Review by Makototensai
Tour de force
By James Q. Clark
What does the word conjure in your mind?
For non-philosophy majors, perhaps the image of a fixed up old Ford Mustang or Journey's Don't Stop Believing. In the realm of television we may imagine the early to middle seasons of The Simpsons, or The Honeymooners. For film, of course Jurassic Park and The Godfather.
What is it that qualifies something as a 'classic'? Is it timelessness? Sheer artistic merit? It could perhaps be the whim of the observer. For me, what separates the classics from everything else is the credit such works give to their medium. Films like Star Wars remind you why it's worth it to get off your butt and drop $20 on tickets and nachos just to see a movie in a theater.
And so we come to Bayonetta. Bayonetta does for action gamers what Scorsese and Tarantino do for film buffs. It's a gamer's game a fun bit of software that reminds you why you like videogames in the first place. It has no pretensions of being an interactive film like a lot of big name games these days, nor is it dumbed down for the sake of casual players. It's appeal is almost universal even outside of its genre. Think Mario Galaxy but a smidge less family friendly. Bayonetta is a perfect storm of addictive and stylish fun for people that like to hack, slash, shoot, crush, and maim scores of monsters in high def at 60 FPS.
Bayonetta is a classic.
First and foremost, the game plays fantastically. As a spiritual successor to Devil May Cry, the game shares many of its virtues. The action is swift, non-stop, and delightfully creative. Moreso than Dante and Nero combined, Bayonetta has quite the grab bag of tricks and techniques to murderize her foes.
You've got handguns, shotties, missiles, lasers, katana, whips, claws, numbchucks, and even friggin' ice skates just for yucks. Combine any two on your feet and hands then mix and match attacks and combos for great justice. It's beautiful to watch even if you button mash, yet the lulz don't stop there.
Bayonetta can also unleash all sorts of twisted magic with the help of accessories and technique scrolls. She can transform into a panther, raven, or flock of bats, slow down time by dodging attacks at the last second, summon demons, and even create force fields and dopplegangers. Even more divine, Bayonetta can unleash hilariously gruesome torture attacks if her magic gauge is high enough. We're talking iron maidens, guillotines, chainsaws whatever your kink, our lady has it covered.
Oh, and Bayonetta's costume is actually made of her hair, which comes off and leaves her naked during various attacks allowing her to summon giant limbs and monsters to eviscerate her enemies. I doubt any elaboration could add to the awesomeness of that last sentence, so I'll just move on.
What really saturates Bayonetta's gameplay with win beyond the amazing variety and zany fun of it all, is the rewarding and flexible difficulty. Every encounter is scored based on combos, time, and damage. Most critically, the game detracts points for using items and dying, which forces you to get good or go home. Well I mean, you probably already are home if you're playing the game, but you're still going to want to get good as the only way to unlock various rewards is by earning platinum trophies and completing the higher difficulty levels. And trust me, the rewards are worth it. Secret characters, sexy outfits, lightsabers friggin gunchucks (YES, that's what you think it is) and many other fabulous prizes await those capable of meeting some extraordinarily tough challenges.
As much as I feared that this might be a gimmicky style over substance game, Bayonetta proves every step of the way to be thoroughly gameplay-focused. The depth of customization, upgrading, scoring, and playstyles add copious amounts of replay value. With twenty varied levels including everything from motorcycle chases, bullet-hell shooters, and even a dance off for no apparent reason, Bayonetta has something for everyone.
Bayonetta is a sexy game.
But you already knew that, didn't you?
What you don't know is precisely how sexy. Well, first and foremost, the graphics and design are top notch. Yes, PS3 players will notice frame rate issues. All the drama with the PS3 version has been thoroughly documented at sites like Kotaku. Yet even on PS3 you'll be enchanted by the colorful graphics and kaleidoscopic battles. Most especially the boss encounters are real show stoppers, mixing cinematics, quick time events, and city-sized behemoths. Call it a smorgasbord for the eyes.
While some will take issue with the game's unambiguous sexploitation, I dug it. Bayonetta's ass-wiggling shenanigans are fundamental to the game's unserious tone. It certainly doesn't make the game less fun to play. Aside from a few holy-crap-can-they-actually-show-that-in-a-videogame- NSFW moments (1. Build up your magic gauge 2. Torture attack the 'Joy' angels 3. ?????? 4. Profit!) the sex never goes from tongue-in-cheek to tongue-in-another-orifice. Call it tastefully tasteless.
Also, drop any expectations about the writing. It is sublime how ridiculous the story is. While the game succeeds at being extremely funny at moments, the narrative itself is an inchoate mass, comprised of amnesia / revenge boilerplate #3984 and a bunch of religious stuff. Bayonetta's supporting cast is mostly forgetable, save her rival, the witch Jeanne.
Bayonetta herself is hands down the campiest video game character of all time, and that's saying something in a medium that has spawned the likes of Captain Falcon and Duke Nukum. She's cheesier than a fair in Wisconsin. She's cheesier than that joke even, yet it all works because of how well she owns it.
I'm a critic so I suppose I ought to criticize. Bayonetta, for all her virtues, falls into many of the same pitfalls that Devil May Cry 4 did. Namely, there is a generous amount of boss and stage recycling to artificially lengthen an already short game. Considering how awesome it is the first time you go toe-to-toe with these titans, it doesn't really hurt game's fun factor. Nevertheless it feels cheap to see them reappear multiple times as dumbed-down minibosses instead of fighting new baddies.
Did I mention that it's a short game? If you're first run through takes more than five hours, I can only assume it's because you refuse to make Bayonetta run anywhere thanks her meticulously animated derriere. It feels a lot like an arcade game, which is a double-edged sword. The action is over-the-top and endlessly enjoyable, yet unfortunately, it just doesn't last as long as you'd want. Hell I speed ran through two whole difficulties in one sitting.
I'm sure Bayonetta herself could come up with a bawdy pun about length not being everything. It is indeed a compliment to chefs and game developers alike when the worst thing you can say about their offerings is that there just isn't enough of it. On top of the length issue, I would add that I doubt anyone would have suffered from a more coherent story. Bayonetta's plot makes Ninja Gaiden look like Dostoevsky, with numerous significant plot points left unresolved for no obvious reason.
A better story, longer and more varied campaign, and a few additional game modes for good measure could have made this a damn near perfect game. But hey, it isn't my fault my standards are higher than Famitsu's.
Bayonetta is practically a must-own. It's a must-experience. What can I say? The gal is slathered in delicious franchise potential sauce. She is the definitive sexy librarian badass pole dancing British angel slaying witch of her generation. She's a sex goddess every college male's fantasy were she a tad shorter. She is a feminist icon in her own deliciously ironic way. Gunning down the glass ceiling of the male dominated action-platformer genre, Bayonetta blows by the likes of Dante, Ryu Hayabusa, and Kratos thanks to her naked audacity (see what I did there?).
My hats off to Hideki Kamiya for his fantastic sense of spectacle and humor. Little in this console generation can compete with the over-the-top battles and amazing presentation of his latest gem.
Bayonetta is a classic.
(FYI, I'm a professional video game columnist for Metropolis Magazine in Tokyo. I also do import reviews at RPGFan.com. Not yet released JRPG reviews can be found there. Look for my review of Final Fantasy XIII there in December of 2009.)
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Bayonetta (JP, 10/29/09)
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