Directed by Devil May Cry creator Hideki Kamiya and developed by Platinum Games in conjunction with publisher SEGA, Bayonetta blasts onto the XBOX 360 and Playstation 3 scene on January 7th. With similar action games such as Dante’s Inferno coming around the corner will Bayonetta be able to hold its own and become the new Devil May Cry franchise for action games?
The plot centers on the tale of the titular heroine Bayonetta, who wakes up from her deep slumber only knowing she is an Umbran Witch who is at odds with the Lumen Sages, a lizard like angelic clan. Immediately you are thrown into the action and the plot slowly unravels, though at times in an obscure manner as you struggle to make sense of the plot.
There are some supporting characters along the way and a mortal rival thrown into the mix but the plot isn’t really the shining star of the game. Bayonetta is voiced with a slightly sarcastic British accent while other supporting characters are fairly ordinary. Plot cut scenes are presented with film strip boarders, almost comic book style while some are action cut scenes filled with outrageous posing and action shots. Prevalent throughout the game is a sense of lightheartedness as the game doesn’t take itself too seriously, often making jokes and sexual innuendos.
For those accustomed to action games such as Ninja Gaiden and Devil May Cry series, Bayonetta is sure not to disappoint with its fluid combo system and action events. Quick time events makes an appearance and special attacks are indicated on screen with the button combination you need to push to activate. There is no six axis motion control in the PS3 version but the dual shock controller does rumble profusely. The heart of its combat system consists of three attack buttons, square shoots your gun, triangle punches, and circle makes your character kick. X allows you to jump, double jump and glide when held down. Dodging is done by using the R2 trigger while R1 allows you to fix a targeting lock on an enemy (indicated by a red lipstick mark no less). When playing on Very Easy and Easy modes you have an “automatic” mode, where you can bash just one attack button and Bayonetta will fly about the place performing all sorts of combos and dealing insane amounts of damage. At Normal and above you will need to start getting a hang of the timing to be able to combo your attacks though her animation is so fluid, even if you partially complete a combo, you reset quickly and can start another chain. The best part about this combat system is that you can learn a few basic combos and do well throughout the story mode or you can delve into the complex system and master them all. The combo system does change depending on what weapons you equip in your arms and legs so there are a lot of combos to master and you will get plenty of opportunities to do so during the loading screens.
Witch time is Bayonetta’s witch ability, activated when dodging an incoming attack at the last moment; time slows down (a la bullet time) allowing you to dodge attacks and combo enemies without retaliation. Mastering this key combat technique becomes increasingly important as some enemies can only be attacked in Witch Time and some puzzles need to be solved using Witch Time (often indicated by pairs of Lumen Sages and Umbran Witches statues).
There is a magic power meter which allows you to perform torture attacks. Pressing both punch and kick buttons when the torture attack warning pops up causes Bayonetta to execute her angelic foe in a spectacular fashion, using nailed coffins, guillotines or other gory ways. During the torture attack animation you can mash a specific button to increase your bonus Halo gain. Boss battles also have a similar mechanic with special commands popping up on screen leading to special scripted attacks and the ability to mash a specified button to gain bonus Halos.
Killing enemies, performing long combos and clearing each Chapter/Verse with finesse rewards you with “Halos” which is the in-game currency used to unlock new techniques, items, weapons and accessories though many of these items seem only attainable after your first playthrough (or endless grinding of previously cleared chapters).
One major game play mechanic I disliked was the overuse of instant death setups. Having your environment crumble around you gets very exciting but when camera angles hamper your jumps it can turn into frustration falling to your doom repeatedly. In the Playstation 3 version picking up new items interrupts your game as it loads up a picture of the item you picked up. Picking up the notebooks littered throughout the game also pauses the action and reading these notebooks inflicts a couple of minutes of loading time. Unfortunately there is no install option available which could’ve alleviated the numerous loading screens. Even entering the inventory screen causes a loading screen which feels like eternity when the game’s pace is fast and furious. Funnily enough part of the challenge in Bayonetta is to complete chapters without deaths or item usage so one could view it that by performing well, you get a gaming experience that isn’t interrupted by loading screens.
Bayonetta is a graphical powerhouse, landscapes are rendered beautifully with environments that crumble, morph and collapse. Bosses are suitably massive and your lizard like angelic foes turns skeletonal as you damage them, eventually bursting into halos similar to Sonic the Hedgehog spewing golden rings everywhere. All this pretty eye candy does come at the price in the Playstation 3 version. At times the frame rate really struggles and it is fairly rare that a smooth 60 fps is achieved by the game engine. The camera isn’t too bad, though when there are many enemies on screen it is easy to lose Bayonetta amidst the action and get attacked by enemies slightly off screen. There doesn’t appear to be any CGI movies to watch so cut scenes are all done through the in game engine which isn’t too bad, the film strips use give it a slightly B grade movie feeling which suits the plot fairly well.
For first impressions the female J POP sound track may come at a surprise to some gamers but it fits in well with the whole female empowerment theme underpinning Bayonetta. It is another reminder that this game reeks of Japanese quirkiness. The combat music might not be to everyone’s taste but definitely gives it a poppy feeling, providing a light hearted tone to the destructive action on screen. It definitely doesn’t get in the way of the action and is probably best described as easy listening accompanying the mayhem on screen. Your usual booms and explosions are done fairly well and the voice acting is passable. Some supporting cast really over act and are cut down by Bayonetta’s sarcastic dialogue.
Further difficulty modes are unlocked upon completing the game with the difficulty increasing very quickly and precision in control and combat very much demanded. There are plenty of things to collect throughout the adventure and the game tracks your achievements fairly well and multiple playthroughs are required to obtain all the trophies. Also throughout each chapter some verses are hidden which provides some element of exploration as some achievements involve completing all verses in a chapter with pure platinum medal status. Unlockables feature heavily in Bayonetta so this action game has plenty of replayability for those hooked on its set pieces and brilliant combat system. For some, Bayonetta may not really make sense and playing through once will do it for them, especially once they hit the difficulty wall and annoying quick time events because there isn’t much tolerance for mistakes at times with her health bar being terribly low in comparison to the damage enemies can dish out.
Bayonetta is a very good action game on the Playstation 3. Fans of the Devil May Cry series should definitely check this out because its action roots is sure to satisfy and with the game’s focus squarely on providing the most visceral action scenes, spectacular boss fights and purposely B grade acting, it should entertain most gamers. For some it may be hard to connect with the lead character and its story isn’t exactly engrossing but those who can handle its decisively Japanese art style (I’m sure teenagers will enjoy watching a near naked Bayonetta posing for the camera while her hair decimates a boss) will have a great time provided the Playstation 3’s loading times and struggling frame rate don’t turn them away.
It is such a pity that such technical difficulties exists in the Playstation 3 version especially when it is not present on the XBOX 360 so for those with both consoles, I hate to do it but the XBOX 360 version is the one to get.
AAG SCORE: 8.5/10
+ Action is fast and furious and combat controls are fluid and responsive
+ Boss fights are decidedly epic and involve some strategy to figure out the technique to beat them
+ A lot of items to unlock and rewards for replaying the game at harder difficulties.
- Many things trigger painful loading scenes, opening menus, picking up items etc.
- Frame rate really suffers at times and also during busy combat scenes
- Quick time events which result in instant deaths occur too frequently
Reviewed and Written By Danny Yee