Review: Bayonetta

Season of the witch
By MITCH KRPATA  |  January 12, 2010
3.0 3.0 Stars

 

Bayonetta | For Xbox 360 And PlayStation 3 | Rated M for Mature | Developed by Platinum Games | Published by Sega
Here's the thing about Bayonetta: you have to take all of it, not just part. Those looking for a deep and rewarding brawler will find it, along with some bizarre stylistic choices. Those who are drawn to the unrepentantly Japanese æsthetic and iconography — not to mention the sexy female protagonist — will have to play the hardcore action-adventure game to get to the weird otaku crap. Fortunately, there is some overlap between those groups.

Bayonetta is the latest visually striking action game from Platinum Games, a development studio composed largely of ex-Capcom staffers, who together have worked on classic series like Resident Evil, Viewtiful Joe, and Devil May Cry. It's that last whose influence comes through here (though some in-game dialogue makes cheeky reference to the other games). Like Devil May Cry, Bayonetta focuses almost exclusively on stylish combat, demanding that you not only defeat your enemies but do so extravagantly. To that end, our hero — a young witch with librarian glasses, cartoonish proportions, and a skin-tight body suit — unleashes acrobatic attack combinations with a variety of melee weapons and firearms.

Combat is the game's bread and butter, and it is fantastic. Most combos can be performed by alternating between two button inputs, where a slight variation in timing can produce radically different results. Although there are subtleties to master, it's not a game where learning the moves feels like memorizing physics equations. For the most part, you can progress through it by feel alone. The fluidity is aided by a dodge move that, if done at the right moment, sends the game into slow-motion "Witch Time," which allows for devastating beatdowns. Instead of gumming up the works with endless blocking and parrying, dodging accords the fights a measure of grace.

Bayonetta's approach to finishing moves takes its cue from God of War, whereby button-pressing quick-time events stand in for real-time gameplay when it comes to disposing of bosses and larger enemies. This results in some massive, silly kills. Bayonetta can conjure torture racks and guillotines for smaller foes and an array of massive dragons, spiders, and other beasts for bosses. The game's insight lies in not showing the same thing too often — something that MadWorld, another Platinum title, was guilty of. Here, the finishers keep changing throughout the game, and so they never become stale.

For all that, Bayonetta is so strange that at times I felt embarrassed to be playing it. For some of her moves, Bayonetta strips naked and strikes a pose, her naughty bits discreetly concealed by her long hair. The soundtrack is peppy J-pop. Characters dress as if they were auditioning for the next Lady Gaga video. An incomprehensible story is told through interminable cutscenes in which the only thing worse than the translation is the acting — each line sounds as though the actors were reading it for the first time. More words are misspelled in the subtitles than are mispronounced by the actors, but not many more.

Granted, you can skip the cutscenes and focus on the terrific action, though it's odd that, having built a fighting engine of such intricacy, Platinum would also graft on a gun-turret boss battle and lousy on-rails vehicle sequences that go on forever. Still, Bayonetta is further proof that a game usually needs to do only one thing well to be worth playing. On combat alone, it's superior to recent Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden games, and if you sometimes have to hold your nose to get to all the good stuff, that's the price of kicking ass.

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