Developer: Platinum Games
Available on: Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 (reviewed on Xbox 360)
So guys 2010 is here and it’s already looking like a great year for gaming. We’ve got a big line-up of games on their way due to the Q4 push-back of 2009 for a lot of games (damn you Modern Warfare 2). For gamers this means Christmas is far from over. Last week was the release of both Hideki Kiyama’s Bayonetta and Joe Madureira’s Darksiders both of which the GodisaGeek team have been looking forward to for a long time. If you’re strapped for cash you’re probably wondering which of these great titles you should tackle first and that’s where we come in. So here you have it, hit the jump and check out if Bayonetta managed to cast her spell on us.
STORY: Bayonetta kicks off by introducing the player to the world of the protagonist via a prologue. Here the player gets thrown straight into the action to partake in a mini action sequence where you will find yourself taking on various enemies while plummeting through the sky on a piece of debris. Whilst this is happening the back-story is fed to the player by means of a narrator. This serves as one of the better story telling mechanics I have come across as it allows the player to get the general idea of the combat system without the restrictions of a life bar whilst feeding them information. The sequence ends with a cut scene where Bayonetta shows a ludicrous display of acrobatics and agility. From the onset this game lets you know you are in for a roller coaster of a time and the insanity only gets bigger, badder and better from there on out.
The story of Bayonetta revolves around a witch by the name of (yes, you guessed it!) Bayonetta. After waking up from a 500 year slumber (with finely sculpted polygonal ass intact) at the bottom of a lake no less, she finds she has contracted a slight case of amnesia. This plot point basically gives Bayonetta the licence to kick anybodies ass that looks like they might have information for her. Through the prologue and various journalistic writings that are collectable throughout the game you learn of Bayonetta’s Umbran Witch heritage and their Lumen Sage counterparts who where both tasked with watching over the world; one protecting the light and the other, the dark. This is where Bayonetta’s homage to everything gaming begins. As even the names of Bayonetta’s Umbra brethren are nods to Hideki Kamiya’s previous forays in the gaming scene.
As you can imagine the story of Bayonetta is not exceptional but is always interesting while becoming a little convoluted at times. What will undoubtedly keep you watching the story progress beyond the need to know why you are battering the living daylights out of all that is holy in Bayonetta’s world is the woman herself. Despite all evidence to the contrary the character possesses a certain charm that will keep you smiling all the way to the end. From her vibrant personality and outlandish poses to her scantily clad suit made of hair, it’s all too cheesy to resist.
SOUND: Bayonetta’s sound deserves commendation, if only for the soundtrack that accompanies the majority of the game. A large portion of the track listing reads like a who’s who of gaming past. This means that if you had even a passing interest in SEGA games of old throughout the 90’s you are in for a treat. From OutRun’s “Splash Wave” and themes from After Burner all the way to the boss theme from Fantasy Zone are present and accounted for. The list of remixes also includes Bart Howards “Fly me to the moon/ In other words” which I found myself humming along to (yes I know how sad it is) during climatic fight scenes constantly. That being said there are a large number of newly produced tracks available and all of them are well put together and never feel out of place.
The voice acting and dialogue in the title is significantly over the top for the most part, just like the rest of Bayonetta. This means you are going to encounter some cringe worthy moments during cut scenes. But alas fear not as this is almost completely redeemed by Boyonetta’s extreme sassy slightly perverse personality to the point that you will be looking for the “cheesy” moments that bring a smile to your face.
GRAPHICS: As a result of Bayonetta’s setting and back story the development team seem to have been afforded quite a lot of freedom in regards to the graphical design. The umbra witches exist in Pergatorio which is a dimension of sorts between the human world, heaven and hell. Due to them having the ability to slip between the four “existences” your environment is constantly changing. From antique European architecture to angelic realms it’s all here and beautifully put together. There are points in the game that you revisit explored areas but because of the radically different design of the different “planes” this is barely noticible.
The character design is also suitably imaginative from to the easily dispensable grubs to the grandly designed final boss and everything in between. Most of all it all remains consistant and believable within the context of the games story.
Cut-scenes are also splendidly done with a mix of standard in-game engine cut scenes mixed with an animatic style slide show for flashbacks and such; this gives the scenes a slightly artistic feel.
GAMEPLAY: As this is an action game by Hideki Kamiya (the father of the original Devil May Cry) the fundamentals of the combat system in Bayonetta share much in common with many of his previous games. To anyone that has played an action game in this generation or the last you will feel completely at home. That being said it draws more inspiration from the Devil May Cry franchise than all else.
The basics of combat are a rather simple affair to begin with there is a rather standard button layout. This lends itself to the playability of the game for the lesser experience gamers out there. Hammering the “Y” button will give you a series of punches while the “B” button controls Bayonetta’s legs. Naturally the effect is different depending on what weapons are equipped. Tapping or holding the “X” button will give you a couple of shots with whatever firearm she currently has equipped and the infamous “A” button does what it always does, make you jump. Finally and most importantly, tapping right trigger will make you dodge. Dodging perfectly will put you in “witch time” (naturally as overseers of time the Umbra witches possess “Bullet Time”) making enemies susceptible to attacks they otherwise wouldn’t be. This is going to be your most frequently used move so get used to it. Even with the relative simplicity of the fluid combat system there is a lot of depth behind it for those who are willing to find it. Even at the basic level there is a multitude of standard combos available from the outset before you even begin to start purchasing upgrades. All of these have a use depending on the situation you find yourself in but you will inevitably find your favourites and stick with them. Fortunately as to not overwhelm the player it is possible to view your whole move list and practice them during load screens. If you feel you need more time to practice pressing “back” will keep the game in this state until you’re ready to tackle the next chapter.
Upgrades and new weapons in the game come courtesy of “Hell’s Gate” a seedy little bar run by Rodin, the games quip dispensing support character. It’s here you are going to hear a lot of Bayonetta’s gaming references. Hey, if you’re really lucky you might even catch a sly dig at the Halo franchise! This “hub” is accessible throughout the world of Bayonetta via portals conveniently placed around “levels” or the chapter start menu. Upgrades are purchasable using the halo’s of massacred angels, you know those things that look suspiciously like what a certain blue hedgehog collects. There are a plethora of weapons available to Bayonetta and this is where the combat system gets fun. On top of Boyonetta’s own personal arsenal that can be added to by collecting LP’s and trading them with Rodin for “Devil Arms” so to speak, you can also pick up the dropped weapons of dispatched enemies. These are not permanent though and disappear after a certain amount of use. The basic principle behind the weapon system is that it allows you to equip two sets of weapons at a time, meaning you can switch between them mid-combo using the left trigger. With a little experimentation this can lead to some spectacular combinations as there are quite a few configurations. Just like most games belonging to this genre you can also purchase special moves and accessories for Bayonetta. Accessories range from costume changes that have no effect on gameplay to rings you can equip which do anything from automatically triggering “Witch Time” to adding a new counter element to the gameplay.
All types of gamers are accounted for in Bayonetta as evident with the difficulty levels. Those new to the genre will find that the heavy assistance in easy mode will keep the game enjoyable for them while veterans will find a challenge even on the normal difficulty. This is in no small part to the large variety of well balanced and designed foes. Make no mistake some of these enemies are no walk in the park. Boss battles also generally result in epic encounters and completing them without continues or item assistance will provide a challenge for just about anyone on the normal difficulty. That being said it is the higher difficulties where Bayonetta shines and this is where veterans will feel most at home.
Bayonetta is by no means perfect though as there are sections in the game that would have been better off with just a tad more imagination. This is a little disappointing as the game on a whole is full of that very thing, imagination. For starters, certain encounters will happen more than once so be prepared. In particular the first boss you defeat will come back again and again, at least three times throughout the course of the game. Secondly, there are two throwback chapters present in the game which attempt to emulate some of the great SEGA games of yesteryear which is all well and good except for the lack of depth present in both these sections. In the second of these two chapters you will find that first boss rearing its ugly head again challenging you to take him down once more. This is not a major annoyance but for a game spilling to the brim with amazing character design and imagination I expect more here. Lastly these “homage” sections drag on a little longer than wanted, again this is not a huge negative but if you are having trouble getting through them this can become tiresome.
LONGEVITY: Bayonetta consists of 18 chapters as well as hidden challenge rooms that are secretly hidden away. Tackling this on normal difficulty can take you between 10 -12 hours. Naturally if you are a fan of the genre Bayonetta comes with pretty high replayability factor, especially if you wish to max out your stats and acquire every skill/upgrade in the game. The game also comes equipped with a leaderboard so if you’re the competitive type you can attempt to get the best scores for each chapter and try to best your mates.
VERDICT: From beginning to end, Bayonetta manages to both captivate and delight in equal measure. This Umbra Witch punches, kicks and shoots her way to the top of the genre with immense style. If you are a fan of high octane, over the top action games then this is an essential purchase.