Bayonetta PS3 Review
Saying that Bayonetta is a bit far-fetched and over the top is a little bit like saying YMCA is a little bit camp. Bayonetta is as far 'out there' as any game developer would dare to take their game. There's a very fine line between 'OTT' and 'just plain stupid' and this game teeter totters on that line to the point where you find yourself questioning your taste in games. I'm sure most of you reading this have played some crazy games throughout your gaming life but this little gem really pushes it to the extreme. Notice how I said 'this little gem' in that last sentence. That's because no matter how silly or idiotic Bayonetta portrays itself to be you just can't help enjoy and savour every last minute of it. It is quite literally a diamond in the rough.
From the offset you will instantly recognise similarities between Bayonetta and Devil May Cry. The graphics are similar, the environment feels familiar, the combat is better but recognisable and even the layout of each chapter and how it flows may give you a case of déjà vu. That's because both games are taken straight from the crazy mind of the same man. Don't be fooled into thinking that Bayonetta was just a side project that the Japanese developer worked on in between DMC games. No, Bayonetta is not just similar to DMC but it actually manages to surpass DMC on many levels. It takes what DMC did wrong and fixes it and then it takes what DMC did right and improves on it even further.
Anyway, I digress. Let's move on with the review.
Where to begin when it comes to explaining the story is a difficult task all by itself. The Bayonetta story most definitely isn't the easiest story to follow. It all gets a bit confusing pretty early into the game and before you know it you find yourself scratching your head trying to piece it all together. The basic jist of the story (from what I could gather) is that 2 witch clans, the Umbra Witches and the Lumen Sage, were allies hundreds of years ago until a war broke out between the 2 clans regarding a missing jewel that oversees the Dark and the Light. Until that jewel is returned the earth is in a constant state of being stuck between the realms of heaven and hell. The Umbra and the Sage witches can roam freely between the 3 dimensions (heaven, earth and hell)… yeah I think I've just confused myself trying to explain it.
Basically, earth is in trouble and Bayonetta is the one that tries to restore it back to its original state.
So about Bayonetta (the main character). Usually when someone hears the word 'witch' they instantly think of brooms, cauldrons, black cats, ugly and old women with pointy hats and pointy noses. Well forget all that. Bayonetta is a witch like nothing you've ever seen. She is quite possible the most beautiful and sexiest main character this reviewer has ever had the pleasure of controlling. Her body screams perfection in every way. Every curve and every line of her voluptuous body is so refined and so perfect she makes Lara Croft look like just the girl next door. Her legs are so long they seem to reach her neck and her face is so feminine she could make a blind man sit up and take notice. She speaks in a typical English accent not unlike Lara and it only compliments her shape and manner even more. Not only does she talk the talk but she walks the walk too. The developers definitely didn't see the need to hide her sexiness and it clearly shows in her behaviour. The game is littered with sexual innuendos and Bayonetta isn't shy to flaunt what she's got for the camera. Most cutscenes start with her in a provocative pose and most of her moves have some sexual prowess intertwined within the animation. The guns attached to her ankles are a good excuse to have her spread her legs in every direction like a nimble contortionist. Then there's her special hair. What's so special about her hair? Her outfit (a black skin-tight cat suit) is actually her hair wrapped around her body. Technically this witch is naked but her hair covers her body. Those clever Japanese developers came up with a genius way to have Bayonetta regularly get naked without it coming across as forced nudity. Her hair (according to the story) acts as a conduit to hell from which she can summon massive monsters. So every time Bayonetta does her most powerful moves on a Boss her hair whizzes from her naked body and takes the form of a huge hellish beast. Like I said earlier, teeter tottering on stupidity.
You can compare the gameplay of Bayonetta with that of DMC, you can but you shouldn't. Yes it is similar but the combat in Bayonetta is far more accessible and a lot more fluid. Each move flows seamlessly into the next and because Bayonetta can have different weapons on her hands and her feet there is a greater variation with the combos that you can pull off. She also has a few tricks up her tight sleeves which she uses during combat to tip the balance in her favour. Witch Time is an important move and you'll be using it a lot. Whenever Bayonetta is attacked she can dodge by pressing R2. If you dodge an attack at the last second the game will go into slow motion allowing Bayonetta to pummel away at the enemy while he's still stuck in suspended animation. Every fight is fast paced and sometimes even confusing so activating Witch Time can give you a few precious seconds to compose yourself and think about your next course of action. Another very useful move are the Torture Attacks. If your magic gauge is full you can press Triangle and O to execute a torture attack. These are finishing moves that kills an enemy instantly if you manage to cause a lot of damage during the initiated mini-game that has you tapping a button as fast as you can. The finishers vary depending on the enemy and they are quite fun to witness. They range from just kicking an enemy into an Iron Maiden, decapitating an enemy with a guillotine, or even jumping on top of the enemy and using a giant chainsaw to slice the enemy in half. Another move Bayonetta uses are Weave attacks. Bayonetta uses her hair to extend from her body and take various shapes such as a giant boot or fist to attack enemies. These are more powerful than regular attack but are slowly to execute. Which brings us to the afore mentioned Climax attack. At the end of every boss battle you will be prompted to press Triangle and O to execute a Climax attack. Bayonetta uses her hair to summon massive beasts (made of her hair) from the underworld to finish off the boss with style.
Speaking of the bosses, they are pretty fantastic to say the least. Every boss you encounter is huge and takes quite a lot of beating to take them down. The bosses are extremely well designed and fit really well into the gothic universe. The main bosses that you encounter every 4 chapters are so big that an entire chapter is used just to beat the boss. With multiple stages of the boss' demise fighting a boss is a real rollercoaster ride.
Another aspect of the gameplay are the levels themselves. The environments are typical gothic and are not unlike anything you'll see in DMC. The levels can best be described as a gothic fantasy world as each locale is filled with magical doors and bridges made of light. Occasionally you find yourself in Earth realm which might have you fighting in a regular residential district or there's even a chapter that has you riding a motorbike on a motorway (like in The Matrix) but the majority of the levels are gothic fantasy-like environments. My main beef with the levels are that they are very short and most of them feel very isolated and could do with a bit more organic presence. Even the earth realm levels are defunct of any human life forms. You might spot 2 or 3 humans walking around but for a level that takes place in a subway for example you would expect it to a bit more lively.
What the levels lack in life forms they more than make up for it in terms of items, collectibles, treasure chests and secrets. Scattered throughout each level are a multitude of collectibles for you to find. With Bayonetta being a witch she can use certain items to concoct special items such as health, magic etc. During cutscenes you will often see Bayonetta sucking on a lollipop. Lollipops are basically her health packs and she can create more by mixing ingredients you find throughout the levels. She can also find Broken Witch Hearts and Broken Moon Pearls which will increase her vitality and magic gauge respectively.
Then there's the Alfheim Portals. These secret portals transport you to a hidden challenge. Challenges such as Beat X amount of enemies with limited kicks and punches or Beat all enemies with Witch Time disabled, are just a couple of the many different challenges you'll be faced with. Those of you that played the DMC games will instantly recognise them. With 21 Alheim Portals to discover and complete and each portal being genuinely easy to miss on your journeys because most of them require you to reach a certain point in the level and then backtrack all the way back to the start of the level, you'll be replaying chapters just to discover them. Beating each Alfheim Portal rewards you with a Broken Witch Heart or a Broken Moon Pearl so it's worth beating these portals to increase your vitality.
Graphics & Audio
To be completely honest the graphics are nothing special. They are average at best although that might have something to do with the setting. Due to the gothic and dark levels the graphics never get a chance to shine. Everything is dark and grainy and because the fights are so fast paced you never get to fully appreciate any of the enemies because they are constantly moving and jumping and of course attacking. The cutscenes are, for the most part, better. It's hard not to stop and stare at Bayonetta during the cutscenes due to her natural beauty. However, the cutscenes come in 2 different styles. The majority of the story is told using static film strips instead of regular cutscenes. It's quite obvious that the developers either didn't have the budget, timeframe or the man power to create proper cutscenes for the entire game and instead settled on static images with voice overs. It's a major shame but it just makes you appreciate the 'proper' cutscenes even more.
The audio however is fantastic. The music matches the mood and the sound effects fits perfectly into the on-screen antics. The soundtrack is a beautiful rendition of Fly Me To The Moon (see video below) and during boss fights and even regular fights an orchestral piece kicks in with some rock thrown in for good measure.
The game itself isn't too long. With 17 chapters and each one lasting roughly 15-20 minutes a single playthrough might take you roughly 7-8 hours. However there is plenty of incentive to start a second and even a third playthrough. The highest difficulty available to you when you first put the disc into your PS3 is Normal. Hard is locked out until you beat the game on Normal and then Climax (Very Hard) becomes available when you beat Hard. However everything you unlock and collect in one playthrough will carry over to your subsequent playthroughs so your Normal playthrough will be your hardest playthrough because when you do get around to starting Hard you will have a lot of items, health, skills and weapons available to you which makes it a lot easier. And then when you get around to doing your Climax playthrough you'll breeze through it without breaking a sweat. Another incentive for playing multiple playthroughs are the new weapons and costumes (see below) you can unlock. Each weapon is more powerful than the last and the more weapons you get the easier the game becomes. Aside from weapons there are also accessories which you can find and equip. Accessories add little perks to Bayonetta to make life a bit easier. Perks such as regenerating magic, automatic Witch Time if hit, and even an accessory that can conjure up little devils to help you in battle can be unlocked over time.
Yes unfortunately the bad stuff in Bayonetta requires its own paragraph because as good as the game is it's far from perfect. Probably the biggest problem the game has are its loading times. I don't think I've ever played a game that loads as much as Bayonetta. Every time you pick up an item the game needs to load. Every time you press start just to go to the pause menu the game loads. Every time you press select to see the inventory the game pauses to load the screen. The game even freezes for a second to load halfway into a cutscene. Want to skip a cutscene? Prepare for some more loading. Sometimes you'd be quicker off to just sit through a cutscene rather than try to skip it because of the excessive loading. Then there's the loading screens in between chapters. The game actually has to load on 2 separate occasions to get from 1 chapter to the following chapter. Once you beat a chapter the game has to load the Angel Attack mini game (more on that in a moment) and then after the mini game it has to load the next chapter. On the plus side the loading screen does let you practice all of Bayonetta' moves while you wait but it's just a small condolence to an otherwise unacceptable annoyance. Platinum Games did however release a patch to improve the loading times but it's still noticeable.
Another very annoying element of Bayonetta is the Angel Attack mini game in between chapters. This mini game is one of the worst mini games ever to be forced upon us. Basically the idea is to shoot enemies that are moving randomly in the distance. It's a bit like Duck Hunt back on the NES accept you are shooting Angels rather than ducks. The crosshairs feel unresponsive and sluggish and it's just very badly implemented. It also feels very out of place in an otherwise all out action game. This wouldn't be so bad if it's optional but the fact that you are forced to play it after every chapter just doesn't sit well with me.
Bayonetta is a brilliant game in its own right. It won't win any awards but it could definitely teach Devil May Cry a thing or 2. Is it better than DMC I hear you ask. Yes it is. It feels more polished and organised. It's also genuinely more fun to play than DMC. The bosses are over the top and the story will leave you guessing but that's what we've come to expect from a game about Angels and Heaven and Hell. The excessive loading is a major problem but if you look past the problems there's a really good game to be found here. Bayonetta herself is the perfect protagonist and it's a joy to play as her throughout the game.
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