Bayonetta ReviewJoe Shaffer
Not until the advent of Bayonetta has cracking angelic skulls been so addictive. Guiding the busty, bodacious witch babe Bayonetta, the object is to slice, whip, shoot, kick, and crush the forces of light whilst gathering Sonic-like rings for purchasing new weapons and combo attacks. Oh yes, there is eye candy. Oh yes, there is booty-shaking. And oh lord yes, there is action, action, and more action!
Many will say Bayonetta is a Devil May Cry clone with a female protagonist. Guilty as charged! But since when has cloning been taboo in the game world? Bayonetta takes aspects that worked for DMC and turns up the attitude, both with the perky protagonist's witty remarks and her seductive mannerisms. Never mind onslaughts from massive monsters, raining balls of fire, tiger-like heavenly beasts, or angelic warriors with impressive weaponry--our heroine stays intrepid and never misses the opportunity for sarcastic commentary.
In between cutscenes of Bayonetta rending foes to bits (all while dancing to ironic sugary music) is the sweet bloody pulp of the experience. Each level is broken down into segments whereupon you'll meet enemy contingents in brutal battles. Merely mashing buttons may result in some fine footwork, but nothing too fancy or useful. The true excitement comes in playing with Bayonetta's fine selection of toys and mixing up attacks. Why stick to basic kicks when you can slice enemies to ribbons with a katana, go at them Belmont-style with a whip, or even dance them to pieces with a sinister pair of ice skates? Combine those with an impressive array of guns and the combinations are endless. Even Bayonetta's ridiculously long hair, so long that it makes up her clothing, joins combat and spins into devastating "Wicked Weave" attacks at the end of certain combos. Sometimes there's nothing more satisfying than crushing a small cluster of enemies with a giant stiletto heel or razor-sharp blade formed by a batch of witch hair. Experimenting with combos--not only to discover their effect and power, but to behold the sheer brutality of each attack--is a mission in itself.
The combos aren't the true coup de grace. Landing consecutive blows nets you magic points used to summon torture devices for instant enemy destruction. You can bat around an Affinity, a basic opponent, and then kick its sorry rear into an iron maiden for good measure. Vindication never felt so good after taking a pummeling from an angelic beast, especially when the exchange ends with a large spiked wheel landing on said beast, grinding it to heavenly jelly. For a titanic opponent that doesn't fit into a tiny sarcophagus comes a fate worse than death: Climax attack! Bayonetta's hair weaves into similarly large beasts to chew the enemy to bloody bits. How else to cap off a difficult battle against a gargantuan nemesis except to watch them writhe in the mighty jaws of a hair-dragon?
There is an art form to Bayonetta. There's very little time between each action, as the battles (especially later on) are incredibly intense. As stages advance, the difficulty jumps up into hyper mode along with the game's speed. You'll no longer take a pot shot here, undertake a careless basic combo there. You'll leap over sweeping attacks, blast enemies from a far with a raid of bullets, dodge an oncoming fireball, and rush forward to unleash a flurry of melee malice in a matter of seconds. Bayonetta may sound overly challenging, but the difficulty raises progressively enough to teach you to deal with its insanity.
Great combatants not only survive, they receive rewards. Each battle ends with a rating, with faster victories and little life loss resulting in better ratings and greater rewards (usually more rings for upgrades). Even in battle you can receive instant gratification. By dodging an attack right before it hits, you'll enter into Witch Time mode where gameplay slows down, allowing you to pulverize the pure with less fear of damage.
Like all great games, Bayonetta needs something to break the repetition and give it (more) flavor. Escaping a flow of lava or leaping from one levitating platform to another isn't enough. You'll walk on walls while battling baddies and leap from disappearing platforms in the hopes of not plummeting to your death. Special scenes like these can even inhabit whole levels. You'll tear down a freeway on a motorcycle while taking out holy vehicles, and take to the skies riding a giant missile and blasting enemies with head nods to both Fantasy Zone and Space Harrier.
References never cease, though they are quite subtle. Rather than thrusting references in your face, the developers left it up to the audience to recognize them. Many are homages to older Sega games, but others are a little less recognizable. Is it me, or does the bonus game Angel Attack sound awfully similar to the Atari 2600 game Demon Attack? Yeah, the references are that far reaching.
What Bayonetta brings to the table is nothing new, yet it still has its own identity. Sure, it plays like Devil May Cry, but its details and style elevate it beyond simple "clonedom". Its playful demeanor, sexy vibe, balls-to-the-wall action, and ferocious gameplay combined with tons of tiny references make it a great experience to undertake. It's the kind of title that wants first and foremost for you to have fun and not linger on aspects like a compelling story with complex characters or plausibility. It's tough and imaginative action, a true jawbreaker through and through. It will challenge you, it will excite you, and it will reward you. I wish more action titles did that.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.