February 18, 2010, Author: Andy Corrigan
I’ve made much of my general dislike of hack n’ slash games over recent weeks, but in my many years of feeling nothing but a huge barrelful of ‘meh’ towards the likes of God of War, one game in the genre did recently manage to turn my head. If you followed our Eurogamer Expo 09 coverage, you’ll already know exactly which game that is. Hideki Kamiya’s Platinum Games brings us Bayonetta; a game that upon sampling for the first time left me equally as puzzled as it did entertained. I came away from the expo not knowing exactly what I’d witnessed, but knew I definitely wanted more. So, upon the game’s release, did the titular foxy female protagonist continue to bewitch me with her charms? Oh. God. Yes.
What the eff is going on?!
Oh boy, where do I begin? Bayonetta is a witch, although as you may have noticed from various previews on the web, it’s not your usual portrayal of a decrepit, cackling hag. She is intense, sexy and detached. As if it couldn’t get any cooler, she pole dances, has guns on her shoes and her strongest weapon is her magical hair, which also acts as her outfit… seriously. Our heroine has been suffering from long-term amnesia for the last twenty years and remembers nothing about her life prior to being awoken from a 500 year slumber from the bottom of a lake. With no recollection of who or what she is and how she got there, Bayonetta starts making a living as a mercenary for Rodin, a shop keeper from ‘Inferno’, the game’s version of Hell. After your first encounter against the strange angel creatures from ‘Paradiso’ (you guessed it, Heaven), one of Rodin’s lackey’s, Enzo, has discovered a lead in the city of Vigrid that might just help Bayonetta find out who she is. With a setting as random as this, you’d be forgiven at this point for thinking that if Bayonetta doesn’t know what is going on, what chance will we have?!
Thankfully, you don’t have to wait too long before the game’s plot becomes a lot clearer, while still remaining very trippy. This is partly thanks to the fact that Platinum Games have done a decent job of making sure that the tale unravels at a steadily enjoyable pace, although also because that some of the key twists are glaringly obvious the moment they are introduced. This would hurt a lot of other games; however in a title that never once takes itself too seriously, you can’t help but feel that it all falls into the type of campy fun that the developers were aiming for. With all that said, it’s our heroine that carries much of the story’s charm herself. None of the supporting characters are remotely as interesting, simply acting as fodder or props for Bayonetta to either work her silkily posh English quips on or gyrate against.
Random, but challenging!
The most common first impression people have to offer after sampling Bayonetta usually involves the words ‘like Devil May Cry’ in some way, shape or form. It’s true, the game does have some design, combat and structural similarities, but with DMC’s designer, Hideki Kamiya, at the helm, should we really be surprised? I mean, ‘Man makes great game that has similar elements to his previously great game’ hardly is an industry shocking headline. Hell, Bioware’s entire living is based on that very principle. What’s important is that Bayonetta takes these elements and executes them infinitely better than in any of Kamiya’s previous work, especially when it comes to the combat.
At first glance, the combat may seem very simple, but there is depth here in abundance. X fires her standard guns, Y controls whatever weapon you have assigned to her hands, and B controls the guns attached to her shoes. You can have two variants on this configuration and you can switch between them at any time with a flick of the Left Trigger. This is very handy, as you’ll earn more weapons throughout the game. As you progress, you’ll uncover parts of gold plated records (they were like big plastic CD’s, for the youngsters amongst us). When you get a complete one, on your next visit to Rodin at the ‘Gates of Hell’, he will forge you new weapons from them, such a sword or a whip amongst others.
Rodin’s usefulness doesn’t end there. By getting kills, Bayonetta racks up Halo’s, which acts as the games currency. At the Gate of Hell, you can purchase new moves, new abilities and combos to add to the unbelievable amount available from the start, as well as an assortment of potions. The potions (in the form of lollipops) give you boosts, such as restoring health, improving strength and temporary invincibility. Should you not want to waste your Halo’s on buying these potions (although you will), you can create them yourself by collecting the ingredients found after kills and smashing elements of the environment.
The combo’s themselves, of which there are an insane amount, are all sublimely animated and a joy to witness. Perform some of the meatier ones successfully and Bayonetta will unleash what the game calls a ‘Wicked Weave’, where her costume of hair departs her person and exits a portal in the form of a giant fist or foot. These attacks are pretty devastating and impart vast amounts of damage to enemies. Admittedly, a large part of my nonchalant approach to hack ‘n slashers comes down to not having the will or patience to learning the waves of combos that it usually takes to get the most out of the experience, however Platinum combats this with the simplest, but most effective of tricks; allowing you to practice the moves during the loading screen. A master-stroke, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Another huge element of Bayonetta’s combat involves the use of, Bullet, Witch Time. Dodge an attack (using Right Trigger) by the skin of your teeth and time will slow down, allowing you to get in some much needed damage. This is a life-saver during boss fights and absolutely vital when rushed by a number foes, allowing you time to single out wear down some of the more powerful amongst their number, adding some tactical thought in the combat.
Each time you successfully execute an attack, you build up a magic gauge; upon filling this you’ll be able to unleash Torture Attacks by pressing the Y and B button when prompted. This will involve some evil device of torture, such as an Iron Maiden or Guillotine, rising from the ground to dispatch or hurt the enemy. You can maximise the damage (if non lethal) dealt in these attacks do by tapping the X button while Bayonetta winds up the finishing blow.
A similar control approach is used in the finishers against bosses you will encounter, where Bayonetta’s hair will transform into a gigantic creature (she loves shredding her clothes at every opportunity), to finish off the gigantic foes. My personal favourite being her hair turning into several pairs of hands and playing volleyball with the poor creature in question. Speaking of which, the boss fights are epic. There is a very formulaic approach to these confrontation’s, as each lengthy battle is fairly easy once you recognise the patterns and the way to avoid the various attacks, but working that out is a hell of a lot of fun.
It’s not all hack ‘n slash, as Platinum Games have also incorporated a couple of vehicle sections that help break up the experience, but never feel out of place. The motorcycle sections are very basic, incorporating fast-paced action focused on shooting and dodging; however my favourite section is easily a flight level that reminded me heavily of Star Fox. I won’t spoil the circumstances in how this section comes about, however rest-assured it’s a joy to behold.
There really aren’t all that many faults to find in pure gameplay terms, but there are a few minor annoyances. As an inverted gamer, I was pleased that I could change the camera axis suitably, however this change is soon forgotten in the few sections you’ll take a first-person vantage point. There is a mini-game in-between each level that is hurt by this strange design choice, and an essential section towards the end stretch relies on your speed of aim and this dragged on greatly as I was forced to go against the only way I’m comfortable playing. Finally, and I don’t know why developers haven’t learnt this, but checkpoints should never, ever, come before cut-scenes. As awesome as some of the cut-scenes are in this game, I have no intention of watching them three or four times over, especially after dying and wanting to get straight back into the action.
One sexy game, and I’m not just talking about Bayonetta’s unmentionables
Bayonetta (as in the game, not the woman, however the following will apply), is gorgeous, which is amazing considering how visually busy it is. Despite lots of action happening all over the screen, the frame-rate never drops, never stutters and never loses any of its bold and bright visual impact. There are few moments when the action can get a little bit too busy, obstructing your view slightly, however a greatly intelligent camera helps greatly in avoiding this perfectly nearly all of the time.
The cut-scenes are stunning, entertaining and action packed, but parts of the story are also told through stylish slide-shows. I’m not sure how well it works in contrast with style elsewhere, however it keeps the story ticking over quickly and effectively and still looks great with it. Elsewhere, the attention to detail is brilliant, but it’s the game’s charm that is the most appealing aspect.
Japanese synth pop
It was fairly early on in the game that I found myself humming away to one of Bayonetta’s accompanying tracks without realising it. Just as it began to sink in exactly what I was doing, it struck me what song it was. Was I really hearing a Japanese synth pop cover of ‘Fly me to the moon’, originally sang by legendary crooner Frank Sinatra? I was… and as much as I was initially mortified by what they’d done to a classic; it’s catchy as hell, stereotypically Japanese and suits the experience perfectly.
Voice acting on the other hand, is a bit of a mixed bag. Bayonetta’s posh English twang takes a while to grow on you but I swear will eventually win you over. The general flow is hindered slightly by the usual Japanese-English translation problems, which predictably results in some very hammy dialogue. It does suit the general tone of the game pretty well, and brought back fond memories of the glorious B-Movie styling’s of the early Resident Evil titles, but it still makes me wonder why the voice actors aren’t able to account for these regional differences and provide a less cheesy delivery.
The naked truth
Looking back to when I was reading previews before experiencing this game first hand, I would never have guessed that this would prove to be a title that I would gush so heavily over, but sometimes a game can come along and just surprise you like that. It’s a deeply challenging affair that starts so strongly and only gets better the more you put into it. It probably won’t suit everyone, and people who prefer grittier experiences might turn their noses up at the Japanese weirdness found within, but this is a classy title from start to finish. Open your mind, let Bayonetta take you on a wild ride, I’m sure you won’t regret it.