Bayonetta (Available on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360]
CERO Rating: D (Ages 17+)
Number of Players: 1
Developer: Platinum Games
Japanese Release Date: October 29th, 2009
North American Release Date: January 5th, 2010
Bayonetta, much like Ninja Gaiden, Devil May Cry and other action games, is an intensely difficult, yet rewarding adventure. Players take on the role of Bayonetta, a witch who’s been asleep for 500 years. Upon coming to, she ‘s a total amnesiac. Even worse, bizarre angelic creatures appear out of nowhere to try to take her away. You see, angels dwell in another dimension outside the human world. Thankfully for us, we can only feel their presence, not actually see them. Bayonetta is befriended by a few human characters, including the mobster Enzo, and potential love interest, Luka. She also meets several demonic creatures, namely weapon trader Rodin and a mysterious figure from her past, Jeanne. Not everything in Bayonetta is as it seems.
We soon learn that Bayonetta has the ability to walk between dimensions, thus she can access areas normal humans can’t, where the angels can be damaged. This is important gameplay knowledge. By the time players realize who Bayonetta is, and what the angels want, they’ll likely feel like they’ve never experienced something quite like this before. Bayonetta’s plot is of the most unique to grace an action game in a long time. Despite being perplexed during most of the first half, the presentation values kept my interest. Instead of typical, story-advancing FMV cutscenes, the combination of artistic cutscenes that appear graphic novel-ish in design, and in-game cutscenes give Bayonetta its own style. After the opening cinematic alone, it’s clear that this isn’t your typical action game.
Each chapter is broken down into several verses, usually around eight or twelve per, and your performance is rated after completing each one. The individual ratings are averaged when you finish a chapter to calculate your final score. Well make no mistake, achieving a high score for each verse is extremely difficult. That’s because Bayonetta is about perfection. The main idea is to evade enemy attacks in order to activate Witch Time, which does exactly as you might imagine. It’s vital though because some enemies can only be hurt while in Witch Time. If you don’t grasp this early on, it’ll feel like hell to finish the game. The trick is to learn the enemies’ animation, that way you know exactly when to evade.
Performing well is critical; it’s the only way to earn Haloes, the game’s currency. After gathering enough Haloes, Bayonetta can visit the Gates of Hell by finding special transporter locations scattered about, or before entering any of the game’s 17 chapters. Rodin is your go-to guy for anything to do with weapons, accessories or items. Depending on your skill level, you may have enough Haloes to purchase some helpful, wicked accessories. Otherwise, you must purchase healing items to assist in future areas. Some accessories make activating Witch Time a breeze, while others allow for devastating magical attacks. Rodin also sells new techniques, which expand the already insanely long combo list.
That’s where Bayonetta shines the brightest, the combos. There are two combo attack buttons, on top of her regular gun offense. Pressing them in succession executes some of the wildest combos you’ve ever seen. What’s so great though is that you can switch combos with ease, by simply activating the evade button. Say you’re in the middle of a combo, but an enemy behind you is about to strike. Just trip the evade button, activate Witch Time, then turn around to show that enemy who’s boss. Purchasing techniques over time helps you realize just how incredibly diverse this system is. Bayonetta also acquires news weapons, so while she starts with four guns on her body (one for each hand and feet), she eventually has a sword, claws and more. Depending on how you place them, the combo system’s scope completely changes. It’s all quite staggering. When all is said and done, Bayonetta is a true force of nature.
Magic is also important. By mastering Witch Time and evading to mix and mash your combos, you not only earn those Haloes, but your magic meter fills too. Unless you purchase magic accessories, the default attacks are meant primarily to finish off larger opponents. If you have a full meter, and a brand-new enemy appears, activate a Torture combo by pressing one or more buttons together. This activates a short movie in which Bayonetta throws her enemy into an Iron Maiden, or some other medieval torture device. These actions are deadly to the angels and pleasing to watch if you’re struggling with a particular enemy. Magic can be even stronger with the right upgrades. You can then use weaving attacks. Bayonetta’s hair literally comes alive to assist you in battle, transforming into a giant shoe or giant fist that pound the hell out of the angels. It’s also used during climax mode, which is how you finish off the bosses.
If you’re a Contra fan, Bayonetta is a perfect game. The bosses sometimes fill the entire screen. The final one is about twelve stories tall, and has six life bars! I mentioned this game was difficult, did I not? But with the accessories, combos and techniques, you should emerge in one piece. The health system is also fun to use. It’s called ‘conjure’, whereby three different ingredients can create helpful health and assist items. Three gree essences form a large green lollipop that fills Bayonetta’s health a little more than half way. A red lollipop increases strength; yellow forms a shield and purple is tied to the magic meter. The lollipops comes in two sizes, large and small. Small lollies don’t last too long. Understand however, that using just one lowers your score for a verse, and in turn, your overall for a chapter. If that’s the case at any time, you forfeit bonus Haloes, and you subsequently can’t buy lots of goodies at the Gates of Hell. Bayonetta is definitely tough, but so fun to conquer.
Outside of these elements are expected, typical features. There are unforgiving quick time events, and a great variety to the overall progression. Without variety, an action game like this would become repetitive. Thankfully the ten hours allow you to do some truly messed up things: riding a rocket blasted off to a secret island, racing down a collapsing highway on a motorcycle, and of course, traversing area after area on-foot hunting your next target. The change in scenery is the one way where Bayonetta doesn’t turn stagnant. Truly, I say the pacing is perfect. Just as things feel slow, the game suddenly drops a ton of enemies on you. Even free exploration is enticing because of the scenery per dimension.
A brief mini-game opens after finishing a chapter that tasks you to shoot angels down Duck Hunt-style, but your ammunition is limited. You can chain attacks, land head shots and more. Your end tally can then be converted to Haloes or healing and assist items. If you’re after techniques and accessories, Haloes are the way to go.
If the review ended now, Bayonetta would score insanely high. Sadly, at least in terms of the PS3 version, things go downhill from here. While Platinum Games did wonderfully to ensure little repetition, that’s rather to do when there’s so much loading. A chapter can require up to 25 seconds, and another five to ten seconds to load the menu system after you press the select button. Even menu pages can span three to fie seconds! Say you die, which happens often, it takes another 20 seconds to reload your last checkpoint. Add this all up, and no matter how great the game is, extreme repetition comes in after the first few chapters. Once you reach the end, you’ll have looked at more loading screens than actually playing. Ok, I’m exaggerating, but it’s to help you understand that the PS3 version suffers from ridiculous loading.
To assist with this problem, Platinum Games lets you ‘practice’ on the majority of the loading screens. Thus you can try all of Bayonetta’s moves while waiting for loading to finish. Suddenly those 20 seconds don’t feel so long. This works great initially, but once you hit chapter six or so, the red practice screen will make you cringe. I really enjoyed Bayonetta, but this problem prevented me from wanting to pursue better scores or unlock new trophies. I can’t stand to wait for every little thing I do in the game. SEGA’s considering a patch to fix this, and to that I say, this shouldn’t be a consideration, it should be done ASAP. The game would be far better as a result. We’re talking the difference between our Gold and Bronze medals; yes, the loading is that big of a deal.
The graphics also aren’t the greatest, but I’ll discuss the good first. The environments are breathtaking. Bayonetta takes place in Vigrid, a fictional European city that looks beautiful. The art is the best I’ve seen in a modern action game in years. Everything from the wicked hair effects, torture scenes, to the regular animations are superb. This is a game that oozes Japanese flair and shines brightly because of it. There’s constant little details everywhere. Be it with flowers flying all over the place, or people in the other dimension walking by, unaware of all the action going on around them. It goes on and on. This is a gorgeous, stylish game with plenty of prowess in spades.
Now for what you don’t want to hear. The PlayStation 3 build is one big technical problem. Frame rate issues abound with lots of angels on the screen, sometimes turning Bayonetta into a slideshow. One moment everything is smooth, and the next it feels like Bayonetta is underwater. That’s my best analogy. Other issues occur with the on-screen filter. Therein is the problem; there isn’t supposed to be a filter, but it sure looks like it. Textures appear blurry when compared to the Xbox 360 version. I have the PS3’s, but after watching high-def videos of the Xbox 360 game, there are clearly differences. Loading is the biggest problem, but these other hiccups prevent Bayonetta from top-tier success.
Audio-wise, our very own Ahmed Mosly would be proud to hear the soundtrack. It’s awesome. The main theme is fantastic, but the other tracks are also fitting. When dramatic scenes play out, there are light hints of orchestrated music, and then the action goes into overdrive, and rock music blasts out of your speakers. Despite bad-ass music, the voice acting suffers from cheesy dialogue. The actors do a ‘good enough’ job, but the script is really mundane. Thankfully the music and killer sound effects more than make up for it. Surround sound owners would appreciate the great use of their setup. As helicopters pass overhead, their sounds clearly pass from one channel to the next. It comes together wonderfully.
Though Bayonetta is an import, it scans your PS3 the minute it enters the drive. If it detects it to be a North American system, the code converts everything to English. I’m talking text, voice acting, everything. If you want the North American box art and instruction manual, by all means wait for the January release, but otherwise purchase the import. I also recommend you consider the Xbox 360 version over this one based on my experiences. If SEGA releases that patch, it may help the PS3’s situation, but the frame rate and other technical problems likely won’t be addressed. That ultimately brings down the package. While still an entertaining game, the ridiculous loading would make even the biggest action fan cringe when they should be smiling while ripping through angels. We’ll compare and contrast the North American Xbox 360 release with this one when they arrive in January. Until then, head online and try the demo to gauge if Bayonetta is your type of insanity.
Overall (Not an average): 8.3/10