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REVIEWS -- Bayonetta -- PS3

Bayonetta

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91

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--

Fly me to the Moon…

by Mike Sicliano


Fun factor: Fun

Worth to: Buy/Rent

Sexual, absurd, and outrageous are three words to describe Bayonetta. Magnificent is a fourth. The pinnacle of the action genre.

Legend tells of two ancient organizations bound by the will of the Creator to maintain the order of light and darkness in the world: The Lumen Sages and the Umbra Witches, respectively. The former a group of powerful males fueled by their worship of the Sun, and the latter, a clan of female witches whose powers were granted by the Moon; each group protected a treasure known as the “Eye of the World,” divine stones said to control the very existence of the universe. A Great War erupted in ancient Europe, and the two stones were lost. Following the disappearance of the stones, both clans suddenly seemed to vanish. 500 years later, Bayonetta of the Umbra Witches awakens from her slumber.



You assume the role of the titular character whose past is no more clear to her than is her future as she seeks to unravel the mysteries surrounding the disappearance of both ancient groups. What unfolds is a tale of absolute mayhem, absurdity, and at times downright insanity. However, none of it seems facetious or excessive. There are moments where you might question the intentions of the developers, but never long enough that you aren’t soon laughing -- or at the very least smiling -- out of gleeful excitement. Plain and simple, Bayonetta offers some of the most fun you’re likely to have all year.

And let me play among the stars…

Bayonetta has oft been compared to the famed series Devil May Cry, and for obvious reasons. Both are very stylized, exciting action games with quite eccentric lead characters and a frantic battle system. Moreover, acclaimed creator of the Devil May Cry series, Hideki Kamiya, formerly of Capcom’s Clover Studios and now among the remnants of that short-lived subsidiary in Platinum Games, was also the brains behind Bayonetta. On the surface, it could be easy to dismiss Bayonetta as a simple Devil May Cry clone. But that’s where one would be making the first mistake.

The combat, though similar in theory, is vastly more intricate and highly involved than its studio-predecessor, and the fluidity of Bayonetta’s moves allows for incredibly comprehensive and non-stop action. In a genre that has become crowded with infamous button mashing and quick time events, Bayonetta handles itself with a bit of grace and at times dignity. That’s not to say the game is without its share of both -- for instance, all of Bayonetta’s powerful finishing maneuvers are performed either with quick time events or via rapidly pressing a button to increase the reward from the kill -- but it’s in the satisfaction of watching the extravagance unfold that seems to forgive, if only slightly, the repetitiveness.

Shying away from those finishing moves, spending even five minutes alone experimenting with the game’s basic combat will reveal a beast unlike any action game before it. The Gods of War or the Devil May Crys of earlier fame are notorious for their over-the-top presentation and their simplistic combo systems. But with Bayonetta, you have at your disposal somewhere over three or four dozen different combos to pull off, stringing together the three primary attack buttons of the game. In games of yore, one could easily get by with using one or two attack buttons over and over and over again to defeat all of the enemies on screen before moving on to the next set of foes and repeating the process ad infinitum. You’ll be lucky to succeed any further than the game’s first true battle after the tutorial if you play with that mindset. Combos are demanded from the player, and as you encounter some of the game’s more formidable adversaries in the latter half, dodging becomes one of your most important assets.



Bayonetta’s quick reflexes allows her to dodge swiftly and consecutively during, before, or after a series of attacks, never once dulling the pace of combat. At times you’ll likely be attacking three or four enemies one after the other, instead of focusing only on one at a time, because the feeling of dread you’ll get as all of those enemies begin to close in on you and prepare for an attack is more than enough to twitch that trigger finger. The way combat blends so beautifully together between attacks, dodging, and moving, is something one can hope to see from any action game developed hereon out.

Dodging is more than just a practicality of avoiding danger, however; should you time the dodge perfectly, avoiding an enemy’s attack just before it would’ve made contact, Bayonetta will enter “Witch Time,” which will slow all enemies on screen while she remains in normal speed, giving you a few seconds of undefended onslaught. This is certainly helpful in normal combat, but you’d be a fool to think you can get by some of the game’s boss fights without it. It never once makes you feel cheap or overpowered, however, because again, it only lasts a few seconds, and will actually wear off more quickly if you don’t maintain a series of attacks on an enemy. Not only that, but the enemies themselves soon become capable of dodging just as skillfully as Bayonetta, making the latter fights both hectic and unpredictable.

Let me see what spring is like…

Bayonetta is primarily an action game, and what it does for the genre is something most future games can only dream of achieving. Every fight will feel like an encounter of serious magnitude. Whether it’s just fighting the basic angels, or one of the game’s massive bosses, you always feel the pressure of success or failure. The game’s penalty for death isn’t as harsh as you’d except: you return from the most recent checkpoint, often just before the battle, with full health, but any items you may have used are gone. This most harsh consequence of death is a strike on your overall rating card, which tallies your performance at the end of every battle, and then finally at the end of every stage or chapter, at which time you’re assigned an award or trophy based on that performance. For the completionists, getting platinum on every stage is a difficult but rewarding experience.

Perhaps the game’s most impressive feature is its ability to take set piece battles and actually make them more than just a puzzle to solve. Often in an action game you’ll find yourself against a foe of immeasurable size, and generally you never actually fight it, you just manipulate the environment around you in your aid. Not in Bayonetta, my friends. You will fight, punch, kick, slash, shoot, climb, and so much more against each and every one of your foes. These are some of the most impressive battles I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience and will likely experience all year.



There’s more to Bayonetta’s arsenal, however, then just punching, kicking, and shooting. Throughout the game, as you uncover key items or artifacts in the world, you’ll trade them in to Rodin, a merchant of the underworld with whom Bayonetta is close friends. For killing enemies, as well, you will received halos (think currency) which look vaguely similar to the golden rings in Sonic games. With the special items, Rodin will make new weapons available for use, and with the halos, you may purchase items used for combat (either restorative or utility), new techniques, accessories, among other things. Items can be assigned to the d-pad for quick use, and can also be forged, or created, on the go from specific craft materials you discover throughout the game. Furthermore, with the weapons you receive from Rodin, you can assign them to one of two weapon sets (A or B, each with two slots for hands and feet). All of this just adds another layer of depth to Bayonetta’s already intricate and involved combat system.

But let’s get to what has received the most attention from this game: Bayonetta herself. You’ve seen the pictures, the ads, the commercials. The women is designed quite honestly to appeal to the male crowd. She’s tall, powerful, sexual, and her suit is made out of her hair, so when she performs one of her signature finishing maneuvers, her hair will transform into large and bizarre demons, effectively stripping her of her clothing. Yeah…I know. But Bayonetta takes the absurdity to a whole other level. Not only does it flaunt itself, and its main character, in a way that seems too sexual, it has enough sense to take itself with a grain of salt. It knows it’s excessive, at times vulgar, and very often ridiculous, so it says “To hell with standards,” and pushes the boundaries even more to become more of a self-deprecating farce or satire.

The game’s campaign will last anywhere from 10 to 12 hours, but the possibility for continuing on with a new game +, attempting a higher difficulty setting of an already formidable game, or trying for that pure platinum streak of trophies, the most avid player will be at this game for four or five times that length. The addition of online leaderboards also encourages the competitive nature of the game, ranking your progress and performance against other players from around the world.

Being the newest title from Platinum Games, formerly Clover Studios, the powers that be have loaded the game with easter eggs from their past releases: Devil May Cry, Viewtiful Joe, Godhand, Okami, and MadWorld. Whether it’s Rodin telling Bayonetta he won’t attach a chainsaw to her arm, or one of Bayonetta’s torture finishers being a tombstone that crushes an opponent with the initials “D.M.C.” engraved in it, fans of each game will likely find references littered throughout. As an astute fan pointed out in an early preview, Bayonetta is the equivalent of all five of those previous games rolled into one. And you know what? They’re absolutely right.

On Jupiter and Mars…

If the combat isn’t enough to entice you, surely the music will be. Bayonetta’s soundtrack is an incredible mix of up tempo jazz beats, somber orchestral melodies, and electro pop, and all of it fits unbelievably well with the game’s tone. Most notably of which is the game’s theme song, a remix of the famous Frank Sinatra track “Fly Me To The Moon,” used for many of the game’s battles and important action sequences. It seems a sacrilege to diehard Sinatra fans, but to advocates of the action genre, it’s quite simply an amazing rendition. The voice acting is at its best when the heroine herself boasts one of her many snide remarks, but the supporting cast also shows an impressive array of talent and emotion.



The game’s visual presentation is just as spectacular. You’ll fight through various fictional locales of a futuristic Europe, medieval otherworlds, and often amongst falling debris. And lest we forget those set piece battles I previously mentioned, all of which feel unique, exciting, and so, so very rewarding upon victory. Bayonetta is presented in two distinct formats; standard pre-rendered cut scenes, which are beautifully done, and still-motion camera reel that moves up, down, and across the screen akin to a comic book presentation. It’s an interesting approach, but doesn’t add anything more to the presentation, especially when the cut scenes are there as well. Perhaps its most disappointing feature is a sometimes shaky and counterintuitive camera system. This does not, by any means whatsoever, hinder or even damage the game’s otherwise superb features, but it can become somewhat of a nuisance at the most inopportune times.

Summary

Bayonetta is quite simply, and dare I say it, the pinnacle of the action genre: beautiful visuals, a remarkable soundtrack, and a highly involved combat system. Finally a game of this caliber comes a long that requires the player to maintain some degree of focus or attention to the combat on screen, to dodge properly and timely, and to learn how to perform some of the more advanced combos. It’s been too long in the making, but now that it’s finally here, the action genre from now on has a new standard to achieve.

Pros: Amazing presentation both visually and audibly; fluid and comprehensive combat; thrilling normal battles and even more thrilling boss fights; the pacing is never dull.

Cons: Somewhat obtrusive camera; short first campaign.

ESRB M Rating

Publisher: Sega

Developer: PlatinumGames

Genre: Action

Release Date: January 5, 2010

Review Date: 24-01-2010

Numbers of Players: 1

Players Online: No

Co-op: No

Notes:

All Bayonetta reviews

90

GRAPHICS

A game that prides itself on its excessive style and flash, Bayonetta is certainly worthy of flaunting its goods.

98

GAMEPLAY

The near-flawless combat that provides total fluidity and impressive customization is a benchmark for action games from hereon out.

90

PRODUCTION

The collective geniuses at Platinum Games poured their heart and soul into this project to provide the best possible experience one could imagine for a game of this type.

87

SOUND

An eclectic soundtrack and a mostly-endearing voice cast with enough background noise to keep you alert, if not sometimes startled.

89

LASTING APPEAL

Plenty of challenges and post-game goodies to attempt for the purists out there, but a rather short initial playthrough may satisfy most players.

91

OVERALL SCORE

GALLERY PREVIEW -- Bayonetta -- PS3

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