Dealspwn Rating: 8/10
Platforms: PS3/Xbox 360
What the hell are Danny DeVito, Samuel L. Jackson and an anorexic, catsuit-clad Sarah Palin doing mincing around a graveyard? Why are there angels that look like Umbrella Corp. test subjects? Why is there a jazzy, lounge lizard J-pop version of 'Fly Me To The Moon' playing over the prologue's insanely bloody combat? And why the hell is Sarah Palin now naked? All of these questions and more spring up during your first introduction to SEGA's Bayonetta, a rip-snorter of an arcade-style action game from the folks that brought us the Devil May Cry series. Bayonetta is a game that has made me laugh, cry, hurl things at my screen, gasp in awe and shake my head with incredulity. In short, it's pretty much done everything I could ask for from a game. Sort of.
Let's start with Bayonetta herself. Pencil thin, but with certain extravagantly-sized assets that look like they'd overbalance a rugby prop, Bayonetta looks like every thirteen year old boy's kinky librarian fantasy figure, with shotguns strapped to her ankles, dazzling witch powers at her disposal and magic hair that cascades down across her abnormally proportioned body to form a figure-hugging one-piece. She walks with impeccable posture, like the Platonic form of every noirish femme fatale there's ever been, speaks with a gloriously aloof upper-class English accent, sprouts butterfly wings and a shower of the flying beauties whenever she double-jumps, and can transform her hair into a slavering beast that devours her enemies messily whilst she strikes a semi-nude pose. And pouts.
It's difficult to take Bayonetta seriously, so ridiculously is she presented to us, along with the fact that the developers thought it might be fun to stick in a Taunt button that basically involves some sultry toff-voiced teasing and pointing the aforementioned assets at one's adversaries. The plot doesn't really help this sense of the ridiculous, and comes via some grossly over-extended cut-scenes. Basically, Bayonetta is an Umbran (dark) witch with some memory issues, who has recently awakened from a 500 year long sleep at the bottom of a lake. She hasn't really got a clue what's going on apart from the vague notion that she's violently opposed to servants of the light, or Lumen sages as the game likes to call them, and must quell them in increasingly acrobatic fashion. There's another Umbran witch called Jeanne who crops up from time to time to have a little scuffle, an irritating pretty-boy journalist who's been on Bayonetta's trail since she woke up, a wisecracking Italian-American who...erm...wisecracks, and a cool-as-ice purgatorial weapons specialist who was last seen clearing snakes off of a motherf***ing plane.
Once you get over the initial tsunami of exposition and can take control of the oversexed secretary, the game's true charm becomes strikingly apparent. No game I have ever played has such a fluid, refined combat system. The button layout is deceptively simple - one button to punch, one to kick, one to shoot, and a bumper to dodge - but the possibilities are endless. So many times during the course of the game I discovered combos that I didn't quite realise were there, simply by adjusting the rhythm and the sequence. You don't need to study move lists or pore over combo commands, it all comes incredibly naturally. One second you'll be running along, the next you'll flip gracefully over a balcony, stamp a stilettoed heel into an angelic brow, fend off two more with a flurry of fists, backflip out of the way of an attack, spin into a 360 degree bullet-fest and then grab a cherub out of the sky with your hair and beat it into a pulp before chucking it into a recently spawned iron maiden to finish the job.
Even at its peak, Devil May Cry was never quite this seamless. Enemies will frequently team up against you, attacking quickly after one another, penning you and forcing you into one another's blows. But the game rewards crafty evasion - and that right bumper will become your best friend - with Witch Time, slowing down the game for a few precious moments whenever you escape injury by a hair breadth. It's a fantastic concept, and one that can be used again and again as long as your timing is right. It pays to keep an eye on your surroundings and after a few levels, you'll be able to turn evasive manoeuvres into counter attacks, blending offensive techniques into defensive moves without a lapse in movement.
Bayonetta also impresses with its presentation. The game is beautiful to look at, the character animations are smooth as silk, though PS3 owners might notice a few slowdown issues at times. The cut-scenes are far too long, but they are wonderful to look at, although you'll need to be fairly vigilant as the game has a tendency to randomly drop the odd Quick Time Event into the mix just as you're getting comfy. The enemy design is fantastic too, and you won't have seen bosses this big since the criminally under-appreciated Shadow of the Colossus.
Ultimately, Bayonetta is a variation on a well established theme, it's not terribly revolutionary and it's not going to change too many minds which is a shame, really, because its strengths lie in a combat system that has been honed and refined to near perfection. I haven't had this much fun from sheer gameplay for a very long time; true, the bosses are big and the set-pieces are impressive indeed, but this is a game that provides just as much frenetic entertainment in between its big moments, if not more so.
Bayonetta herself might well split opinion - can a strong willed, intensely capable female figure who defies manipulation be taken seriously when she's being manipulated into some of the most suggestive poses this side of Spearmint Rhino's front doors? - but it's incredibly hard to argue against action this stylishly accessible and deceptively deep. Above all else, Bayonetta is a game that refuses to take itself too seriously and focuses intensely on the fun, with countless quips and lots of in-jokes and references to SEGA's legacy.
- Sublime combat system
- Impressive boss battles
- Some lovely in-jokes for SEGA fans
- Questionable aesthetics
- Nonsensical story
- Cut-scenes far too long
The Short Version: Sexy, self-referential, slick and stylish, Bayonetta is an excellent action title to kick off 2010, dodging accusation of being derivative with one of the most finely tuned, and fun to play, combat engines seen in video gaming. It's not quite perfect, and it's hardly revolutionary, but it's one hell of a spellbinding ride.