by a man named Rodin in Inferno. Depending on secret items found throughout the game, he can forge new weapons for Bayonetta, sell her priceless ability boosting artifacts or even help her hone her combat techniques. With the exception of the new weapons, all of his other services require a fairly hefty price of Halos. Needless to say, the Gates of Hell is an indispensable resource in finishing the game.
As well as the items acquired from Gates of Hell, Bayonetta can concoct various health and temporary stat boosting items by using components found throughout levels. These catalysts are usually found by finding breakable items and just going to town on the level. Occasionally enemies will drop these as well, but your best is lampposts, bins, tables and all sorts of other fragile items.
Littered throughout Bayonetta are challenge rooms similar to Devil May Cry, however unlike it's predecessor, Bayonetta lets you attempt these "Alfheim" as many times as you'd like. The entrances are often hidden and require backtracking, but it's often well worth it to track down one of these Angel banquet halls. Should you complete the challenge you will be rewarded with essential health and magic boosting items.
Finally at the end of every chapter is a mini-game called "Angel Attack". Bayonetta must take out Angels in a shooting gallery sort of setting and depending on how many bullets collected in game, her ammo pool can vary. If she racks up enough points, she can use them to purchase a helpful item. If she falls short of 30 points, she can't buy anything but can exchange the points for a rather decent amount of Halo currency.
While Bayonetta starts off with the usual punch and kick, she will soon acquire better weapons ranging from whips to swords and even a cestus-like set of claws. while these weapons do make the game decidedly easier, the real heart of Bayonetta lies in its combat. Deceptively simple to begin with, you can theoretically bumble through the game by mashing buttons and relying on a bit of luck.
Various fighting techniques you can learn
and execute keep the combat interesting and skillful
The real cream lies in mastering the various techniques. This is surprisingly hard to do and is most integral to the game. While you can mix up combos masterfully—should you know what you're doing, you must also time your ability to dodge an enemy's attacks. If you dodge at just the right time— provided you have any part of your magic gauge filled up, you will activate "Witch Time". Witch Time slows everything around you for roughly one to two seconds, allowing you to get in some devastating combos and pull off Bayonetta's powerful wicked weave techniques.
At various times in combat depending on how well you do, you can activate torture attacks. These are attacks that take quite a bit of time to complete, requiring the mashing of a particular button, or spinning of the left stick—the latter of which is a real pain. Upon completing these attacks successfully, you'll be treated to a small in-game scene of Bayonetta torturing the enemy in all sorts of bizarre twisted ways. My personal favourite was the suggestive attack against the "Joy" angels being impaled on a crude medieval horse akin to a Sybian device.
One aspect of the combat and in fact the game itself is quick-time events. They are in everything, from normal combat, to in game cutscenes, to even boss fights. They require split-second timing and never show you what to press until the last minute, often leading to frustrating and pointlessly repetitive deaths. I received many a stone award at the end of chapters just because some QTEs were beyond ridiculous, often requiring me to press the button before it showed up to pass it. Hands down the most frustrating thing in the game.
While the platforming and wall-walking is fairly competent, there are a few frustrating times when it doesn't quite mesh properly. This can often cause you to lose grip with gravity and in some instances force you to plummet to your death. There were a few times the only reason I didn't die was due to a shapeshift ability I had acquired. Those sections weren't particularly enjoyable.
Art Direction in Bayonetta is phenonemal
Graphically, Bayonetta is stunning. The Angel enemies, the shifting from Paradiso to Purgatorio and back again was very well done. While the wall walking may have some functional issues, visually it's very impressive. The perspective changes for the most part are brilliantly done. The environments are extremely varied, vibrant and fairly fresh. The game does re-use some maps and bosses but for the most part you'll constantly be awed by the beautiful, ethereal sweeping vistas littered throughout the game. I dare anyone to look down from the top of Ithavoll Tower and not be impressed with the draw distance, detail and the colours below.
Bayonetta's in game engine and pre-rendered cutscenes look great as do all the in-game models. Bayonetta herself oozes this air of confidence, classiness, strength and sultry seductive flare. The clothes fit her tightly, she shows much skin and many might argue that the game objectifies her in a sexist manner. To me she felt empowered. She's independent, strong and knows what she wants. She's cheeky and not afraid to tease and taunt her enemies. At times it can be downright erotic, but not enough to elicit a sexual response. It's incredibly pleasing to look at, but I sure wasn't aroused while playing Bayonetta. Rather I was admiring her agency and the level of power she exuded, as though untouchable by anyone.
There are a few issues like the occasional framerate slowdown when the screen gets too busy, or the somewhat awkward blocky representation of Bayonetta's shadow, but overall the game looks great, even on the inferior PS3 port I played.
While some of the scenes are crazy, risque and over-the-top it definitely fits in a game like Bayonetta. You may occasionally find yourself questioning physics and the survivability rate of certain characters, before realising something important. This is Bayonetta, and the only thing she cares about is getting what she wants. The game echoes this in its storytelling.
Bayonetta is quite sexually suggestive at times with cheeky one-liners and stylish John Woo-like fights and cutscenes. Bayonetta and in fact most of the other characters in game have an almost fetishistic obsession with lollipops, but it never goes overboard. It's just silly, harmless fun. The pre-rendered synchronized dancing scene with Bayonetta and the enemies in the game at the end was also very enjoyable.
Sound cues are a strong part of the game design
The sound design for Bayonetta is more than competent with brilliant voice acting by both Hellena Taylor, Yuri Lowenthal, and a whole host of decent voice actors. The delivery for Bayonetta's cheesy lines are perfect no matter the situation and you'll often find yourself chuckling at the absurdity of it all. The sound mix is great—the music a mix of acid jazz, original dance tracks and ethereal hymns and orchestral mixes.
All the sound cues are spot on with nothing feeling out of place. From the indecipherable language of the Angels through to Rodin and his offsiders confused comments, just like the rest of the game the sound is very stylish with the mix being just right. No music or sound effects overpower the dialogue and everything is crisp and easy to listen to apart from the subtitled Angels of the nine spheres of Paradiso.
Difficulty is fairly harsh, and the quick time events reduce the game to trial and error
Ultimately, Bayonetta is similar to Devil May Cry, just ramped up to eleven. The game consistently kicked my arse, even when I was constantly pulling off witch-time I still had a rough time of it. I've always been great at the Devil May Cry series, but I just couldn't match the flow of Bayonetta. It's fast paced, incredibly stylish, fun and frustrating. Roughly 70% of my after chapter awards were Stone awards. I didn't generally do great against bosses the first time and the quick time events sure didn't help my score.