Bayonetta is a deceptive beast. On the surface, it may seem like a load of self-indulgent, ostentatious old cobblers looking to transfix you with its dazzlingly ludicrous cut-scenes, but dig a little deeper, and you’ll soon discover that developer Platinum Games has managed to pack in what many fail to achieve – style and substance. Masterminded by legendary designer Hideki Kamiya, Bayonetta is the next logical extension in the stylish hack n’ slash genre first introduced with Kamiya’s own Devil May Cry back in 2001, and arrives on the scene with lofty expectations. Yes, it’s utterly ridiculous and overblown in places, but it also boasts one of the most comprehensive combat systems we’ve ever witnessed, and has ultimately proved itself as one of the most compelling action romps in years.
The narrative establishes all the background you need to know right off the bat, whereby you find yourself in the shoes of the sultry, titular witch as she awakens from a 500 year nap only to discover she can’t quite remember much of anything about her convoluted past. Still, you won’t have time to ponder over much as the game quite literally throws you in to the thick of things from the get-go, launching players straight in to an action-packed flashback taking place on a giant clock face plummeting in to the depths as you fend off hordes of Angels. And yes, you did read that correctly – in Bayonetta, your mission is essentially to exterminate Angels. Lots of Angels, in fact, in some of the most brutal methods conceivable.
Bayonetta’s idiosyncrasies don’t stop there, either. Our feisty witch friend is equipped with not two, but four handguns, one pair of which are attached to her heels, which Bayonetta fires via a handstand. It’s these weapons that form the nucleus of the game’s combat system. Combined with standard melee attacks, you can rack up a seemingly infinite amount of combos in which to dispatch your enemies. Fortunately, this system is highly intuitive, and you’ll soon be stringing together combos with a few clicks of the attack buttons. Nonetheless, you’ll need some dexterous fingers in order to outwit and evade your opponent’s attacks, as they come thick and fast and often out number Bayonetta by the dozen. Speaking of evading, this is where one of Kamiya-san’s most intriguing ideas comes in to play – Witch Time. Simply dodge a foe’s attack at the last second, and your enemies will move at a snail’s pace, allowing you to unleash you most devastating attack to finish them off before they even discern what’s happened. This feature becomes instrumental in some of the more heated battles, and while it’s possible to neutralize your foes by mashing away at the buttons, you’ll soon discover that anything past the first few levels requires you to utilize some of the more intricate components of Bayonetta’s combat abilities if you are to come out on top.
However, some of the most viscerally satisfying manoeuvres come in the form of the ability to unleash Torture attacks; namely, brutal finishing moves that crush your foes to a bloody pulp. Providing you have enough magical oomph at your disposal (indicated by a meter under your health), you can reveal one of a plethora of bloody torture devices, such as a decapitating your foe in a guillotine, shoving them inside an iron maiden, or unleashing a mammoth beast that devourers its prey. Many of these gory visual treats require some form of QTE input, usually having you mashing away at the square button or rotating the analogue stick in a circular motion as fast as humanly possible.
Indeed, while it’s easy to criticise Bayonetta as Devil May Cry: Female Edition, this intriguing addition to the former's combat system allows Bayonetta to stretch its arms and craft its own, unique identity. Still, as compelling as it is, we found it to be at tad overwhelming at times, more so when it comes to dodging your foes attacks. In particular, it can be difficult to predict your foes next move when you’re being hounded by half a dozen Angelic hordes at once, and unless you’ve either got inhuman reflexes or have mastered your opponent’s moves, you’ll likely find yourself having a butcher’s at the continue screen on several occasions. Nonetheless, once you get acquainted with your foes ins and outs, you’ll soon be redecorating the environment in brain matter grey in effortless fashion. Boss battles take things to a whole new level (both literally and figuratively in some cases, as you'll frequently have to scale your environment to have a crack at damaging your opponent), featuring some truly awe-inspiring, mammoth creatures to tackle that require a fine degree of strategy to defeat - button mashing won't get you far here.
As you rack up the kills you’ll collect Halos, the game’s form of currency. Visiting your pal’s bar known as ‘The Gates of Hell,’ you can use these angelic items to stock up on supplies, new weapons and other assorted necessities. Not unlike Devil May Cry, you can also fork out for new skills, such as the ability to dodge in the air, and increasing your potency in battle with new attacks, and upgrade your health meter. Unfortunately, you're going to need to accumulate a ton of Halos in order to snap up the most tempting of upgrades, as they don't come cheap, so be prepared to end up skint rather quickly. Furthermore, the acquisition of Halos also ties in neatly with the game’s combat, as you are ranked on your performance during each segment of any given stage, giving you further incentive to bone up on your Angel slaying skills if you are to bag the highest award possible. Indeed, this affords ample replay value, much to our delight.
Visually, Bayonetta boasts an equally extravagant offering that acts as the perfect compliment to the game’s battles. Locations – which range from bustling cities, gigantic coliseums to barren, otherworldly wastelands – are vibrant and packed full of subtle details, while the legions of Angels thrown boast some of the most diverse and aesthetically pleasing designs we’ve clapped eyes on in years. Still, while some of the architecture is positively oozing with sophistication, some textures remain somewhat bland, and we noticed some ugly jagged edges dotted throughout. However, overall, the game is pure eye-candy, and these issues prove merely inconsequential in the long run. Meanwhile, Bayonetta’s sartorial preferences have her parading around in a skimpy outfit, which bizarrely all but vanishes when you execute certain attack. Elsewhere, audio remains a competent affair, featuring – quite bizarrely – a jaunty remix of ‘Fly Me To the Moon’ during battles. We were suitably impressed with Bayonetta’s sarcastic, British twang, while the rest of the cast (despite being nothing more than walking stereotypes of varying archetypes) turn in decent performances, and are particularly noteworthy for their penchant of blurting out all manner of profanities every other sentence. Probably the biggest offense that Bayonetta provides on the technical side of things is the copious load times. Sure, you can try out your combos during these sequences to pass the time, but after a while you just wish the game would hurry things up already.
Bayonetta has it all. It’s stylish, compelling, and – besides some minor visual discrepancies - bloody jaw dropping in the looks department (and no, we’re not just talking about the eponymous heroine, either, although she certainly is easy on the eyes). Despite some incomprehensibly overwhelming battles, you’ll quickly become addicted to Bayonetta’s witty dialogue, additive gameplay and eye-popping production values. After clapping eyes on this latest contender in the stylish action genre, Devil May Cry indeed. Not to be missed.
-The Final Word-
Despite some incomprehensibly overwhelming battles, you will quickly become addicted to Bayonetta's witty dialogue, additive gameplay and eye-popping production values.