Ninja Gaiden, Devil May Cry, and God of War are the kings of action gaming; they’re over the top and fun to play. Now their queen has arrived in the form of Bayonetta, which puts many beat’em-ups to shame. This is one of the best action games ever created. Hideki Kamiya can rest knowing that he’s left a huge impact on the genre not once, but TWICE with Devil May Cry and Bayonetta.
Bayonetta is an amnesiac Umbran witch. The only fact known about her immediately is that she was found at the bottom of a lake twenty years ago and has since then taken up fighting angels to avoid Hell. I won’t spoil anything though, so no more plot explanation. Like Devil May Cry, Bayonetta bears an over the top plot tied to religious themes. Events are explained through in-game cutscenes and a more stylish filmstrip-like presentation. The quest bounces between frantic action and cutscenes, and most of the time they end quickly enough to return to the action. The game presents more dialogue and is plot-heavy toward the end, especially during the final battle. My only complaint is that it feels stretched out, but careful planning thankfully helps it feel manageable. Plus, the “camera-effect” in some of the cutscenes is pretty cool and creates a more artistic atmosphere. Hideki Kamiya also manages to sneak in plenty of references to his games like Okami and Viewtiful Joe—try to find them.
Bayonetta earns its “M” rating. The plot alone may offend, and the dialogue can be ridiculous. The world is overflowing with sexual content and gratuitous violence. Yet unlike a Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball, which ranks up the sexy simply to pander to guys, Bayonetta’s is more tongue-in-cheek, funny, and in-line with the character. The story is entirely unapologetic in its crudity, thus you’ve been warned. There are problems as well. As a crazy action game, the lack of serious attitude makes it tough to care about the goings-on. Past events also aren’t explained clearly. On the other hand, the presentation rocks. The voice acting is great, and entirely fitting for the characters. There’s tons of cursing and hilarious dialogue littered throughout. Better yet, Bayonetta is one of the coolest female protagonists ever. She could probably kick Dante’s and Kratos’ asses at the same time! She’s always immensely fun to watch. Her dialogue is spot-on, she’s strong and confident, and it’s just awesome to see her crack heads in a genre populated by muscle-buff men.
Bayonetta mixes concepts from different action games into one wholly great experience, like a modified Devil May Cry. Stages are segregated into several areas, and you defeat the enemy to proceed. There’s minor puzzle-solving and platforming as well, but most often you’re fighting and avoiding the insanity (sometimes in the form of QTEs). Combat starts simple and super simple to pick up. Pressing Y or B punches or kicks, and combos can be strung. Just mashing the buttons will even unleash a flurry of attacks. It doesn’t take long however to realize how deep the system is. One of the primary mechanics is dodging attacks and using Witch Time, which is basically hyper speed. She can then punish enemies and score hits quickly. If an adversary seems really difficult, it’s usually a matter of recognizing its attack patterns and pinpointing the time to dodge, and really sticking it afterwards.
The moves to master are almost unlimited. Bayonetta can attach weapons like shotguns and katanas to her hands and feet, learn special techniques, transform into a panther, use Torture attacks and more. Enemy weapons can be picked up. There are so many ways to kill, making each one fresh and satisfying. It helps that Bayonetta is GORGEOUSLY rendered and animated, so every attack pattern is fluid and hypnotizing. Most combos require simple input and are easy to master. Despite Bayonetta’s immense depth, it’s accessible. It can be difficult, but that’s just because so much is thrown at you, not cheap deaths or cumbersome controls. The challenge is genuine. The only ‘gimmick’ is the projectile-controlling sequences. You have to manipulate bullets and missiles. It wasn’t necessary, but at least offers a change of pace. Driving is also featured, but it’s occasional and handles decently. Your concern is reaching the end and dodging attacks. There’s also a shooting mini-game called “Angel Attack,” where you can shoot angels with bullets you’ve acquired in the levels. The points racked up are used to purchase items and bonuses, which is nothing to complain about.
Bayonetta is tight and streamlined. The gameplay flows well, so executing moves, dodging and comboing feels natural and intuitive. Combo input is straightforward, so you never have to be afraid to experiment. The only hitch is the possibility of unintentionally using the animal transformation when mashing the R trigger (dodging). While this happening to me several times, I was never negatively impacted because you can still fight well in animal form. QTEs pop up during several sequences, most notably during Torture attacks, when bosses attack, or to avoid some environmental hazard. You usually press one button, so it’s not tough, you just have to be lightning-fast. If you fail, don’t be surprised to see a Game Over screen. This sounds harsh, but choosing continue puts you immediately back to the quick time event instead of the very beginning. Bayonetta knows when to be gentle.
There’s a variety of epic bosses to battle, and some levels come off as a straight boss-rush challenge. Some enemy designs are repeated in later levels, but their patterns change. For example, one of the bosses is first encountered in the sea while Bayonetta glides across the water. The next time is while scaling a tall building. This is case of the “Mega Man effect” (re-fighting bosses), but changing them so it doesn’t feel the same—it adds extra value. It would’ve been nice to see more bosses and enemy designs in the latter stages though. Yet Bayonetta succeeds because every area is different and satisfying to play through. This title manages to surpass expectations, which were very high to begin with. Despite typical conventions (i.e. the driving stage, a water or fire level, QTEs to finish a boss, etc), Bayonetta is simply a test of what you can handle. The odds continue to stack with progression, but thankfully Miss Bayonetta is powerful through it all. The game is one long power trip rather than a build up from weak to strong. There’s always a new way to dismember enemies.
Mastering the mechanics is crucial. Performing well earns you more Haloes, the currency. The Gates of Hell is happy to sell an assortment of items, techniques, weapons and accessories to better equip Bayonetta. One accessory automatically engages Witch Time if you’re hit, and the Bat technique lets her turn into a cloud of bats (which reduces damage). New weapons can be acquired after collecting golden LPs in the levels; some are whole, while others are fractured and must be completed. Considering the 17 total chapters, there’s a lot to cover. Items are extremely helpful, as you definitely need to restore life and magic. Magic means access to Torture attacks (finishing moves, in a nutshell), which are paramount for quick kills and escaping hot situations. Completing the quest on Normal difficulty should take 10+ hours, and there are multiple difficulties, extra costumes, additional characters, and extra weapons/accessories. Bayonetta is a wonderful value, and this generation’s action game.
Comparing the versions, the Xbox 360’s is clearly the winner, so choose it if you can. The loading is quicker (even without installing it), the frame rate is far more consistent, and the textures are more appealing. The PS3 version features the same content, and a recent patch helped the loading, but it wasn’t properly optimized. The characters are intricately detailed and animated. Exploring the combos and witnessing the devastation is a joy; there’s so much going on visually. The backgrounds are nice to top things off, making Bayonetta a sensory overload. There’s something filling the screen or a crazy effect happening at all times. Bayonetta’s art direction is unparalleled. The 360’s ability to run the game so smoothly is just damn impressive. While running through a level with cracked walls and flowing fountains, there may be ghostly apparitions walking the streets while trees sway in the wind—and Bayonetta is simultaneously dancing around the screen, dicing an enemy in half with a katana, kicking another one into an Iron Maiden, and break-dancing while firing her shotgun-equipped feet. The problems with the PS3 version are unfortunate, because it ruins an otherwise amazing game.
The soundtrack is great. Most action games are populated by rock or metal, but Bayonetta bucks the trend with pop songs to coincide with the usual stuff. There’s an assortment of orchestral themes to go around too. The main theme is particularly pleasing. The voice work is well-done, it’s cheesy and over-the-top. It’s not meant to be taken seriously, so just listen. It’s far from the Hollywood-esque approach of Mass Effect 2 and more like an intentional B-movie, with cursing and jokes. Bayonetta’s audio/visual package is awesome.
Bayonetta kicks ass. It’s pure insanity and required playing for anyone who even vaguely likes action games. It takes the best of DMC and GoW and creates an all-new experience. It’s hard to find anything fundamentally wrong with the package, aside from the PS3 version’s technical problems.