Here’s a simple formula that must have been used throughout the process of creating Bayonetta.
Devil May Cry + Sexy, Kickass Female Lead + Incredible Refinement = Bayonetta
Not only does that equation show exactly what fans can expect in Bayonetta, and whether it is the style of game they’ll enjoy, but also works as sincere praise to anyone who knows the compared series. Bayonetta is a full-throttle action game, from Platinum Games and director Hideki Kamiya (who actually created Devil May Cry, as well as Viewtiful Joe, for Capcom), that focuses on a mixture of gunplay, swordplay and melee action, giving Sega one of the best titles in its catalog in years.
Players take control of Bayonetta, an Umrbra Witch who has only pieces of her memory intact as she finds herself in the middle of a battle between good and evil, light and dark, as these forces appear in a place they were never meant to be seen. Bayonetta kicks ass with two guns strapped to her feet and another two in her hands. These guns can be used to fire from a distance, but they’re also unleashed in brutal melee combos up close (so most of the time). The two up top can later be replaced by different guns, a sword, whip and even huge claws, as well as weapons taken from downed enemies, offering different moves, speeds and power.
The combination of gun and melee battle keeps it planted firmly in the realm of Devil May Cry, as does the scoring system that features medals for each “Verse” of a level, as well as overall level trophies awarded based on speed, combos and lack of damage taken, as well as deductions for deaths and items used. Gamers interested in a single playthrough of the story can largely ignore these rankings, but for the hardcore action purists, these are the elements that keep gamers working for better rankings long after the story is done.
Bayonetta might be a little more accessible to the average gamer than the Devil May Cry titles. The game starts players with the options of Very Easy, Easy or Normal difficulty. Normal can definitely be a challenge at times, but its format of power-ups and checkpoints should leave it playable to many gamers. It’s the second playthrough on the unlockable Hard difficulty when hardcore fans will truly be put to the test. Bayonetta is kind enough to let players carry over all upgrades, collectibles, currency and everything else earned from the first playthrough. But it starts packing on, from the very start, the enemies that only show up later in the Normal playthrough. It definitely is hard.
What separates Bayonetta from Devil May Cry, if only slightly, is its main character. Bayonetta’s costume is actually comprised of her hair. It starts to come detached as she gets into deep combos, but gamers will be too busy to ogle and it never reveals her most private of areas. Still, it adds to the sexy badass appeal of the witch. More importantly, for climactic sequences, the hair turns into gigantic monsters to help dispose of the bosses.
The action is unrelenting, and Platinum Games throws in enough surprises and shake-ups to the formula to keep it interesting. The argument that players can get through much of the game with a mastering of the evade button – which timed right sends things into Witch Time, when everything but Bayonetta slows, allowing her to kick some extra ass – holds some sway. Despite an incredibly well-flowing and refined combat system that rivals anything on the market, many of the fights can be completed with a good deal of button mashing. But that actually helps make the game accessible to more, while the hardcore players looking for the platinum rankings won’t be able to rely on such tactics. That’s where the game requires a little more mastery of the control scheme. So it strikes a nice balance.
Where it’s harder to excuse the game is the story and its presentation. It is unapologetically old-school Japanese in its style, which is to say a bit crazy. The overall battle between good and evil, as well as Bayonetta piecing together the past, are simply there, and mostly inconsequential. By the time it comes down to incredibly long exposition scene near the end, explaining absolutely everything, it’s likely most gamers will want to skip it and play rather than finding themselves invested in the story. That’s not to mention the sporadic way in which it is presented.
There are some truly funny moments in the game – many of the references made by a certain store owner down in hell – but the overall presentation of Bayonetta’s story seems like something where everyone on the team pitched interesting ideas, and no one had the heart to say “No” or realize that they wouldn’t all mesh together. Instead, everything and the kitchen sink are tossed in. For example, cutscenes sometimes start in fully animated sequences, then turn to still shots over which the dialogue and sounds still carry out as normal, and then those bits appear on pieces of film strips on a smaller portion of the screen. There seems to be little rhyme or reason to the madness. Sometimes over-the-top can be done well in a campy manner, sometimes it’s just over-the-top and ridiculous. Bayonetta’s presentation often falls under the latter category.
But again, many won’t really give a damn about the story by the end. And that’s not an excuse for its quality, but gamers who pick up Bayonetta will do so for the action, and in that area it rarely falters. It feels like something we’ve experience about four times already, but in the hands of Platinum Games, it is worked to near perfection, for a relentless action experience that’s one of the best in the genre.
Bill Jones is the editor-in-chief of padsandpanels.com, a site dedicated to the coverage of games and comics.