Written : Wednesday, January 13, 2010
By: Lee Abrahams (GT: jackanape)
With all the talk last year about the so called "death" of the Japanese gaming industry (mainly from people in the Japanese gaming industry), it is nice to see a developer take a stand and show people how wrong they were. Considering the increasingly Western influence that seems to be the norm in previously rock solid Japanese franchises, it is nice to see someone buck the trend and make a game that is so unashamedly old school... and all the better for it. The fact that they pushed the boat out and made the lead character a naughty school mistress type with a suit made out of her own hair is merely the icing on the cake.
Bringing the pain... with hair.
Frankly if you do not know who developed this game then I can only assume you have never played Devil May Cry, the game that pretty much defined the genre and one that has barely been challenged – even by its own sequels. Thankfully the talent behind that first game went on to form Platinum Games and Bayonetta is the fruit of their labour. Suffice it to say that Bayonetta draws upon a number of things that made DMC so good, but it manages to do so in its own unique way that makes it feel like a totally different game. Not to mention the fact that playing it makes you feel like a total badass.
The story is convoluted at best and is told via a series of flashbacks, cutscenes and montages that seem completely bewildering at first, but add up to a cracking conclusion. Thankfully our guide through all of this madness is Bayonetta herself who is cynical, weary, smart, vulgar and bitchy all rolled into one neat package. When she is not cracking wise, making suggestive remarks to her enemies or kicking ass, she also displays a steely toughness and even a softer side. This behaviour is hardly surprising considering Bayonetta has a few gaps in her memory and is out to get some answers, and deliver some pain to her former captors. Suffice it to say that the game is action-driven rather than relying on reams of plot and dialogue, so those looking for something deep will be left disappointed. Instead it is the over-the-top nature of the plot and characters that keep things ticking along and is genuinely entertaining, plus some of the cutscenes are just out of this world in terms of both audacity and content.
Bayonetta is also voiced to perfection and looks stunning. No matter what weapon she is wielding or what combo you are in the middle of, you will struggle to see even the slightest hiccup along the way – which is impressive considering the amount of action you can have flying all over the screen. The key here though is that this game is not designed to be a button masher at all, rather you will need to master all of the combos at your disposal in order to truly progress. Though, failing that, you can always fall back on the easy modes which have a nice auto pilot to help the uninitiated. These modes kind of take away the fun of the game, and miss the point somewhat, but it is obvious that they are there so that even rookies can have a good time, which can only be a good thing.
Outrageous bosses? Check.
The game plays like a classic beat ‘em up, with a button for jumping, punches, kicks and your guns. What makes matters more interesting is the fact that the dodge button plays such a prominent role, and is often the key to success. You can string any number of moves together, and the list just keeps on growing as you find new weapons and new attacks along the way. You can even switch weapons mid combo making your arsenal of moves practically limitless and opening up any number of monster destroying combinations. Combos can also be offset by judicious use of the dodge button and then re-launched once out of harms way. If it seems complex, it really is not, though most players will undoubtedly find a number of punishing moves and stick with them. Thankfully the loading screen lets you do all the practice you need, and you can even press the back button to extend your training for as long as you like.
As well as punching and kicking your foes to death (or battering them with her hair), you can also pick up a wide array of weapons to attach to either the hands or feet of our femme fatale. Your moves will vary depending on where they are attached and they range in power and effectiveness against certain foes. Beat up some of the tougher enemies in your path and they may well drop some items too, ranging from swords and maces to a trumpet – truly a terrifying weapon in the wrong hands. These weapons only have a limited lifespan but can dish out some devastating short term punishment of their own.
The most important trick in the book comes in the form of Witch Time, which is activated by dodging enemy attacks at the last second. This slows down the world around you and lets you really dish out some damage, though the effects are limited. Bayonetta can also freely dispense combo-ending Weave moves with her hair, which performs a brutal attack that leaves our hero with a distinct lack of clothes. You may even prefer to dole out some Torture moves should you build up some magic reserves. These moves truly punish a foe and involve copious amounts of blood, and no small amount of fun. The best part is the fact that these moves can be used and abused on bosses too, so you are not stuck wasting all of your best skills on the small fry. It is a tenant to the quality of the game, and your own skills, that every level can be done without taking a hit. Assuming you're good enough that is.
The game is perfectly paced and the learning curve is spot on. Things are broken up at regular intervals with the introduction of new powers, characters and even a scenic (read: destructive) bike ride or missile flight. All in a day's work for our deadly witch. All of the angels and demons you fight are superbly represented too and introduced via their own little insert in the good book. Combat never gets stale and this is one of the few games where you may well find yourself going back to earlier levels before you have even finished the story – just to improve your time, snag some more treasure or generally wreak havoc. The better you do, then the more halos you will snag (the game's currency) and the more new moves and equipment you can buy. It is a perfect circle of playability. Heck, you can even play a fun little shooting game between levels to score some more cash or items too.
The downsides here are few and far between. The game looks great, has a superb soundtrack and voice acting plays like a dream. There were a number of glitchy moments in the vehicle level though, in terms of barriers on the roads, and morphing through solid walls and trucks – nothing game breaking but it showed a lack of polish compared to the rest of the game. It can also be unforgiving on new players, especially people who are not prepared to treat combat as a fluid tactical affair, rather than a button mashing session.
Bayonetta's shoemaker has a hard time making a size 70.
Achievements wise the game is exceptionally well thought out, with even rookie players able to get a good chunk of the points. You will be looking at three increasingly tough playthroughs to get the full one thousand though, but at least things are not as ludicrous as the last Devil May Cry game which practically punished players who were not good enough. That is not to say the game is easy, even on normal, but at least it gives you a fighting chance and you genuinely feel like you are gradually getting better. With points split between bosses, story advancement, weapon use and collectables, there is something for everyone.
To have a genuine contender for Game of the Year so early on is unthinkable, but this could truly be that game. It is a breath-taking ride through a game that has held on to its roots and is all the better for it, and will no doubt garner a number of fans because of it. Perhaps it is not the kind of game you would introduce your family and friends to, mainly thanks to the overly suggestive nature of the protagonist, but it is a game that you should sit back and enjoy. Then, once you are done, enjoy it again. Frankly you will have a hard time putting this down, and that is all the argument you need.
Amazing voice work, especially from the lead, that really brings the characters to life. Plus, the often bizarre soundtrack should not really work, but it does... and perfectly too.
A beautiful game to behold in action, with no slowdown or frame rate issues to talk of. There were a few odd glitches on the driving sections though which is really the only issue.
Pretty much flawless and truly one of the best games of its kind. It may seem unfair on newer players, but if you give yourself the time to learn combos rather than bashing buttons, then this will become a joy to play.
The gameplay, sound and presentation is top-notch, and no part of this game feels like it was not lavished with attention. It still may not be to suitable for everyone, but it is sure to attract plenty of new fans.
A very solid list indeed and one that is never unfair, while still ensuring there is a level of challenge in order to get the maximum. With a smattering of points for any number of tasks, you will be busy for some time, but it is nice to see a list that covers every skill set.
It has been a while since a game of this quality has kicked off the year, but Bayonetta delivers on every front, even managing to draw in players that would normally give this genre a miss, thanks to the superb presentation, humour and charm. The game pretty much lures you into multiple playthroughs too, thanks to that ‘one more try’ mentality to surpass yourself, which is a rare feat indeed. It may be that Japan will not make them like this anymore and that would be a tragedy, so do yourself a favour and enjoy this game.