Bayonetta Review: Aiming for the Stars

It would be foolish to bring up character action games without praising Viewtiful Joe and Devil May Cry director Hideki Kamiya; without him, I’m not sure the genre would’ve flowered as much as it has for the past two cycles of consoles. The Japanese developer once again fills the director’s seat for Bayonetta, a sort of cross between his past two combo based fighters. Stylistic to a fault, Bayonetta fires off cheesy one-liners, absurd break dancing combos, and massive boss encounters with amusing and consistent abandon, while everything else in the game is drawn out to the point of boredom, confusion, and frustration. For a game that tries so hard to be lightning fast and quirky, there is too much excess and imbalance to amount to anything particularly great.

As far as weird games go, this is one of the weirdest. Bayonetta is the titular witch whose clan of magic users use hair as both bodysuits–not as weird as you might think–and as shape shifting weapons. Higher combos and quicktime event “Climaxes” use more of her hair (and magic meter), revealing some skin–it is as shameful as you think– and tearing apart opponents easily. Witches don’t like Heaven, so Bayonetta must fight a smorgasbord of quite monstrous angels that have descended on Earth to start a resurrection of God.

There is more narrative depth than this, but even after 10 hours of play, I couldn’t tell you many details or make much sense of it all. Instead, what stand out are the boss fights, which borderline on colossal, and decidedly Japanese flair to everything. A J-pop only soundtrack, plenty of anime tropes, and lots of sexual humor often painfully weave into what has to be one of the strangest and dissonant games to come out this generation. Bayonetta herself is ludicrously sexualized, eliciting audible groans from the depths of my being every time a lingering butt shot or joke about her breasts assaulted my mind.

Kimiya wrote the story himself, and his attempts aren’t commendable but often boring or convoluted. The anime influence that works well to make the game absurd comes back to haunt it when it actually wants to tell some semblance of a story. Frequent, lengthy cutscenes are the only time that any exposition or dialogue takes place, sometimes in full motion and sometimes in strange frame-by-frame film reel footage. A Danny DeVito clone makes up most of the early companionship and suddenly vanishes–or maybe I didn’t care enough to pay attention to his exit in the story–leaving only an angsty, pseudo-love interest and possible love child to fill the void. Multi-minute scenes with these weak characters drag on and on, revealing only tiny tidbits of story twists that amount to nothing but melodrama and poor humor. Sound good already? It only gets worse as the game drags on through its final fourth, content to marry short action sequences–admittedly the best in the entire game–with vapid cutscenes and fake endings.

The story weakness isn’t really surprising; this genre is known more for punching than forming great narratives. The combination based fighting is extensive and responsive and it feels really good to slice, shoot, claw, and break dance enemies to death. As you fight, your magic meter fills, letting you use “torture attacks,” such as throwing an enemy into a mini-guillotine or iron maiden for an experience boost and instant kill. Once you get farther into the game, using several weapon combinations and attack strings in tandem makes fighting very dynamic and wild. Sadly, a number of poorly matched encounters left me dying sometimes upwards of 10-15 times because I had little health and no healing items available. Some enemy types tend to ignore attacks and score cheap shots almost every time, and I swear I fought some bosses at least four times. One begins to feel like enemies are just being thrown out with little to no care or concern, turning a great combat system stale around the fifth or sixth hour of play.

I’ll leave you with one of Bayonetta’s most temper testing flaws: Chapter ending bonuses. You’re rated for each fight you win, culminating in an award that gives you more experience to spend on new moves and powerful items. Naturally, dying and using continues degrades your final score, but so does using healing items. That’s right, you’re punished for looking out for your well being in Bayonetta. Since I used too many health items, the majority of my ending bonuses were the “Stone Award”, giving me no experience despite the fact that I could nail most every combo I attempted. Flawless dodging and fair bit of cutscene skipping are the only options for a smooth ride with Bayonetta.

If nothing else, Bayonetta is perhaps the most confident game I’ve possibly ever played. About five hours of filler and plenty of imbalanced encounters, drawn out cutscenes, and shameful hyper-sexualization keep this game from being a must-have for those who haven’t visited and revisited Devil May Cry or Ninja Gaiden Black. Even at a reduced price, be wary of the issues surrounding this one.

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2 Comments

  1. I’ve been curious about Bayonetta for ages, but was always too turned off by the issues you’ve mentioned to give it a fair shake. Kamiya is such an odd mixed bag; how the same man behind Okami can also be in charge of a game like Bayonetta that settles for the lowest sort of Japanese pulp influences is beyond me. I’m sure it’s fun but I just find its tone hard to stomach.

    Reply
    • It isn’t an awful game, merely an okay one with plenty of questionable elements. It is the type of game that I feel embarrassed to play around other people because of the sexualized stuff. Maybe worth a rental?

      Also, thanks for commenting!

      Reply

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