Bayonetta has amnesia. It’s clichéd, but she has the excuse of spending the last few hundred years sealed in a coffin. She’s caught up in an age-old conflict between the forces of light and dark, pitting witches against angels in a power struggle to balance the very fabric of reality. The game intentionally strays of the generic good versus evil plot; neither side is particularly heroic. Oh sure, the angels look glorious and dignified…until someone smashes through their stony, cherubic faces and reveals a writhing mess of tentacles and slime. Using demonic magic doesn’t exactly give the Umbra Witches a good reputation, either. Both sides are vying for a jewel called the Left Eye, which is the key to reviving some omnipotent being…
Okay, you know what? Screw this. No one cares about the story, Bayonetta least of all. Many of the plot points are needlessly convoluted. Some of them add depth to Bayonetta’s character – her relationships with Jeanne and Cereza, especially – while others serve far more generic purposes. Luka, despite having a central (and utterly predictable) role, spends the majority of the narration being the comic relief. The villain is bland and underwhelming. The game tries to distract you by piling on humor and references to other titles. Allusions to Resident Evil, Devil May Cry, Viewtiful Joe, Okami, and a few others offer a treat to the fans. Rather than playing up the religious and gothic themes, the game takes a hyper-sexualized, over-the-top approach. Bayonetta strikes poses (spotlights and camera clicks included), provides tons of ass and cleavage shots, swings her hips to ridiculous angles, pole-dances, and sucks on lollipops. With a girly J-Pop version of “Fly Me to the Moon” as the battle theme, no less. Though the game fails to provide a good story, it more than makes up for it with its tongue-in-cheek parody of sexuality in gaming.
“The game takes a hyper-sexualized, over-the-top approach”Underneath the borderline pornographic visuals, however, hides one of the slickest combat systems on the PS3. Bayonetta doesn’t simply punch and kick. She’s got guns…on her feet. Attached to her boots, with just as much firepower as the pair in her hands. They’re not just for fashion; having that extra set allows her to carry a katana, whip, magical gauntlets, shotguns, and a few temporary swords and staffs she can steal from murdered mooks. The beauty of it is that you can switch amongst all of these weapons with a mere push of a button, which allows you to blend attacks and change the various stances with ease. Melee attacks require you to press the corresponding buttons, and holding them down automatically lets her dish out a spray of bullets. The controls are wonderfully responsive, and the sheer amount of potential combos stretches into the dozens. It all flows amazingly well together. It’s a careful balance between grace and brutality; Bayonetta dismembers her heavenly foes like a hardened warrior, but with the style of a supermodel.
It’s entirely possible to finish the game without seeing all of her abilities. As if her moveset wasn’t massive enough already, there are several unlockable attacks and supplementary moves for you to try out. They range from stiletto heel slides and fiery aerial kicks to shape-shifting animal forms. There’s even a move in which she literally breakdances for a few seconds, firing off all her guns and ending in a seductive pose for the camera. There are also several items and accessories that boost her powers or replenish her health. It all comes at high prices, though. Whenever you kill angels, you’ll be able to collect their halos and use them as currency. A lot of the good stuff requires thousands of the gilded headpieces, which means that you’re going to have to replay multiple times if you have any hope of accessing every last move. You don’t have to do this to beat the game, but it provides a good incentive to play on different difficulties and post your scores on the online leaderboard. Regardless of how you develop Bayonetta’s moveset, there will always be enough to keep you entertained.
“Underneath the borderline pornographic visuals, however, hides one of the slickest combat systems on the PS3”Even her costume is a weapon. You might be fooled into thinking it’s some kind of leather dominatrix getup… until it flies off her body and starts attacking. It’s her hair. No, seriously. Her entire outfit is made of her hair. It’s a conduit for unleashing powerful attacks and summoning beasts from the netherworld. You’ll be able to throw vehicles, stomp foes senseless with giant heels, and a slew of other crazy moves. The most powerful summons leave her nearly nude, but serve as finishers for boss fights. Is that golden dragon harassing you? Send your giant hairy crow to peck through its throat. How about that annoying Sphere of Death? Summon a couple of fists and play some volleyball. That’s aside from the Torture Attacks, which involve guillotines, iron maidens, wooden ponies, and a few other cruel and unusual executions for the regular enemies. The trick with these summons is that they require you to mash the right buttons to boost the attack power. It’s not as challenging as the stuff from God of War and other action games, but at least it’s badass.
The combat isn’t entirely mindless, though. One of Bayonetta’s most important gameplay mechanics is its dodging mechanics. When you narrowly avoid an attack, you’ll activate “Witch Time”, which turns everything purple and slows the enemy movements down to a crawl. It’s hardly an original concept, but it lends itself well to the combat. You can dish out tons of damage with little risk, which will prove vital in harder battles. This system rewards your ability to balance both offensive and defensive tactics and incorporate it into your playing style. It also lets you temporarily walk on walls and ceilings, which offer dizzying perspectives and add even more to the already chaotic battles. It’s just a shame that it wasn’t utilized as well during the non-fighting sequences; during the few times in which you use it, it’ll be for some uninspired puzzle or a way to advance through the horribly linear levels. It feels out of place and screws with the pacing of the stage. Despite its usefulness, slowing time and traversing walls outside of combat comes off as gimmicky and poorly executed.
“Bayonetta dismembers her heavenly foes like a hardened warrior, but with the style of a supermodel”Bayonetta’s biggest problem, however, is its loading times. They’re terrible. Practically everything aside from the combat requires some kind of wait. It takes ten or more seconds for a cut scene or a new level to start up. It quickly gets annoying, considering the sheer amount of story the game tries to shove down your throat. The game makes up for it by letting you practice your combos during the time, it’s still a long wait. Nabbing certain pickups, perusing the weapons and items screen, and saving all take an absurd amount of time to complete. Even the pause menu takes time to kick in. The gameplay also suffers from a few framerate and slowdown issues. Despite being an embodiment of eye candy, Bayonetta’s character model occasionally looks blurred. Some of the enemies need some texturing work done. They’re all huge and decked out with golden armor and metallic limbs, but they’re not quite perfect. There’s nothing game-breaking about these flaws; the fights are still awesome and fast-paced, but it lacks the kind of polish you’d expect from a PS3 game.
That’s a shame, considering how gorgeous everything else is. The stages have almost no exploration whatsoever, but they’re still stunning. One of the initial scenes has you fighting angels atop a chunk of a clock the size of asteroid, spinning around in space and leaping from one ledge to the next. When you first visit the town of Vigrid, you’ll probably take about a minute to take in the sparkling sunlight, the trees flowing with the breeze, the massive statues and the checkerboard tiled floors. What makes the levels especially great is how well they’re incorporated into the combat; you’ll have to slash through enemies while trying to outrun a collapsing bridge, escape from a falling plane, or even take down some massive beast as you’re ascending an elevator shaft. Motorcycle chases, surfing on missiles, getting sucked into a tornado, and suplexing dragons through entire buildings are just the beginning. The bosses get so big that you’ll have to climb onto them to attack. The fighting escalates from mere sword fights with angelic baddies to an epic brawl that extends into outer space. By the time you see the ridiculously awesome ending, you’ll be hard pressed to find another game that can top its insane action.
“You’ll be hard pressed to find another game that can top its insane action”You know what the funny thing is? Everyone is going to compare this to Devil May Cry. It’s understandable, given all of the similarities. But Bayonetta can stand on its own, regardless of what influenced it. The gameplay is some of the most impressive and slickest action on the console. With so many attacks, crazy summons, multiple weapons, and some amazing controls, it’s easy to come up with tons of intricate combos. The dodging mechanics offer an interesting way to approach a battle, even if it’s woefully underutilized in the regular level sections. Since the unlockable stuff requires a lot in-game cash, you’ll have plenty of incentive to keep replaying. The subpar graphics and loading times detract from the experience, though. The jumbled mess of the story doesn’t help, either. Despite such flaws, the game works well overall. You’ll never see the same kind of cheesy and unapologetic sexuality, dark humor, and mind-boggling action sequences that you will in this game. Bayonetta isn’t perfect, but it’s still damned good.