Life's a witch
, then you lose your memory. At least that's the scenario if you're leather, err... hair-clad half-breed witch, Bayonetta. Platinum Games' much touted action game entrant really is somewhat deserving of all the accolades being thrown at it. It has a little something for everyone, and action junkies will really get a kick out of the game's move repertoires, its myriad enemies and their incredible design along with its upgrade system. Adventure junkies, on the other hand, will likely feast on the game's epic sense of scope and interesting and fleshed out lore, while the rest of you can just plain gawk at the unbelievable nature of it all. And when I say unbelievable
I mean it. There hasn't been a moment where any one of my house mates has casually walked by in my 15+ hours of gameplay to stop and stare at the spectacle that is Bayonetta; oft sitting next to me, mouths agape, eventually rummaging the words that make out the acronym "WTF" at short, varying intervals. In post-script to their flabbergastation, the next question usually comes in the form of "so what's the story?", "are they angels or demons she's fighting?" and famously; "do you even know what you're doing?".
They're all valid questions, too. See, the thing with Bayonetta is it takes the term "frenetic gameplay" above and beyond its meaning; everything here really is on speed, crack, ecstasy, guarana, Red Bull, V, Mother and just about anything else heart palpating you can think of. But like so many of those things, it's fun (well, not all
of those things are fun).
For the uninitiated, Bayonetta follows the exploits of the titled character Bayonetta. She's lost her memory, and doesn't really know why it is she's capable of performing the death-defying stunts and combat she can, nor does she know why she can exist in a realm just outside of what humans can see (called Purgatorio). But she knows how to get paid, and that's by killing angels. On her journey to inducing more funding for that maniacal witch laugh all the way to the bank, the blank slate that is her memory starts to manifest images of just where it is she came from and why she can do the things she can do. Moreover, she keeps crossing paths with people throwing down cryptic references to events that have transpired with Bayonetta either present, or as an instigator. However, amidst all of this, out protagonist never shifts her poise, stoic as ever, which fits her confidence represented through combat and cut-scenes throughout. Bayonetta is not your average hero(in), and while she is 100% inspired by the cast of the Devil May Cry series (given the game's creator, Hideki Kamiya, also created DMC), she's definitely her own pussy cat.
That's a bit of a risqué segue, but the other thing this game offers - from an aesthetic level - is fan-service. It's almost ashamedly blatant in certain situations or during certain moves, but I've never been so compelled by a game as a result. Bayonetta isn't just confident, she's damn right sultry - the most alluring and seductive videogame character ever, and I don't often fall into this trap, but a tap of the LB button on Xbox 360 (our Bayonetta review platform of choice) sees the seductress gyrating her hips and calling for more angel blood, or coldly asking "do you want to touch me?", gamers have never been teased this hard since the introduction of polygonal boobs in the original Tomb Raider.
But it's not all
about Bayonetta's skimpy and sexy presentation, there's a game in here too. While all of the above may have you wondering what all the fuss is about (or assuming that is
the fuss), there's a seriously driving element behind Bayonetta's brilliant combat system and how you upgrade her abilities and weapons. Initially the whole thing is an incredibly intimidating affair; the game kicking off with a massive fight on a falling piece of clocktower and you - the player - thrown right into the thick of it.
You can pretty much mash your way through the game's combat system, and the varying difficulty levels allow for points of automation to make it easier on anyone not at all interested in learning the seemingly complex combos, but Platinum Games have introduced an excellent loading screen, similar to those found in Assassin's Creed where you can walk your avatar about unhindered by enemies, however, in Bayonetta, you're given a list of combo commands on the right-hand side of the screen which you can then practise in the time it takes to load whatever it is the game's loading. This, later on, becomes an ingenious tool of instruction and really helps you to come to grips with how everything works. The next excellent tool on offer is "witch time", which is essentially just a slow-mo/bullet-time in-game slow down of the action. Instigating this mode not only allows you to move Bayonetta at normal speeds while the enemy are trapped to move very slowly, it offers you a chance to gather your bearings and lay some serious smackdown on them. It's also relatively easy to get going as it's based on hitting the evade button (right trigger) at the right moment, just prior to the enemy striking Bayonetta. Moreover, perform enough successfully and you earn Torture moves, which are quick finishers (or at least close to finishers) that trap selected enemies in ye olde-school torture devices (such as iron maidens, guillotines and more) - strike one of these correctly and you just need to tap a certain button fast enough to fill a meter which then determines the amount of damage you unleash.
You can also pick up most dropped weapons by the enemy, which can come in handy early on in the game when you're not as powerful as you'd like to be. The further you progress though, the more powerful Bayonetta becomes (obviously). Also with frequent visits to the Gates of Hell, a bar run by your a-typical anime-based black guy named Rodan, you'll be able to use accrued points to buy power-ups, health and buff items (represented as lollipops - furthering the fan-service) and even have weapons forged for you. You can then create a combination of up to four weapons (two firearms, two other) with some weapons even coming with their own costume changes (again, more fan-service). Actually being able to purchase and upgrade though, can take a long time, especially if you're not scoring very well.
Each section of the game grades you (ala Resident Evil/DMC), offering bonuses for doing well while certain battle bottlenecks equally come with a grading system. You gain higher ratings through varied combos, long combos, not being hit etc, which in the end compels you to learn the moves and combos required to make Bayonetta a stronger character. You can also revisit areas and attempt to outdo your previous run through, with the game also offering Leaderboards for the more competitive of you out there.
While overall the game is linear, there's still plenty to explore and find. The game's deep lore is fleshed out through notes from a lost journal scattered about the place, and you'll fill other books with information on enemies encountered, abilities gained and more. You can concoct your own power-ups as well by combining certain objects found by smashing up breakable parts of the environment, and these range from health to shields, attack power and so on.
It's not all hunky-dory though. Bayonetta comes with an acquired taste, and the first half an hour or so of the game is the penultimate test of someone's ability to swallow all that's about to be thrown at you. It'll take a while before you know what's going on, and the game's odd story presentation doesn't help in making things more palatable. There's also the case of its music presentation which consists of a very J-Pop inspired fight soundtrack and about a thousand iterations of "Fly Me To The Moon", the Bart Howard song made more famous for being at the end credits of every episode of Neon Genesis Evangelion. Here it just grates on you after a while.
Bayonetta is an utterly compelling game for a number of great reasons. The combat is excellent and learning the ins and outs isn't quite as difficult as it might at first seem. That said, the entire presentation makes for one intimidating affair - right from the outset. The story and characters are all very Japanese making its consumption something you'll need to just harden up and swallow, or roll around on the floor laughing at the entire time. Music can become very annoying and it'll be a while before you're truly comfortable in knowing exactly what it is you're supposed to be doing. The linearity of it all can also make things a little confusing, but much of this is offset by amazing boss battles, incredible enemy design and the aforementioned combat.
If your choice is between Darksiders or this, know that while the two do have a lot in common, Bayonetta is more the ADHD step-sister of Vigil Games' effort - one game expects you to take your time, while the other can't wait to show you everything it has in its toy-box. If you're still unsure, grab the Bayonetta demo off Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network; it's a good representation of what you'll be facing throughout.