Trouble Thinking

February 22, 2010

Review: Bayonetta

Filed under: Game Reviews — Tags: , , , — Durandal @ 9:47 pm

Bayonetta, developed by Platinum Games and published by SEGA, knows exactly why people play action games.

Bayonetta shines when you’re given leave to go to town on the denizens of Heaven. The combat is fast, fluid, and inspired. Like most of the game, some of the most entertaining touches are simultaneously embarrassing and fun. Foot-guns are something you’ll have trouble convincing anyone are a cool idea. But it works, and it works so damn well. You’re given so many ridiculous options for dishing out punishment that you’d be hard-pressed not to look awesome doing it. The cut-scenes, crazy as they can be, never equal the sheer beautiful brutality you can muster when you’re playing well.

The combo system is easy to understand and a breeze to learn, but rewards you for mastering it. One button for quicker and more versatile punches, one button for slower and more powerful kicks, mix to your pleasure. The movelist is epic, and shifts depending on the weapons you have equipped. But the brilliant part is how the combo system avoids drowning you in all of the options. Some combos will stay the same across all weapon groupings, while some will be accessible only when wielding a certain weapon. The system allows you to quickly grasp some hard-and-fast truths (punch->kick->punch is a similar powerful attack for each weapon) while slowly getting a handle on the more subtle aspects of each weapon, like the various effects of holding down an attack button mid-combo. This allows for exploration of the various weapon sets without feeling like you need to memorize a new list of button taps each time.

A surprisingly fun aspect of combat in Bayonetta is the ability to gracefully dodge an opponent. Rather than being treated as a failure, dodging an enemy attack is another opportunity to prove your superiority. Flipping out of the way at the very last second allows Bayonetta to enter Witch Time, which slows enemies to a crawl as well as weakening them for easy decapitation. Further, avoiding enemy attacks slowly builds your Magic gauge, which once full allows you to execute quite entertainingly horrific Torture Attacks to send enemies to their doom. What I thought was particularly nice about this aspect of the combat was that so long as you manage to play well, you don’t ever find yourself having to hoard your magical power, instead getting to unleash it upon the hapless Angels at every opportunity to speed your way through fights in style. There’s never a moment when the game punishes you for using the full extent of your abilities at all times.

The storyline begins crazy, ends crazy, and in between is crazy and occasionally hilarious. Though most of the cutscenes are ham-fisted exposition and too long by half, the tongue-in-cheek presentation and the irreverent attitude of the protagonist carries the experience better than I expected. More than a few of the long-winded boss speeches are interrupted by Bayonetta hurling invective and scenery at the massive angelic beasts. In a nod to the fact that the action sequences take precedence over the storytelling, each and every cutscene in the game can be skipped quickly and easily, a feature that’s both rarer than it should be and welcome here. Perhaps the best way to encapsulate the storytelling is to note that the first confusing explanation of the back-story is presented in voice-over while you take control of Bayonetta to fight angels on top of a clock tower that is falling off a cliff and exploding.

In a rare move for an action game this intense, Bayonetta goes out of its way to make itself inviting to newcomers and easy to pick up. There are two easy modes, each of which allows you to equip an item that makes combos happen automatically simply by mashing a single button. Each level, even on the harder difficulties, has multiple checkpoints and occasionally multiple checkpoints per fight, which makes death a much less horrific prospect. Continues are unlimited, and items to raise health or make Bayonetta temporarily invulnerable can be easily made by the player and used at any time.

Each level can be played at any difficulty at any time, and large boss battles are self-contained chapters with their own set of mid-battle checkpoints. At the end of each combat, though,you receive a grade represented by a medal. At the end of each chapter these add up to the whole chapter score. Sure, anyone can make it through with 10 continues and a dozen health items, but you’ve got a Stone medal waiting at the end of things. That’s the brilliant part; Rather than making this a game that is difficult to simply make it through, Platinum has made this a game that is difficult to perfect, yet inviting to play.

Playing Bayonetta will make you a better person and a more talented lover, it will put shine and bounce back into your hair and make your whites whiter, it will solve all of your problems if you just believe. Get it, and thank me later.

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