Watch out Dante and Ryu Hayabusa. There is a new butt kicker in town and her name is Bayonetta!
Take a close look at the screens below this review. Can you see it? Her hair? She is not wearing a tight latex dress, but it is actually her own hair that is wrapped around her features. During battles she unravels her elaborate hair do, and the more advance combos you throw, the less she wears. Does this strike you as somewhat odd? Things are only about to get stranger.
The story of Bayonetta begins with Hideki Kamiya. He has been involved in a number of Capcom classic, and perhaps most notably Devil May Cry. After a few commercial failures his Clover Studios was closed down by Capcom, and he founded Platinum Games along with a few other folks from Clover Studios. They make extremely Japanese titles, not that it keeps us Westerners from enjoying them.
On the contrary, Bayonetta is from the start an absolute stunner that tops the Devil May Cry series in every conceivable way. The dialogue is overly cheesy (the way we like it), there is a surprise lurking behind every corner, it offers some of the best boss fights I have ever experienced, and to top it off it has almost perfect controls. In the first minute of the game you will be fighting in an abandoned and ghostly graveyard while a soothing remix of "Fly Me to the Moon" is coming out of the loud speakers, while demons and other nasty things jump at a nude Bayonetta who kicks everyone's butt with her hair before walking off with her hips wiggling as if she was prancing down the catwalk.
Bayonetta is not for everyone and many will just find it too weird. But the charming witch Bayonetta is worth enduring some weirdness over. She has just woken up after a 500 year slumber and is feeling a bit dazed. She can't even remember how she fell into her 500 year coma, and she doesn't know why she has suddenly awakened. You are simply going to have to help her find these things out.
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Most Japanese action titles are made so that you only have to use one analogue stick to play it. The same goes for Bayonetta as the camera mostly does its own thing and it does it well. Thanks to this you can focus fully on the battles and they are amongst the best I have ever experienced, with spot on controls that flawlessly obey my commands, and an array of combos that put Kratos, Ryu Hayabusa and Dante to shame. This lady knows what she's doing.
After almost every encounter I have to pause and rub my eyes. Did I just see that? Battles on bridges held up by giants, fighting through rubble that comes tumbling down, brawls along walls and roof tops (gravity is not something a witch cares about), whips with gaping cobra jaws at the end, and a heroine with limitless potential.
The combat is just so amazing that it is hard to believe one's eyes. It's so extremely intense, but you never loose control of Bayonetta, whose acrobatic feats I admire as she fires of rounds with both hands and feet (she has revolvers at her ankles). Platinum Games have taken the combat to a new level, and added both torture moves and a bit of slow motion without it ever feeling like it's too much.
The result is that the encounters end up in proper blood baths with an enemy caught in an iron maiden, or torn apart by a summoned monster. Alternatively you can trigger outrageous maneuvers, by activating the slow motion that both makes the enemies move slower and allows Bayonetta to speed up. This gives you a distinct edge in the battles, but its also used in some puzzles where you need to get from point A to point B real fast.
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Almost all of my all-time favourite gaming moments are boss fights. I recall the fight on the air ship in Ninja Gaiden, the giant moth in Lost Planet: Colonies, and most recently my run in with Scarecrow in Batman: Arkham Asylum. This is another area where Bayonetta excels.
Early in the adventure I face a giant who is holding a bridge. Interestingly I'm fighting from said bridge. I also encountered a giant serpent flying high above the ground, while I was standing on a piece of debris falling downwards. Everything is so over the top and mindblowing that I can't help but feel in awe of the imagination and creativity on display.
There are plenty of alternative gameplay thrown in to keep the action varied. This includes motorcycles, mounted cannons, and other more obscure elements. What they all have in common is that they never feel out of place or that the controls falter. Bayonetta remains cool as a cucumber throughout, and the rather ugly witch grows on me as the adventure unfolds. As a matter of fact I come to adore her. Meanwhile, I collect money in order to buy better guns, and I learn more advanced combos.
All of them might not be very useful, but surprisingly many are and they offer me different alternatives at any given moment. During every loading sequence you are given an opportunity to hone your arsenal of attacks. You are presented with a list of all attacks on offer, and statistics show how often you manage to pull them off. A brilliant addition, that has often led to the discovery of new combos I have tried in the actual game once the loading is over. Thanks to this I learned and mastered more attacks in Bayonetta, than I ever did in Ninja Gaiden for instance.
The visuals are also well worth mentioning. Even if there are games that sports more visual flair than Bayonetta, one has to keep in mind that it flows flawlessly in 60 frames per second. The colours and lush and sharp, the models well crafted, and there are plenty of breathtaking designs.
Platinum Games have developed the Xbox 360 version, while they left it to Sega to handle the PS3 version, and that version is noticeably worse. Despite the fact that the textures aren't as sharp and the significantly lower frame rate, the load times are longer. There are also v-sync issues. All in all the PS3 version gets a point deducted in the graphics part of the score.
Despite the poor conversion, everything else about Bayonetta is great. It's just tons of fun. There is, however, one more thing that I hold against the lovely witch. And that is the combat music. The extremely tedious and repetitive tunes are meant to create some kind of retro vibe, but it's just annoying. It takes its toll on the sound score, while other parts of the soundscape such as voices and sound effects are of the highest calibre.
Bayonetta has fast become one of my favourite games and it has topped Ninja Gaiden to become my favourite game in the genre. It's over the top, spectacular, and has lots of memorable moments. On top of this Kamiya has sneaked in a lot of Sega trivia for those familiar with Sega's history and that is something I appreciated.
And if all of the above wasn't enough to convince you of how great Bayonetta is there is a generous amount of levels and lots of meaningful unlockable extra content to find. Bayonetta is an awesome start to 2010 - a year I think may very well go down as one of the best ever in gaming.
9 / 10
Fantastic controls, lengthy adventure, brilliant boss fights, full of surprises, challenging.