After a lengthy battle with a massive stone golem, who just happens to wear the giant face of a baby as a mask, I land a few gratuitous shots with my samurai sword, and am then prompted to teleport my hair into hell, where it summons a huge wolf-demon that proceeds to kill and swallow the giant golem, thus ensuring the safety of the 5-year-old with whom I’m traveling. Sound insane? After a few hours with Bayonetta, a scene like this is downright humdrum.
Bayonetta is your run-of-the-mill tale of a 500-year old, 9-foot tall amnesiac witch who hunts angels with the guns she has strapped to her feet. Along the way, we learn about the two rival witch clans, the Lumen and the Umbra, a mysterious young girl with a striking resemblance to our heroine, a rival witch on a motorcycle who may or may not hold the secrets to Bayonetta’s past, a clumsy American reporter with a mad on for witches, the “Eyes of the World,” and the fate of the Creator of the Universe. None of it really maters though, because the story is so baffling and insane that it’s almost impossible to follow. It’s not bad, per se, and the cut scenes are definitely worth watching, especially considering their extremely high production values and some genuinely clever dialogue and cinematography, but trying to analyze the plot would be an exercise in futility. It’s better to just sit back, enjoy the ride, and let the weirdness wash over you.
As bizarre and baffling as the plot is, the core gameplay is far more familiar territory. Drawing inspiration from games like Devil May Cry, God of War, and Ninja Gaiden, Bayonetta is a straight-up action game. By default, Bayonetta carries four guns; one in each hand, and one strapped to each ankle. With this loadout, the player has access to dozens of combinations that utilize the weak and strong attack buttons. As the game progresses, and you find more Angelic records, more weapons, like the samurai sword and the shotguns, will be unlocked, with each new weapon offering just as many combo options as the standard four gun setup. Longer combos finish with a devastating “Wicked Weave” attack that uses Bayonetta’s hair to summon giant demonic limbs. Successfully attacking and dodging attacks will fill up a magic meter that, once full, allows Bayonetta to perform an extremely cool looking “Torture Attack.” Each enemy type receives a different Torture Attack, summoning a torture device, such as a vise or an Iron Maiden. The player is then prompted for a brief button pressing sequence to determine the amount of damage done. These special attacks integrate seamlessly into the standard combat. The other major aspect of combat is “Witch Time.” Dodging attacks at the last second will activate this slow motion mode, opening enemies up for long chains of attacks. Defeating enemies scores the player “Halos,” which act as money. These Halos can be spent on, among other things, new combat moves, like the ability to perform a teleporting elbow drop, or devastate enemies with a whirling, guns-a-blazing breakdance maneuver. A few of these purchasable attacks are quite useful, but many of them are more about adding flair to your combos than actually improving your combat abilities, and some of them have a tendency to leave Bayonetta in bad positions. Overall, though, the amount of moves she can do is simply staggering, keeping combat from ever getting stale or repetitive.
Aside from the standard combat, there are also massive boss battles to contend with. In fact, about halfway through the game, you’ll start to see these boss confrontations pop up very frequently. As challenging as they can be, the epic battles make for some of the most intense and satisfying moments in the game. In addition to the aforementioned two-headed dragon/human head creature, there are also rotating, 5-faced heads with massive tentacles, living ships equipped with lasers and rocket launchers, and even a manifestation of “The Creator” itself. Each boss is more insane and inspired than the last, and most players will relish the opportunity to dispatch with these incredibly original and fascinating creations. Occasionally, vehicle sequences will pop up to break up the action, and these are done surprisingly well. Whether fighting enemies atop a missile, hopping from one speeding truck to another, or avoiding exploding vehicles while driving up the side of a skyscraper on a motorcycle, these sequences feel just as polished and satisfying as the rest of the game. The Space Harrier homage, one of many references to older Sega games, is particularly fun, if a bit long. The only real weak spot in the actual gameplay comes between levels in a mini-game called Angel Attack. This shooting gallery-inspired game lets you use bullets that are found during the previous level to blast aliens and earn credits that can be spent on lollipops and other temporary boosts. The mini-game feels undercooked, and adds very little to the game, except to throw another level of camp on an already camp-saturated title.
Bayonetta is no slouch in the visual department, either. The main character model is all curves and sex and leather and hair, and she looks fantastic, sporting some of the smoothest, sexiest animations of any protagonist in gaming history. Everything Bayonetta does carries an undertone of sexual power and allure; when she walks, she walks like a stripper, when she activates a lever, she makes sure to wrap her legs around it first, instead of health packs or medicine, she uses lollipops, and when she finds a suitable stripper pole in the environment, she puts on a performance that would make dollar bills fly from men’s pockets. There’s even a button dedicated to making her dance. Tap it, and she’ll quickly “vogue,” hold it, and she’ll do a full-on dance routine. As overtly sexual as the main character is, the game never comes off as raunchy or smutty, and Bayonetta is actually quite charming as an ultra-vamp. The sexuality carries over to the game’s cinematics, which alternate between fully rendered scenes and still frames in a simulated 3D style. Despite the befuddling plot, these scenes never fail to entertain, making great use of tongue-in-cheek humor, and, of course, unbridled sexuality. Enemy design is another strong point for the game, and each Angelic opponent looks and moves uniquely. Enemy types are incredibly varied, and seemingly every two minutes, you’ll be introduced to a bizarre, new type of Angelic opponent. In many games that use monsters or demons, or even angels as enemies, the enemies’ forms tend to get lost in a sea of moving textures. This is not the case in Bayonetta. No matter how out of control and hectic the on-screen action gets, enemies always remain clearly visible and discernable, despite their often bizarre forms.
While the combat borrows heavily from Devil May Cry and God of War, and the story and tone are reminiscent of No More Heroes and Metal Gear Solid, the game’s soundtrack draws its biggest influences from Street Fighter and Katamari Damacy. The bulk of the game is backed by a trippy version of Brenda Lee’s “In Other Words,” and most cut scenes feature bubbly J-Pop tunes that perfectly fit the overall absurdity of the game. Voice work is way over-the-top, but again, feels just right given the tone of the game. Bayonetta sounds a lot like Elizabeth Hurley, if Hurley was an anarchist sexpot assassin with a serious mad-on for the Almighty. Her colleagues, such as they are, are reminiscent of broadly drawn characters from blaxploitation movies and bad mafia films, and yet they, too, feel right at home in Bayonetta’s world.
It isn’t the most original title to come along, and it doesn’t really do anything new. It also might be a little too crazy for some people’s tastes, and at around 12-14 hours, it’s a bit longer than most action titles. That being said, Bayonetta is an undeniably enjoyable game that mixes lighting-fast action and deeply satisfying combat with outrageous character design, inspired storytelling, and exceptional visual presentation. The cheesecake factor may be the first thing people think of with Bayonetta, and is definitely the crux of Sega’s marketing campaign, but the game is more than just a pretty face and a set of…assets, and is sure to be one of this year’s most engaging and memorable gaming experiences.