Bayonetta is a very generous game. Past the 14 hour run time, through the epilogue, final credits and beyond, it never stops giving, providing plenty of surprises and spectacular moments that are sure to leave you picking your jaw up off the floor time and time again. Emerging from the mind of Hideki Kamiya and PlatinumGames, the comparisons to Devil May Cry are plentiful. But Bayonetta’s sultry female lead, ridiculous action, flawless combat and sheer over-the-top nature make it a cut above the rest.
Bayonetta is a mesmerising character. She’s impossibly sexy, moving her body in indistinguishable ways, clad in skin-tight spandex, massive stiletto heels with an array of stripper moves and seductive looks and winks towards the camera. It could easily be conceived as being misogynistic, but the surprising character development and the game’s daft sense of humour stop this from ever coming to fruition. In truth, she’s supremely confident, hunting down Heaven’s angels to dispose of in a variety of creative and gruesome ways in a convoluted mess of a narrative. Set around the forces of light and dark, witches, amnesia and almighty beings, it’s not the easiest story to follow or even care about. But Bayonetta’s development, interactions and relationships with other characters are enough to satisfy any story urges you may have.
While death doesn’t carry a huge punishment due to the generosity of the checkpoints, it will put a damper on your end of level score. Perform well enough by avoiding damage, recovery items and death as well as putting up a good time and you’ll be rewarded handsomely with a variety of medals. With leaderboard support the room for competition is endless, adding to the games replayability and pleasing those with completionist urges.
Because, in reality, none of it really matters. Bayonetta is an action game – one of the most downright insane kinds. Armed with guns in her hands and on her feet, and a multitude of different kicks, punches and weapons, Bayonetta is big on variety. There’s a massive amount of combos here and the controls are highly responsive, keeping up with the games frenetic pace and your need to constantly move, evade and attack. Every part of combat has a satisfying feel to it, especially when you build up a large enough repertoire of obnoxious techniques and weapons to combine together to obliterate your foes. Ranging from shotguns to replace your pistols, a deadly Katana sword, giant metal claws and even the weapons dropped by enemies, there’s an opportunity to find the right combination of brutal contraptions and work with it. In fact, there are so many you won’t be able to afford them all on your first playthrough, so there’s a big incentive to play through on multiple difficulties just to unlock everything.
But despite the more familiar weaponry and combat techniques, Bayonetta is also home to a fair amount of absurd and generally insane moves, including the torture attacks. String together enough moves without taking damage and you’ll be able to unleash one of these. Whichever one you get is random but they all do the same amount of damage and supply a fair amount of open jaws in your direction. Whether it’s an iron maiden, a spike-infested giant wheel or even a falling tombstone, they’re all fantastically violent and ridiculously enjoyable. Although that’s not the only outlandish special move Bayonetta has at her disposal. You see, her skin-tight outfit isn’t exactly spandex, despite its look; it’s actually made of the hair upon her head - the most destructive weapon of them all. Utterly bonkers? Yep. Marvellous? Very much so. Drain a bosses’ health and Bayonetta’s clothes are ripped from her body – still covering up the naughty bits, of course – to take the form of devastating hair monsters. There’s no rhyme or reason to it but you’ll learn to accept it because of how fantastic it is.
And you’ll need all of these moves when confronting Bayonetta’s bigger foes. Boss fights are truly spectacular, with some brilliant enemy designs comprised of angelic Renaissance marble mixed with grotesque, meaty creatures that are just as outlandish as the rest of the game. They’re consistently inventive, some being so huge that they must be scaled to be defeated, resulting in some of the most awe inspiring moments in the whole game. You could just as easily be fighting a two-headed dragon, in a church, falling through the Earth’s atmosphere as fighting someone on a cargo plane crash landing in the middle of the ocean. And believe me when I say they’re some of the tamest options.
The Eggman cometh
The team at PlatinumGames are certainly fond of their roots, and Japanese gaming culture in general. Bayonetta is a showcase for some obscure video game references from both Capcom and Sega’s extensive back catalogues, with fond nods to the likes of Sonic the Hedgehog, God Hand, Viewtiful Joe, Okami, MadWorld, Resident Evil 4, Devil May Cry, God of War ad nauseum. You’ll be hard pressed to spot them all. Though perhaps the most memorable come from the references to Space Harrier and Hang-On, with complete gameplay chapters acting as remakes of those two classic arcade titles.
However, despite its downright craziness and penchant for the ludicrous, Bayonetta isn’t a particularly difficult game on the normal setting. The combat relies more on quick reflexes and timing rather than combo memorisation, so you can easily button mash your way through the game providing you’re at least adept at evading attack yourself. Doing so with the correct timing sends Bayonetta into Witch Time aka Bullet Time. Everything slows for a few moments, allowing you to get in a few combos as your defenceless enemies slow to an inept crawl. It’s an almost vital part to succeeding and even plays into a few rudimentary puzzles. They’re not particularly exciting but navigating across frozen water fountains and up the sides of buildings is a lot of fun considering the excellent level design and aesthetics. You can probably see a theme here but the setting of Bayonetta makes little sense, mixing medieval-esque European cities with fantastical dreamscapes, modern highways and towering skyscrapers. It might not be coherent, and it’s all fairly linear, but each environment has a certain charm and appeal unrivalled in the genre.
And the visuals go a long way to maintaining this high quality. Everything looks fantastic, from the extravagant character designs to the spectacular landscape. Though the most credit must be given to the solid framerate for keeping up with the games fast paced combat; especially considering the amount of weird and wonderful attacks, enemies and environments all liable to litter the screen at any one time. It may occasionally stutter and there is some screen tearing, but these are minimal complaints in a game full of sublime presentation. Even the cacophony of sound and jazzed up music – including a J-Pop rendition of “Fly Me To The Moon” - fits in with Bayonetta’s eccentric style. If there are any weak points it’s the disappointing use of “still” frames during some of the cutscenes, almost as though PlatinumGames didn’t have enough time to animate everything.
Bayonetta is a spectacular game. The combat is truly exceptional, taking the baton from games like Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden and blowing them out of the water. The myriad combos, special moves and weapons lend to a slew of variety even on your second and third playthrough. The story might not be its strongest point but the references to titles from Capcom and Sega’s vast back catalogues is a nice touch, and Bayonetta is one of the best female leads of any year, despite the games hyper sexualised style. It’s phenomenal, breathtaking and needs to be experienced. This is one Witch you’ll want to catch.
Nine out of ten