BY Jace Proctor  //  January 12, 2010

The epitome of a genre.


evil May Cry creator Hideki Kamiya has referred to Bayonetta as an evolution of Devil May Cry, and potential players of this game will be pleased to hear that this description is accurate in the best way possible. If you're a fan of the style of game that the Devil May Cry and God of War franchises epitomize; the huge combo chain, acrobatic and slick combat, timed button press, epic boss fight, fast-paced action brawler; you'll be hard pressed to find a better example than Bayonetta.

God of War 3 looms on the horizon, but even when that juggernaut hits the scene, you'll still have a reason to play Bayonetta. The combat is hard, fast, satisfying, and fluid, thanks to a massive repertoire of weapons and moves at the player's disposal and the incredible 60-plus-FPS-all-the-time performance of the game engine itself. Combine that with the medals, statues, and scores that are tacked onto each segment of the game and the online leaderboards that go with them, plus difficulty settings that will challenge even the fastest and slickest player, and you have a title with staying power for a long time to come.

While Bayonetta follows closely in the footsteps of Devil May Cry and God of War, it brings a few new things to the table and improving on some of the standards. Players take control of Bayonetta; a skin-tight-suited, gun-toting witch who punches, kicks, shoots, and summons her way through a story full of baddies to kill.

Pushing combat to its limits: the longer the combo chain, the better.
Bayonetta has an incredible roster of moves available to her, and the game rewards the player for dispatching foes in elaborate, efficient, and varied ways. The longer the combo chain the better, and as established in DMC, a large part of the fun in these kinds of games is pushing the combat system to its limit, chaining together attacks into endless combos that (hopefully) last as long as there are enemies to be killed. Stages are largely linear, but there is some opportunity for exploration, and this exploration usually yields significant rewards.

Bayonetta also introduces a simple but satisfying crafting system; three types of components are found throughout the game world, in the predictable places like pots and barrels, and these components can be crafted into a wide variety of consumables that replenish health, magic power, and the like. It's not a huge addition, but it's easy to use and it's a welcome breath of fresh air that freshens up the tired idea of consumables. Each stage in Bayonetta is split up into several parts, called verses, which are individually scored and tracked. These verses don't require any dedicated load time or load screens, making moving between them seamless and often a surprise. A significant battle or battles and maybe a big story reveal usually comprise a verse; boss fights always receive their own verse.

At the end of each verse you're given a medal based on your overall effectiveness and efficiency; amazing combo chains will get you huge bonuses, but deaths will knock you down. Add together your score for each verse and that determines which statue you get at the end of the stage, ranging from a lame square statue to a shiny pure platinum statue. It's a carrot that's been used for quite some time in this genre, but honestly, it works. Getting a stone statue really makes you want to go through and sharpen up your more sloppy performances, and the rush you get when you make it through a verse with no damage and see a pure platinum medal pop up is powerful. When you throw in online leaderboards, as Bayonetta has, you have a recipe for repeat play power.

May I admire you before I defeat you? Bosses are impressive both in terms of their size and power.
The story in Bayonetta isn't anything special; but it isn't bad, either. The voice acting oscillates between good and campy, with most of it being palatable. The art direction in the game is one of its more interesting and original aspects; Bayonetta's enemies are angels, in a large variety of shapes and sizes, but they are not the angels you're used to seeing. These angels appear to be rather monstrous and demonic looking, save for all the white, gold, and feathers, and you get the impression that the difference between the soldiers of heaven and hell is largely comprised of their chosen allegiances, and not of species or kind. The bosses are impressive both in terms of their size and power, and in terms of their design. Fortitudo, the first boss you face in the game, is a monstrous two-headed dragon with an upside-down cherub head for a torso. I don't think describing him in text really does him justice, but trust me; he's quite a sight and paradigmatic of the video game designation "boss" should represent.

As in Devil May Cry, Bayonetta is squarely focused on action-packed, quick reflex combat. In this regard the game more than delivers. Combat is frequent, with most battles lasting several minutes at a time and through several waves of enemies. Bayonetta starts with a very large roster of moves available to her, and this increases throughout the game with each new weapon acquired. By the end of the game the amount of different attacks you have at your disposal is staggering; overwhelming, even; catering to several different and distinct fighting styles. There is an extremely large variety of foes for Bayonetta to dispatch, each with a decent repertoire of moves, making for an experience that, while repetitive, never gets tiresome. The AI in Bayonetta is no slouch; even the basic enemies come with a surprising variety of attacks, and they aren't as predictable as the rank-and-file enemies you might be used to. When you get into the harder monsters later on in the game, fighting anything is a challenge that requires strategy, caution, and good timing.

The game relies upon Bayonetta's dodge as both a defensive and offensive ability, and an integral part of her combat effectiveness. Bayonetta can acrobatically dodge at any time with almost no cooldown, and a dodge at the last second triggers "witch time," which is this game's take on the now-standard bullet-time/slow-motion mechanic. Enemies move slowly while Bayonetta moves at normal speed, and this window of opportunity is critical for delivering the solid bursts of damage required to defeat heartier enemies. It's absolutely essential during boss fights, which are some of the game's best and most inspired moments. It's also a lot of fun.

Are you a good witch, or a bad witch? Art direction is one of the game's more interesting and original aspects.
An extremely detailed and well thought out widget keeps track of your combat prowess, displaying your combo chain as well as some neat information like what types of attacks you're delivering, what your torture attack multipliers are, and how much total damage you're dishing out. This information accumulates throughout the course of a verse, and it's interesting to see just how effective you've been at any given time. It's certainly a step up from the regular "1x, 2x, 3x" combo counter we started with in the days of the original DMC.

One of the biggest reasons why combat is so much fun in Bayonetta is the game's amazing performance. It's one of the smoothest games I've ever played, whether on a console or a tricked out gaming computer, and this is not due to any lack of detail. The game is beautifully designed, with lots of detailed textures, shadows, shaders, and effects, and yet the game runs better than any game I can remember playing. I noticed a few slowdowns during particularly intense scenes, but there were only two or three of these in my first playthrough. Even during boss fights, which involve meteors, tornados, electricity, and other system shocking effects, the game was like butter.

I was hopping between Bayonetta and a few other games during my playthrough, and it was shocking to see just how slow some of these other games were by comparison. The game uses both in-game and pre-rendered cinematics, and the performance is no worse during those, with in-game and pre-rendered flowing along at a beautiful and smooth framerate. Transitioning into either of them rarely requires any noticeable load time, and the pre-rendered cutscenes are visually impressive by any standard. I wasn't taken in by the filmstrip style that the game uses, but that's more a preference than anything else.

This brings me to one of my only complains about Bayonetta; the game is made up of several different aesthetics, all vying for your attention, and at times it can seem like there was more than one art team involved in making the game. Cinematics are sometimes told through a film motif kind of presentation, with static characters on frames of film tape accompanying the dialogue. Other times the cinematics are more traditional. Sometimes they're silly. Sometimes they're serious. Same thing with the music. The game uses quite a bit of ominous, heavy music, but it's frequently broken up by the combat music, which is straight out of a Dance Dance Revolution machine. I found myself enjoying the music because it compliments the fast-paced combat, but when it breaks into a cinematic it can occasionally be jarring and unwelcome.

Stripper-fu? Each of Bayonetta's finishing moves leaves her naked.
My other complaint about Bayonetta is the eroticism. This, again, is largely subjective and a personal preference of mine, but I found the sexual imagery in the game largely off-putting. Bayonetta's fighting style can be colorfully described as stripper-fu. Each of her finishing moves strips her naked, because her hair — which clothes her — turns into a weapon. She frequently does stripper-type dances when summoning demons for finishers, using any kind of weapon that has a pole-like construction (there's several), or during the timed-press portions of boss battles, aptly called "climaxes."

In one sub-boss battle involving a dragon, the climax is simply Bayonetta leaping atop the dragon, spreads her legs, and riding him with her legs spread as he's forced through giant summoned demon fists. The demon fists part is cool, but the spread-leg part is . . . smarmy. It inspires the same feeling in me that, I imagine, I would get upon walking into a seedy strip club. It's also largely unnecessary. At one point, during a battle with a doppleganger, the player is treated to Bayonetta sitting with her legs akimbo and the camera a scant few inches away from her crotch. Bayonetta then runs her hand up the apex of her legs; which begins to glow when it reaches the appropriate area; moans, and transforms into a sexy angel. It's basically a few seconds of masturbation in the video game, and it just doesn't resonate with me. Quite the contrary; it makes me uncomfortable. I don't have any problem with sex or violence; I just found it to be in poor taste. It's something to be aware of when you sit down to play the game.

Ultimately, though, Bayonetta is a very solid title. I remember being blown away by how fluid and satisfying combat was in the original Devil May Cry, and then being blown away again by God of War's improvement on that formula. Bayonetta is another significant step forward, combining an insane array of moves and weapons with amazing performance to produce a combat experience that rivals anything available right now. It's simply fun to fight in this game, and in this genre the fighting is what it's all about. The story, characters, and scenery all take a back seat to the combat, and in Bayonetta that's where they belong. You can whale on enemies for hours without getting bored and without running out of moves, and the well-programmed AI and surprising variety of moves that the enemies have will make sure that the experience isn't a walk in the park, either. Bayonetta is everything that the action-fighter game should be and very little of what it shouldn't be, and that means it's a great game.

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