Hideki Kamiya of Platinum Games, the mastermind behind Devil May Cry and Resident Evil, knows action. Three years ago, after Capcom sacked Clover Studio, and became Platinum Games, it was announced that Kamiya was working on a brand new project.
That project was Bayonetta. With this new IP, Kamiya made promises of more action than Dante, Samanosuke, or Chris Redfield could ever hope to deliver. Did he make good on those promises? My answer is a resounding yes.
The story is fairly straightforward: Umbra and Lumen (Dark and Light), two clans that have kept the order of the Universe sacred for centuries, are now at war, with Bayonetta, an Umbra Witch, in the middle. Unlike most other action games, the narrative never takes itself too seriously, and the game is mostly character-driven. Bayonetta and the rest of the cast crack jokes the entire time, even when giant monstrosities are prophesying their doom.
If you’re not a fan of Austin Powers-esque accents, you might not enjoy the hokey voice acting, but at the very least you’ll be entertained. If you’re so inclined, you can skip all of these cutscenes from the get-go, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Bayonneta contains some of the best action choreography since Devil May Cry 3; I’m talking capoeira gun-fu and motorcycle-fu here. Some of the cutscenes and battles made me actually cheer out loud in excitement: something that rarely happens for me.
Over-the-top cutscenes aside, at its core, Bayonetta is an action title, and contains some pretty insane combat mechanics. Bayonetta is not the kind of game that pits you against a few enemies at a time; there are constant droves that must always be watched and dodged. If you wait until the last possible second to dodge, you initiate “Witch Time”, which slows down your foes for a short while. There’s really no other way to put it: Witch Time is one of the most genius mechanics ever put into an action title. The reason is because it is by no means required to master to complete the game, but gives veterans an edge if they’re so inclined.
The combo system is so intricate, that you can literally make up combos as you go along. There are hundreds of combinations of attacks, and each weapon set has a different list. I never really found myself abusing the same move over and over, as the enemy AI really keeps you on your toes – not to mention that fact that there really is no need to exploit any one move, given the fact that you have tons of easy-to-use and formidable attacks at your disposal.
To mix things up a bit, mini-bosses will drop their weapon of choice (true arcade style), and through the course of the game, Bayonetta will earn more weapons and powerups. Thankfully, this helps keep the action fresh, given that you can experiment with a large handful of additional weapons outside of your own arsenal. Speaking of your arsenal, a number of unique weapons can be combined in really cool ways: like mixing deadly ice skates with a katana, for instance, lets you skate around the terrain as you slice your foes to bits.
In addition to the talented developers at Platinum Games, if there’s one thing SEGA can bring to the table, it’s arcade action. Arcade button mashing is a staple of Bayonneta (when appropriate, and never overused), and using your torture moves on regular enemies, and finishers on boss characters couldn’t be more fun, mashing all the way. While there are a few QTEs thrown in there (in good taste), the majority of the time you’ll be mashing buttons after a finisher to get the highest “Gigaton!” score. There’s also a relaxing light-gun mini-game in between rounds, just to help you get some extra items in addition to the very expansive store. If that wasn’t enough, you can also craft whatever you want in-game after finding the proper materials dropped by enemies.
The level designs are absolutely brilliant. Often times, you’ll be battling a horde of enemies on a moving setpiece, while a giant boss is trying to murder you. Bayonetta is just that intense! In fact, boss fights are the highlight of this game; I don’t want to spoil anything, but most of the fights you’ll encounter are more entertaining and innovative than most other games of any genre.
Thankfully, unlike Devil May Cry 4, there is hardly any backtracking, and all of the levels have a diverse feel. The only time that Bayonetta truly drags is towards the end of the game, when it forces you to do a two vehicle sections, but they’re still a blast to play, and one of them is even modeled after the classic shmup genre SEGA helped innovate.
To compliment the lovely locales, Bayonetta‘s enemies are also meticulously designed. Each enemy has a nifty “textbook” introduction, and there are more than enough enemies per level to keep you guessing tactically, as well as entertain your need for diversity.
The inclusion of the Very Easy Automatic difficulty level is yet another shining example that the creators understand the needs of gamers of all skill levels. Very rarely do you see such a hardcore action title catering to inexperienced gamers, but Bayonetta goes so far that the easiest difficulty can literally be played with one hand. Veterans will also be pleased to know that the two extra “hard” difficulties are actually (gasp!) hard. Considering how critical I am of most action games’ lack of difficulty, I really mean that.
It’s also obvious that Bayonetta is a labor of love, and a ton of extra finishing touches make that apparent. For instance, there are myriad Capcom references, ranging from Resident Evil 4 to Platinum Games’ previous works (Clover), such as Viewitful Joe and God Hand. Through and through, Bayonetta is a gamer’s game in terms of references, but there aren’t so many of these references that casual fans will feel left out.
Bayonetta can be completed in about ten to fifteen hours, but there’s plenty to do after all is said and done. You can go for platinum medals in every level (and compete over worldwide or friendly leaderboard status), seek out hidden portal challenges, look for missed collectibles, buy every item/weapon/ability, find every witch tomb, play Hard/Non-Stop Climax (Very Hard), play as a secret character, or indulge in many of the game’s (additional) extras. The only thing Bayonetta is really lacking is any sort of multiplayer component, which may shy away gamers who are thrifty with their purchases, but make no mistake: Bayonetta is not light on content.
If you did all that, the game could easily last you around fifty hours or more, and Platinum Games has gone on record stating that Bayonetta will not have DLC; so nothing was withheld from your retail copy. What you see is what you get, and you get much more content than most games with their pricey add-ons.
Simply put, Bayonetta is the action game I’ve been waiting for since Devil May Cry 3. It’s a must-buy for just about every gamer out there, and was worth the three year wait.
Reviewer’s note: the PS3 version is a port that contains a worse framerate, slower loading times, and slowdown during a few parts of the game. If you can help it, purchase the 360 version.
Bayonetta looks absolutely stunning on the Xbox 360. Some of the environments actually made my jaw drop.
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There are enough combos in this game to keep your playthroughs fresh, and more fresh content than a lot of other series' games combined.
You've never heard the classic song "Fly Me to the Moon" like this before. The rest of the score is just as fantastic, and there are even a few extra remixed SEGA classics in there for good measure.
Bayonetta has a ton of extras buried within the main game: even if you only beat it once, you'll at least want to go back and find all the secret levels/items/weapons you missed. Action fans will replay the game over and over just for fun.
Bayonetta is an action masterpiece. All you action fans out there should run out and buy it, and just about everyone should give it a try on Very Easy mode at the very least.