Hideki Kamiya, the director of the trend-setting Devil May Cry last gen, is back with Bayonetta - his latest romp in the action genre, and the first one starring a witch who uses her long black locks to both disrobe and transform in the middle of battle to dispatch foes. The titular character’s attacks are some of the most outlandish you’ll ever see, and she’s so bad-ass that she not only dual-wields guns with her hands, but has a pair strapped to her feet as well. Bayonetta takes DMC’s frantic pace to the next level, while never taking itself too seriously. The plot is completely insane, but fits the equally crazy on-screen action, and ends up featuring some memorable characters and a lot of laughs due to its tongue-in-cheek tone and remarkably high-quality voice work.
While the cinematics are hilarious, the narrative isn’t the focus of the game - thankfully, that is reserved for the slaying of many angels who stand in Bayonetta’s way of finding out the truth about her past, and ensuring that their demise is as painful as possible. You’re given dozens of ways to dispatch your heaven-sent foes, and the game begins with you “just” being able to kill them with kicks, punches, the aforementioned dual-wielding pistols for both your hands and feet, being able to conjure up implements of torture like guillotines and iron maidens to decapitate and crush them, and also form demons out of Bayonetta‘s long hair that also acts as her clothing to chomp them into bits or simply tear them limb-from-limb. Things get even crazier later on when you’re able to do things like use a pair of ice skates as weapons or lewdly breakdance your way to victory with more foot-mounted gunfire.
Beyond simply having a lot of moves at your disposal, there’s more depth here than one might expect from an action game. The addition of “witch time” takes the cliched bullet-time concept and makes it something that requires skill as you can only activate it by countering an attack at the last possible second, and successfully enabling it will not only allow you to kill enemies faster, but also rack up more Sonic-esque rings called halos that act as currency and allow you to purchase some of the game’s crazier attack techniques, along with items and power-ups from the in-game store called the Gates of Hell - easily the best game shop name ever. Skillfully using witch time will also allow you to achieve the elusive platinum and pure platinum rankings that will greatly help your standing on the online leader boards.
Unfortunately, the fast-paced action is hurt by the PS3’s shoddy port, which features frequent slowdown along with massive loading times that aren’t in the 360 version. Loading is a common problem even when doing something as routine as pausing the game. This is one of the few times this generation that I've felt a developer's vision was truly compromised by a shoddy port. It’s a shame that the PS3 rendition can't realize its full potential until those issues are ironed out. Unfortunately, the best we can hope for with this is a patch, and if that comes, great - unfortunately, people are still stuck with this game tempting them on the shelves, and until these problems are rectified, I'm going to recommend that they steer clear of the PS3 version and instead choose the far superior 360 version. Beyond clearly being a more accurate representation of the game the developers intended, it's just a better game overall and far more worthy of your time and money.
There’s far more humor in Bayonetta than action fans are accustomed to, and the lighter tone from everything from the dialogue to the in-jokes and gaming references - like a cutscene featuring “Magical Sound Shower” from OutRun, and stages that pay homage to Hang-On and Space Harrier helps Bayonetta further stand out from the pack.
Each version of Bayonetta controls like a dream during combat - well, mostly. Her primary attacks are controlled with the face buttons, while a flick of the right trigger is all that’s needed to activate bullet time. Massive combos can be unleashed with ease thanks to the responsive controls, and after spending some time in the loading area/practice mode. The right stick controls camera movement, which is flawed in each version as it moves very slowly, leading to it being harder to follow the action than it should be.
Visually, Bayonetta provides a feast for the eyes. While the character models may not be the best-looking of this generation, their smooth animation and stylish look makes up for that shortcoming. Bayonetta’s character animation is incredibly fluid - and not just for her body, but for her clothing as well. The sheer amount of stuff on-screen makes this a stunning game, while the epic boss battles give even the mighty God of War series a run for their money, and actually surpass it in the sense that there’s more going on here, and you have more ways to topple the waves of enemies thrown your way.
Bayonetta’s jazz-filled soundtrack is one of the best in recent memory, and not only works as a fine gaming soundtrack, but provides easy listening outside of the game as well. The voice acting is also surprisingly well-done given how insane the plot gets at times, and infuses the characters with far more personality than we usually see in action games. Bayonetta’s sultry English accent, Rodin’s Samuel L. Jackson-esque voice, and Enzo’s sleazy shyster voice are all pretty much perfect and make the cutscenes come alive.
Thanks to the in-game rankings and online leaderboards, along with its many unlockable items and plethora of difficulty levels, Bayonetta is far more replayable than most other action games. It’s very much like an old arcade game where your goal was to not only beat the game, but get the high score, only now you’ve got the addition of many unlockables on top of the high score and the medal-based (silver, gold, platinum, pure platinum) rankings. The unlockable techniques are also a reason to replay levels as you’ll need to do that in order to have enough money to afford them. Doing that will not only yield you new moves, but will allow you to improve your skills enough to efficiently use them.
With its addictive, fast-paced gameplay, smooth controls, slick graphics, and excellent soundtrack, Bayonetta is an easy recommendation for any action fan. If you’ve ever loved the modern-era Ninja Gaidens or especially the Devil May Cry series, you’ll adore this. However, PS3-only owners should probably wait for either a price drop or a patch for it because I cannot recommend a full-price purchase given the issues with the port. 360-only or multi-platform owners have it made though, as the 360 version is pristine.