Sega's super flashy action-fighter delivers for fans of the genre and arouses all others
Bayonetta was a released a few months ago, in January, published by Sega. Bayonetta is a stylized action game, starring a sultry sexy witch, who uses her hair to fight angels back to Hell, or Heaven maybe, I’m not really sure. Her hair is also her costume, a skin tight leotard, which is constantly stripped so that Bayonetta can perform all her wondrous stunts. Bayonetta’s director, Hideki Kamiya, has been a renowned force in the area of stylized action games. His work on Bayonetta was seen, during its production, as a sexualized Devil May Cry with the heroine fighting angels instead of demons. But, it’s hard to trash Hideki’s creativity when he directed the wildly stylish and comic book cool Viewtiful Joe. Sega’s definitely not gambling on Hideki, they knew he was creating a top selling game, but I couldn’t help a shiver of worry that was telling me that this was all just going to be one big plotless sex romp.
Bayonetta is sexy, visually stunning, and practically plotless. The distinctly Japanese storyline gives Bayonetta a lot of opportunities to show off her body even at the most ridiculous times, this is a game of stylized sex and violence in equal measure. The game starts and we join Bayonetta in a graveyard, she’s dressed in a tight nun’s outfit quietly praying by a grave. It’s a little mysterious and very calm, there’s a dense fog hanging over the graves. Then after a second of all that, the game begins. From out of the sky angels come flying down like a flock of holy birds, only to meet the twin barrels of Bayonetta’s guns and flowing locks. The impossibly choreographed, super stylish, and violently sexual fight that followed Bayonetta’s first little wink had me so shocked and confused and impressed and turned on that I’d say it felt like a first date.
Where this goes, story-wise, will probably not wow you. Bayonetta is a witch who has just awoken from a thousand year sleep to find herself in the confusing modern age. She’s lost her memory and is now prepared to go to Heaven and back for a few glimpses of her past and the answers about a jewel she carries on her bosom. It’s possible, however, that you won’t get all this from the cutscenes, Bayonetta’s motivation didn’t become apparent, for me, until the second boss battle. The cutscenes have a comic book-like quality that often just flashes images without any explanation. Though, the more cinematic cutscenes are easier to follow, but they’re mostly just violence and trash-talk. This game doesn’t have you clinging along with a story to keep you progressing, but rather it’s a chain of events that leads Bayonetta through the near-paradise world of Vigrid. It’s very similar to Devil May Cry 3, which gives you a target (get to the top of the tower and defeat Virgil) and the game give you a slew of levels that are all haphazardly leading you upward.
Bayonetta dresses to impress, the amount of style, finesse, and choreography that goes into all of her catlike movements is breathtaking. The levels are designed with chaos on the mind, a constant stream of adventure movie and fantasy traps abound for Bayonetta. But she has a leggy stride that carries her around like she’s on a cloud, she spends most of her combat time flying through the air doing ridiculous midair splits, pirouettes and cartwheels. The dodge button is instantly responsive and a well timed roll activates Witch Time. Witch Time is Bayonetta’s bullet time, where she stops the clock so you can rip through the tougher enemies. This will give you a seriously necessary upper hand on bosses, earning a chance to unleash a barrage of combos on them. Witch time is also useful during the game’s more climactic moments; when a tower starts collapsing, instead of using some quick time event, Bayonetta can slow time and you can run right through the rubble as it tumbles to the ground. The game’s graphics are also spectacular. Frame rate is never an issue, even when rendering truly massive bosses or detailing the corridors of Heaven. Bayonetta gives you eye gauging climax attacks where she strips herself of almost all her hair and, with a little demonic power, summons a massive snake or bird to rip the head off some of the particularly difficult enemies. Her attacks flow so smoothly together that it can sometimes feel like you’re in a cutscene. The game has a heavenly art style, there are loads of Halos and every city has the appearance of the winding streets of Venice. It’s gorgeous.
The combat is downright luscious. Devil May Cry famously created different styles for you to tool around with; my personal favorite, gunslinger, made me feel like a regular space cowboy. Bayonetta feels like a ridiculous combination of all these ideas from DMC thrown into one shapely witch. She has herself decked out with four guns, one in each hand and ankle. She has whips, swords, shotguns, and the capacity to summon demons. And all of these abilities flow very naturally into one another with simple Kick and Punch commands and a slew of combos.
Now, Bayonetta puts a heavy stress on the Stylized part of the stylized action game. While Devil May Cry was much more focused on the action, Bayonetta is all about cool camera angles, impossible feats of flexibility, and long combos that can explode into climax. This is a game that centers around its combos, they are what actually make the game fun. It’s the crux. Every part of this game wants you to combo; the load screen gives you a practice room for combos, by holding Punch or Kick you can seamlessly transition from one combo to the next, and the longer your combo is the more nudity you receive. That’s what you’re playing it for, right? The nudity, right. I mean I want a good fun game, but not if that means sacrificing my pleasure. Speaking of pleasure, there are also sweet torture attacks that instantly finish off weak enemies.
They allow Bayonetta to showcase her kinkier gear, she’ll spank the hell out of that angel and then decapitate him right there. Now, this would probably be a good time to note: This is so not a game for children. Unless of course those children can really appreciate the seamless camera work that smoothly goes from near to far and captures jaw-dropping battle scenes, without ever taking control away from the player. But seriously, no children. The camera has to capture Witch Time relays through collapsing towers, while also handling a dragon demi-god so large that Bayonetta only about reaches his ankle.
The bosses and enemies in Bayonetta all look impeccably designed, the wide variety of enemies keeps the combat fresh and chaotic. Their inspiration, or names at least, come from Dante’s Paradisio, where each enemy is a different virtue or heavenly trait. Fearless and Fairness are twin bulls; Grace and Glory fight alongside one another as two vicious clawed beasts; Beloved is an axe-wielding warrior with the head of a child. All of the enemies are tiered by their heavenly sphere, the lower the sphere, the stronger the enemy, all the way down to the four cardinal virtues. Each virtue: Courage, Temperance, Justice, and Prudence, is a towering obelisk and, trust me, they will impress you. I am a monstrous fan of boss battles, I feel that they’re like a chance for the game to show you what its got. Bosses put all of your abilities to the test, everything that the game has taught you against the biggest baddies.
The cardinal virtues are all larger than life, with multiple phases, huge lifebars, and gargantuan attacks. But, you never quite feel outmatched. Bayonetta is agile like a butterfly that weaves through the Virtue’s attacks. Without a doubt the Bosses in this game are the coolest characters aside from our heroine. They’ll often challenge you within a level, before the real battle, to give you a taste of their destructive powers. By the time you actually reach them the anticipation of an epic fight and bloody climax will have you glued to your seat.
The levels take you from Heaven to Hell, with no real clue of what happened in between. They all just jump from one place to the next as Bayonetta moves up and across the world map. They’re all beautifully designed, linear, corridors interrupted by encounters with angels. However, just because they’re linear doesn’t mean that they’re predictable. There aren’t many destructible set pieces in the levels, it’s basically just between you and the angels, but the angels play rough and a collapsing bridge or raining hellfire may be just around the corner. The levels are always interesting, each is its own ride. Bayonetta uses a medal system to rank your combat, after each encounter you’re awarded a medal from Stone to Platinum. Good scores’ll earn you bonus points and extra Halos. Halos can be traded in at the Gates of Hell bar, which is where you can buy all your upgrades and extra items and weapons and what-have-you. You can unlock LPs by finding them in the levels. Gold LPs are beaten in by the shopkeeper to make new weapons, like a snake whip or a katana, and all the weapons are SICK, with different combos and sexier finishes.
The in game music is alright, though the classical that Bayonetta uses for boss battles is excellent. The LPs that you find are actually pieces like Fantasie Impromptu or Sonata in DK.448. The cutscenes draw from classical music like this. But, any cutscene that centers around Bayonetta assumes this not-quite-bad Spice Girl Pop. The problem is that this music repeats for every encounter and by the end of the game it gets very tiresome, especially when you’re losing and have to repeat the same battle over and over. But, as obnoxious as this music is, it’s easy enough to ignore when you’re caught up in a really good battle.
I think Bayonetta is Hideki Kamiya and Sega showing us what the next generation can do. With graphics and a frame rate that never fails, combined with cutscenes overwrought with sex and violence, Bayonetta is a superstar. She is the style of the next generation of consoles, she dresses to impress. No move in her arsenal is without finesse. She says that, so long as I look good from every possible angle, what does story or character development really matter? She is the age of stylized action games, with a heavy focus on stylized. All of the button mapping in Bayonetta is spectacular, the controls are very easy to learn. By the second or third level combos come totally naturally. In an interview with gamespot Hideki said that “it's been eight years since [the first Devil May Cry (DMC)], so of course I wouldn't create a game that hadn't progressed from those days!”
Clearly the capacity of consoles has increased greatly in the last few years, we’ve embraced it by making games larger-than-life spectacles. The capacity for better graphics is a step towards realism, but its the gift of fantastic CGI effects for our video games. The way Bayonetta has changed from Devil May Cry is remarkable, it’s all about the spectacle of the game where each button leads to a flourish of movement. So you’re not quite playing with Bayonetta, so much as dancing with her. There’s no doubt that games like Metal Gear Solid Rising and Castelvania: Lords of Shadow will feel the same way, in the new generation of stylized action games.
Bayonetta is a solid buy and will not disappoint for fans of the genre, but it’s also extremely easy to pick up and learn. It’s graphics and flourishing animations will impress newbies and old hands. Combos are seamless and simple to pull off, but difficult to chain. However, children and those easily offended or put off by the feminine form or grotesque violence should definitely stay away. But, if you like good level design, drum tight controls, and larger-than-life battles it’ll have you drooling over Bayonetta.