The second game from the high profile development team at PlatinumGames, following last years’ critically acclaimed yet financially under-performing MADWORLD, Bayonetta sees players entering the shoes of an amnesiac witch, the last survivor of an ancient clan battling to maintain the balance between light, dark and chaos. With Hideki Kamiya, creator of the well respected Devil May Cry and Viewtiful Joe franchises, at the helm, great things have been expected of Bayonetta. And now, with the game finally available at European retail outlets, we have the chance to see for ourselves whether the finished product manages to live-up to this expectation.
Arriving the same day as THQ and Vigil Games’ long-awaited Darksiders, which also boasts combo-based combat and a grand assortment of weaponry, there has been much confused comparison between the two. Relying on the information provided by the publishers alone this could perhaps be forgiven, but after even only a short time with both games players will find that they are very different propositions, and each have both their strengths and shortcomings. While Darksiders features the freedom to explore it’s unique and inviting world, the occasional brain teasing puzzle and Platform challenges, Bayonetta is a wholly linear experience concentrating one thing: absurdly swift and brutal combat. Comparing Darksiders to Bayonetta is a similar comparison to The Legend of Zelda and Ninja Gaiden, and while most readers of Electronic Theatre would almost immediately be able to pick a favourite of the two, there’s no arguing that each are very different in both design and intent.
Bayonetta herself is a quick-witted irritation for much of the game, coming across as somewhere between a spoiled upper-middle class English housewife and the lead antagonist in a low budget 80’s Teen Horror movie about sexy witches that prey on teenage boys. And that is as it’s intended to be, for Bayonetta – like her or loathe her – is every bit as memorable as the fast and vicious combat.
The control system is incredibly simple, allowing for players to quickly adapt to the furious pace of the game which demands an increasing amount of concentration and reactions as the player progresses. The X Button controls your guns and the Y Button is used for hand based melee attacks, while the B Button brings feet into play. These latter two commands can be mixed into lengthy combos with near any combination of presses. Further to this are the Dodge Offset, Wicked Weave, Punish and Torture Attacks, each of which adds something very unique to the combat.
The on-screen enemies will always give an indication of when their attacks are incoming, be it a flashing light or some other regular pattern, and dodging is performed by pressing the R Trigger. Dodging at the very last possible moment will engage Witch Time, in which time dramatically slows and players will deal a great more damage with each attack. Once a few skills have been learnt the player will earn the Dodge Offset ability, which allows for combos to be paused mid-swing and returned to immediately after the dodge animation has finished. Wicked Weave is the now famous ability to conjure limbs made of hair from portals in the sky and Punish and Torture Attacks are devastatingly brutal high damage manoeuvres, the latter of which is only available once a player’s magic gauge has been filled by repeatedly damaging opponents without taking any in return.
An entirely ludicrous story is easily entertained due to the flamboyant yet stereotypical characters. Enzo is a snivelling wretch out for lining his own pockets, while Rodin is an asskicking, outspoken hellspawn interpretation of Laurence Fishburne’s Morpheus. Luka, the proposed love interest, is an uncomplicated teenage Italian boy lost between love and hate, and Jeanne is Bayonetta’s rival, with very few unique character traits beyond that. The twisting plot never once attempts to be believable or take itself too seriously, which is somewhat of a relief as it only just manages to remain appreciable at times.
The vistas of Paradiso (Heaven), Purgatorio (Purgatory), and Inferno (Hell) owe a lot to Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy, though not in the same way as EA Games’ forthcoming Dante’s Inferno, and Bayonetta, along with Darksiders and Visceral Games’ latest effort, marks a trio of games more than lightly referencing biblical mythology. The fact that videogames are beginning to approach such heavily debated territory is perhaps a greater sign of the maturing media than that of sex, terrorism or drug abuse, and although Bayonetta maybe used as a last line of defence in any argument of their worth, those already in support of the hobby will recognise the challenge of common beliefs as intelligent and, above all, entirely a work of fantasy.
The game is divided into Chapters, which in turn are split into Verses for each individual action sequence. The player is awarded a medal for each Verse, and the cumulative total of these medals will award a trophy at the end of each Chapter. Earning better medals will become an addiction for those looking to sample all that the game has to offer, and with an incredible assortment of new abilities and other extras to purchase from the game’s shop – and two positively demanding further unlockable difficulty settings – there’s plenty of incentive for numerous playthroughs. New weapons can be gained by colleting records, or parts thereof, and returning them Rodin at The Gates of Hell (the in-game shop). While players may experiment with the brand new combos available with each new weapon, ultimately there’s little point to look beyond the very first unlocked, as the damage being dealt remains competitive and the attack system will be ingrained.
Regularly stunning, Bayonetta is simply an amazing vision. Truly pushing the current-generation systems and achieving a new level of visual fidelity, Bayonetta can stand alongside the top-tier of videogame productions and, at times when it’s most hectic, could often teach them a thing or two. Certain cut-scenes feature full animation, other utilise sound effects on a still image film reel, and a third type show semi-animated full colour images. While the first two effects are quite simply fantastic in their delivery, the third type comes-off as somewhat poorly produced. It may be a choice of art-direction, but having hair, earrings and other items blowing in the breeze while the character remains firmly static throughout their many lines of dialogue simply feels inadequate. The sound quality is similarly flawed, with some amazing voice acting and original tracks, yet the occasional throwaway delivery of a line and ridiculously gleeful J-Pop can distance the player.
The expectation placed upon Bayonetta was both ridiculously high and brought upon by the developer’s industry jousting. With each opportunity to see more of what the game had to offer, Bayonetta looked more certain to fulfil its promise; and now that the game is available in full there’s no denying that it has delivered, and that PlatinumGames had earned the right to be a little cocky. References to previous works from the development team and other notable videogames are regular, and obvious, and few experienced gamers will find reason to challenge the gesture. Bayonetta may have failed to reach that top position in the UK’s retail chart that SEGA were aiming for with a January launch, but it’s certainly not for a lack of quality.