Bayonetta has rode at the front of a steady wave of hype for months; getting a prestigious 40/40 (at least for the Xbox 360 version) from Famitsu, it was intriguing to see if the game itself would really live up to the buzz perpetuated by its oversexed and over-the-top advertising budget. There's no denying that Bayonetta is a visual feast for any heterosexuals who have a fetish for Amazonian women with mismatched bodily proportions, but I was a little incredulous as to whether or not there would be any substance in the game itself for those of us who aren't playing it just to see Bayonetta take off her hair suit.
Much to my surprise, Platinum Games (responsible for Viewtiful Joe, with part of their team also involved with Devil May Cry) managed to pull off a game that was as entertaining as it was gratuitously silly, engaging as it was ridiculously campy, and ultimately a lot of fun.
To start out with, you play the titular Bayonetta, a shape-shifting, angel-killing witch who awoke from the bottom of a lake twenty years previous without any memory of who she was or where she came from. Over the course of the story it's implied that she was once an Umbra Witch, one part of two factions tasked with watching over history. The other group, the Lumen Sages, served light, while obviously the Umbra Witches served the darker counterpart. In this the two groups kept a balance, serving mankind with powers and abilities far beyond anything capable of mortals. Eventually that balance was threatened when a Lumen Sage and an Umbra Witch came together and had a child, violating the sacred tenant that both factions are never to have contact with one another. The Witch was imprisoned while the Sage was exiled, but the balance of power was toppled, setting forth a series of witch hunts that ended with the extermination of both groups five hundred years previous to the present day of the story.
Bayonetta's plot is probably the weakest aspect of the entire game. While I suspect most people aren't picking it up because they care about its engrossing story, I still think there was enough material for an interesting plot that could have supplemented the pure-action format of the title. As Bayonetta is a character with amnesia, relevant plot backstory is revealed over time, but even by the end when the whole thing is supposed to click into place I still felt like I didn't have the best grasp on what exactly was going on. The voice acting is a bit blase as well, with most of the dialog ridiculous and poorly acted.
However, it's a fun story. The plot itself is completely over-the-top and impractical, but that's where I think the amusement lies. As a servant of some undisclosed darkness, Bayonetta is able to summon magical attacks and demons using, of all things, her hair as a conduit. This magical hair is also her clothing, and when she conjures a particularly high-level attack it predictably slithers off, leaving her unclothed save for strategically-placed swirls of power-infused hair hiding the naughty bits. Her fighting style is completely insane; on top of the aforementioned magic hair she wields four firearms, two in either hand and another pair attached to the heels of her stilettos. Bayonetta could easily be some possessed drag queen on a mission from hell, a warped version of Patrick Swayze's character from To Wong Foo. Every attack is delivered with a flourish of color, snide insults and laughter, and at the completion of every fight Bayonetta delivers a kiss to the click-click-click of cameras as if she was a celebrity putting on a show. The fourth wall is broken a lot, and Bayonetta is certainly a character who hams her role up.
Combat is pretty straight forward, even without using the game's "one-handed mode" that dumbs down the majority of special combination moves that execute Bayonetta's higher-level abilities. As you fight enemies you fill up a gauge that allows you to do these "hair moves" that range from summoning a demonic hair fist to killing enemies with iron maidens or guillotines, among others. The "torture moves" are specific to the creature you're fighting, and when you execute them against bosses (referred to as the "climax") it's really a sight to behold. The game makes liberal use of quick time events, which I personally loathe, but I know they're a standard in action titles and it's something you eventually get used to.
Even when you're fighting the incarnations of heaven sent to confront you, there is an extreme level of humor and sarcasm, which is rather subversive towards the somewhat dark content of the game itself.
Enemies are a variety of angelic beings taken from classical Biblical mythology, and many of the creatures, environments and setting are culled from Dante's Inferno (the poem, not the EA game). The game itself is gorgeous graphically and the boss fights, in particular, are a lot of fun even if the mechanics get slightly repetitive by the end of the game. Each chapter is divided into "verses," which are given grades ranging from "stone" to "pure platinum." Your performance is rated on the chapter as a whole, determined by how much damage you took, the number of combos or special moves you executed, and whether or not you used items determining your score. Although the first run-through lasted me only about ten hours total, there is definitely a lot of material for the completionists out there– there's a variety of weapons to collect and moves to unlock, as well as a codex or encyclopedia of notes that explain more of the game's background. Some of these notes are easily picked up as you walk around, while others are hard to find and require snooping to obtain. (However, much like the game's plot, these notes aren't Pulitzer Prize writing either; I was pretty amused reading the one that tried to explain why the witches use their hair to summon demons, for example). Players who are driven to get every achievement and a #1 award on every level will have a lot of stuff to occupy them.
One thing to note, however: if you have a choice, get the Xbox 360 version. Platinum Games handled this version directly while Sega was responsible for the PS3 port. By all accounts the PS3 version is sub-par, and having played it myself I can understand why. The cut-scenes were plagued with flickering framerate issues and seemed to be filmed behind a sepia filter, although the levels themselves were usually fine, minus an irksome screen-tearing issue.
Overall, however, Bayonetta is a lot of fun. While it's story is a bit cliched and pulled off to a lackluster degree, and the female-based sexual expression is more than a little gratuitous, it's also so ridiculously campy and hilarious that it will be hard to avoid being entertained. I haven't laughed this hard– in a good way– while playing a game for quite a while.
Score: 4 out of 5