Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned and it’s heaven not hell that’s painfully aware of it. As the harbinger of angel genocide, Bayonetta, the voluptuous character, is more than just the result of a lucrative imagination. Titillation perhaps but this is also pure gaming excellence and lollipops could never feel so appropriate.
Ask a friend to sit in on Bayonetta and the result may be a brain hemorrhage, if not a dizzying sense of perplexity. I’m not a doctor but such is the speed and ferocity of the game that it’s difficult to appreciate without sitting down and playing it for yourself. Bayonetta weaves between gruesome angels with all the poise and agility of an Olympic ballerina, amputating limbs and provoking gore like it was her bedtime routine.
The sheer number of attacking combinations is outrageous but never more than thirty seconds away due to a loading screen that doubles over as a practice arena. It’s a minor feature that enhances the entire game; converting wasted time into a valuable resource is but one example of the great design decisions Bayonetta boasts in abundance.
The weapons assigned to Bayonetta’s hands are controlled with the Y button, those attached to her feet B leaving dodge to the R trigger. There’s no block mechanic gifting the many fights a feverish pace that rarely folds. It’s a contest in timing, striking at opportune moments to deliver a series of fatal lightning blows rather than attacking bluntly that aids in distinguishing it from similar games.
Standard attacks are splendid enough, visually and as an exercise in the brutality of pressing buttons. But as a witch Bayonetta has access to a few more flamboyant tricks too. Not least of all the ability to summon torture devices or transform her skintight clothing into colossal demons that massacre demons in response to extended quick time events. These sections are little more than five-second bursts spent wailing on whichever button prompt appears on screen and the more times bashed the greater the severity of the already massive attack. Simple great fun because the on-screen actions reflect the nature of the QTE. At the climax of a fight with an oversized flying centipede a button combo appears and all hell breaks loose. Bayonetta’s clothes transform into a giant crow, it descends down upon the centipede lacerating its head from its torso and consuming the rest. It’s beautiful, mental, but that’s half the charm and this kind of extravagant display is by no means infrequent. Boss fights are a staple ingredient placed anywhere a lull threatens the pace and it’s in these fights that Bayonetta demonstrates best the infinite fictional boundaries of her creators. It’s refreshing, pounding a cherub with dragons for arms the size of an aircraft hanger.
Bayonetta’s attacks and their ferocity are gratifying start and end, the visceral foray and general spectacle a technical and artistic wonder. On the 360 anyway where the frame-rate remains consistent through the momentous speed. The PS3 is plagued with extended loading times and inferior graphics, stay clear if possible.
The weapon-play is punctuated with witch time, activated by dodging an attack at the last second, which is why there’s no room for parrying. There’s certainly a poetry to it and it’s a trick that risks severing the fluency of the combat but instead amplifies it, flooding the screen a deep shade of purple, enemies are slowed to a fraction of their normal speed allowing Bayonetta the time to precisely carve them into pieces. This is pretty routine through the first run through, some of the enemies are so fast it’s easier to rely on luckily entering witch time rather than taking the chance and having them claw you into a bloody oblivion. During later attempts the game offers other more challenging alternatives to witch time but the reward for their use tends to be greater, if not for anything else but how visually astounding it looks once you’re learned in the ways of The Moon of Mahaa Kalaa or some of the more eccentric abilities.
The story of the Umbra Witches is predictably absurd but serves as a more than adequate pretence for the solid gameplay to mould around. Bayonetta has been residing at the bottom of a lake for some time, outcast from her clan and having missed out on an ancient mystical conflict; she’s awoken into the modern world, to the dismay of hordes of heavenly creatures, and sets about figuring out what’s been happening during her prolonged absence. Blood spilt her only diplomacy. Cue an uncanny support cast; a journalist whose accounts of topical history lie conveniently (not for him, he’s probably in line for a firing) about the levels and a little girl who may or may not be related to Bayonetta. Narrative profundity is cast aside to make way for the gameplay and to be fair there’s little room for complaint.
That said there’s no shortage of cut scenes and they provide plentiful opportunity to draw attention to Bayonetta’s provocative mannerisms and sassy talk. She’s irresistible, a final nail in the coffin of Lara Croft, and a two-finger salute to the one from Mirror’s Edge and her from Wet. The cut scenes, a mixture of full animation and film-grain stained stills with spoken word overlay, are as ravishing as the game-play itself. They have a tendency to last a little longer than required at times but are an additional coat of style to compliment the substance.
Levels are divided into verses – each battle or boss fight a separate verse – with progress saved at the start and end of each. So failure only ever results in a five-minute loss of progress at worst. Memories of Ninja Gaiden be damned. It’s a lesson in thoughtful design but there’s plenty to appease those in search of something a little more masochistic. Alfheim portals are littered about the levels and provide brief but considerably more challenging encounters. They’re dictated by specific rules; some have to be beaten with a set number of attacks others using only certain weapons. More importantly performance during each verse is graded leading to an overall score complimenting full leaderboard support. There’s your competition.
There are even moments within the manic fray dedicated to first person shooting and driving. An inter-mission shooting gallery offers opportunity to stock up on valuable items, as well as being oddly addictive, whilst vehicle sections prove just about anything can be woven in and made to fit. By the time you’re surfing a missile onto an island in the ocean the idea that this couldn’t possibly be in a game has vaporised.
But then as a synthesis of so much celebrated about gaming, a fusion of genre-defining combat, an irresistible protagonist and exceptionally rewarding gameplay, Bayonetta is brilliant regardless of whether she’s performing DIY heart surgery on oversized Cherubs or riding a motorcycle through space. With it Platinum has set a standard so high it’s hard not to gaze out over the rest of the year without a hint of dismay. Perhaps more importantly Bayonetta arrives with a resounding cry of life from the gaming capital of the world as it seeks more than ever to pander to Western audiences as a means of saving itself.