When it first came out, I was fully content to dismiss Bayonetta as a game strictly intended to pandering to the male demographic. With its highly sexualized female lead whose outfit is made of hair that disappears as you unleash powerful attacks, can you blame me for thinking this way? But I recently watched some footage of people playing the game, & I have to say it looked like a lot of fun, sexual content notwithstanding. So last weekend I picked it up for cheap at the local Gamestop & managed to play through it in a few sittings (hence why there was no First Impressions). So did it live up to my expectations?
Explaining the whole backstory for Bayonetta would be quite a challenge. To summarize, the game world exists within a trinity of worlds, with Heaven (Paradisio) & Hell (Inferno) existing on separate but parallel planes to the human world. Bayonetta is believed to be the last of the Umbra Witches, a clan of powerful magic users who, along with the also extinct Lumen Sages, oversaw the balance of the human world. But 500 years after both clans killed each other, Bayonetta has no memory of her former life. Now she spends her time battling angels to appease her demon partners while trying to uncover her memory, which seems linked to a gem called the Eyes of the World. Along the way she’s hounded by a journalist who believes she murdered his father, another Umbra Witch who seems to know about her “destiny,” massive bosses & a strange little girl who looks a lot like Bayonetta.
Technically, Bayonetta is an action game, but that doesn’t really do it justice. If you’re familiar with Mr. Yahtzee, you’ll know he calls this sort of game a “spectacle fighter” which is a fitting term. At its heart a hack-&-slash, Bayonetta has numerous weapons & techniques at her disposal to battle the angels. Her primary weapons are a set of guns attached to each limb & her hair, which she uses to perform magical attacks & summon demons. Attacking enemies without taking damage builds up her magic meter, which she can use to unleash Torture Attacks, BDS&M-style quick-time event finishers. To aid to this end, Bayonetta can gain Witch Time if she dodges enemy attacks at the right time, slowing her enemies down to allow for bigger combos.
Story: At best, Bayonetta’s story is convoluted. Overall I understand what happened, but if I stop to really think about it I get confused again. The most confusing part is the Bayonetta/Cereza deal & the Eyes of the World. I didn’t think the game sufficiently explained either point. I guess you could say I don’t get the logistics of it. I also get confused because the game uses Judeo-Christian themes without the specifics. For example, they talk about God & Heaven, but the creator of this world is Jubileus. The characters in the story, however, fare much better. I was surprised how much I liked Bayonetta as a character. I think she’s a good example of how to give a sexual character some depth, rather than just being eye candy. In the beginning she seems carefree & a bit selfish, but as the story progresses she does show more aspects of her personality, especially in relation to Cereza. I could’ve done without so many gratuitous T&A shots, but overall I thought Bayonetta was a fun, classy, likeable lady. The same is also true for the main supportive characters, like Jeanne & even Luka, who I thought was a total prat in the beginning but does become more likeable as the game progresses. I also have to give the game credit for making a child character that I didn’t hate. Score: 4
Gameplay: Overall, I liked the gameplay with only a few exceptions. The combat is easy to pick up but has a lot of depth to it. Stringing together chains of combos is very satisfying. I also liked that you can mix & match some of the weapon combos. Although Bayonetta starts with handguns, she can gain a sword, whip, shotguns & other weapons, some of which can be equipped on either her hands or legs. It adds a lot of variety. The game also tries to mix up the gameplay by having a driving & flying level which are both appropriately crazy & fun. I also have to give credit to the boss fights. Although very scripted, the strategies are very different for each & I had a lot of fun with them. But for me, I think the best part of the gameplay is how forgiving it can be. Really, anyone can play the game. It’s pretty generous with checkpoints, usually having one after each combat section (called Verses). Death isn’t too big of a problem. You may not get the greatest score in the end, but you can push through the game. That’s not to say I thought it was perfect. It overuses quick-time events. For the most part they work fine, as they typically use the same set of commands (Y+B for finishers, etc) but I don’t like having to mash buttons like crazy on the finishers. Also, the last two bosses had moments where I was screaming because of them. In the final fight, the jump command didn’t work properly. It wouldn’t register half the time & the other half sent me in the wrong direction. The b.s. instant deaths for the final stretch of the last two fights was also very annoying. I died twice in the Balder fight because my bullet hit some glass & missed him. I’m also not crazy about the fact that the lock-on is the right button while dodge is the right trigger. I have a hard time switching between the two. I wish one had been on the left side, but unfortunately you can’t change the button setup. If it weren’t for these issues, I would’ve called the gameplay perfect for what it was. Score: 4
Visuals & Audio: Bayonetta is visually impressive, & I don’t just mean the heroine. The environments are varied & impressive. One level I’m running through a holy city, the next level it’s on fire, then I’m in Heaven, then on a plane. The enemies also have some great designs & although there’s not a huge amount of variety, they’re all interesting to see. The only real problem I had with the visuals was the film reel style they use for some of the cutscenes. Although not bad, they’re just not that interesting to watch. I’m not sure why they chose to use them. It’s even stranger given that there is some movement in the otherwise still images, like Bayonetta’s hair, so why did they bother? Not a major problem, just seemed strange to me. The sound production is also really good. I loved the music in this game. I think my favorite tracks are in the Ithanvol building & “Let’s Dance Boys,” the music for the credits & that crazy dance number in the very end. However, I think they overuse “Fly Me To The Moon” during combat. The voice acting is good too. Grey DeLisle does a fantastic job as Bayonetta. The other actors do a good job as well, although I kept getting distracted because Luka’s voice actor is the same one that does Sasuke Uchiha in Naruto. He does a good job, but I kept thinking, “Shut up Sasuke.” Score: 5
Replayability: Pretty high. Not only is this a fun game that most people will probably enjoy playing more than once, there’s lot of stuff to unlock. Chances are you won’t get enough money to buy everything on a single playthrough. The game adds to this by letting you play any level you’ve already beaten whenever you want. It encourages you to try for a perfect platinum run. However, nothing about the story itself changes, so it’s not really necessary. Score: 4
Overall Score: 4
Final Words: Bayonetta is a fun game that doesn’t take itself too seriously. If you don’t mind a confusing story, can tolerate QTE’s & aren’t easily offended by sexual innuendos, its worth getting.
Oh, & just for the record Nintendo; No I won’t be buying the WiiU for the sequel.
Title: Bayonetta Console: 360 & PS3
Developers: Platinum Games & Nex Entertainment
Release Date: January 5, 2010