Delayed Reactions – Bayonetta: Not Your Average Sex Icon
+Balls out action.
+Varied gameplay, animations, attacks and locations.
+Easy controls for anyone from skilled to noob.
+Loading screen provides a combo practice construct.
+Deceptively deep and interesting story.
+Mid Boss Checkpoints.
-The cost of accessories and upgrades are generally too high.
-Inconsistant interactivity within cutscenes.
-The screen gets so full and confusing it can make strategic positioning and dodging difficult.
-Low supply of heath items.
I remember my first introduction to Bayonetta was at E3 2009 (for more, check out Episode 2 of the Gamecrashers E3 Podcast) and I was immediately turned off by the ridiculous sexual nature of the game, the over the top sassy strut of the main character and the shallow sexual references. It was hot, but too absurd, too hollow I thought. I mean come on, she attacks the enemy with strikes made out of her enchanted hair, but her hair is also her clothing, so a big attack called a “Climax” will strip her down to basically nothing. I’ve learned something through playing it though, you can’t judge a witch by her sweet sexy naked ass. You’ll see how nearly every assumption I had was wrong as I describe my interaction with the game, assumptions I know many still hold.
When I first started the game, I assumed to find a mismatched character, drowning in sex appeal, thrown haphazardly into a Devil May Cry game. Bayonetta has the unique ability to understand this assumption and mess with you accordingly. I think because of this assumption I was able to enjoy the game twice as much. There is an incredibly deep story at hand here, one that you would do well playing through again immediately after to get a better understanding. Bayonetta herself fits into the presentation perfectly by adding humor and a character arc that will make you realize that high sexuality doesn’t have to be a shallow façade as it far too often is.
So, I’m standing on the face of a clock tower which is falling at terminal velocity off a cliff. I don’t know how or why, but angels have descended upon me with the intent to kill me, and I’m not going to give them the satisfaction. At this point, you’ll probably assume this is a story of heaven versus hell. So did I, but again, everything is deeper than it seems. The combos came fluidly. I whipped around the clock face easily moving from enemy to enemy, the camera slowing down on successful dodges giving me a bullet time, or “Witch time”, advantage. There are so many combinations of attacks that I frequently stumble onto new ones I didn’t know were there. To help me find new moves, the loading screen gives me a list of the moves I’ve performed and how many times. If there were any I performed infrequently or never, I’d give them a try. I love that the game encourages me to try different moves I haven’t tried before rather than resorting to constantly blind button mashing. There’s even a very easy control mode where button mashing will go through the combo list for you and the character will automatically move from enemy to enemy. This is perfect for anyone not familiar with this style of gameplay, or anyone who finds this type of game too challenging.
The combat does remain relatively the same, with new techniques available for purchase with varying usefulness. I assumed that the combat would eventually get old because of its simplicity, despite its giant combo list, but I learned that what keeps the gameplay feeling fresh are the crazy ass locations. They range from running around the inside of an ocean vortex, fighting in a building stuck around the head of the very mid-flight dragon you’re trying to kill, in a city being drowned in lava. With the amount of variety in the locations and setting and circumstances, along with the almost chaotic visuals during certain sequences, I was happy to be using a combat system that was always familiar, had a wide bank of move animations, yet still required some degree of skill and timing.
One of the things I appreciated the most in this game was the unique gameplay scenarios that the game provided. Too many developers will make a set piece that works well and constantly recycle it. Once again, I assumed this game was going to do the same, banking on its sex appeal. Bayonetta has a habit of making a set piece and using it just once, or in the rare instance it’s used more than once, they will completely change the context of its use. There is a motorcycle chase where Bayonetta has to catch up to her companions across a freeway that’s falling apart. There wasn’t another motorcycle sequence until the last few chapters, and then it was a motorcycle sequence driving up the 360 degree circumference of a giant missile, shaped like a statue of god, shooting into space. That’s a bit of a switch in context to say the least.
The same goes for the giant boss fights. First of all, they get bigger and bigger as the game goes on. By the end of the game it becomes difficult to hone in on exactly what part of the giant beast is trying to flatten you. Bayonetta’s enchanted hair has the ability to turn into creatures, limbs, anything she needs to destroy every boss, and no two are alike. There is very little noticeable system that constantly follows the boss fights around. Every fight feels unique in some way and is treated as such. When her hair finally “climaxes” it provides a different contextual attack for every boss which is always a joy to watch, which brings me to another point.
I hope you like cutscenes. I really enjoyed this game because I frequently eat dinner while playing games. I would occasionally have 10 minutes of cutscene time to just sit back and eat, but this also caused me to die periodically too. Some cutscenes are passive, some have quicktime events, some of these quicktime events are instant kills, some require analog stick movement along with a button press. I could never tell if I was kicking back to watch a cutscene or if I needed to hold onto the controller. I frequently just watched the cutscene with the controller buttons in my right hand and a burger in the other. Two handed quicktime trigger? Crap. Goodbye hamburger, hello floor.
That’s just a small gripe though. The cutscenes were very entertaining, the combat engaging, the story and presentation incredibly deep and complex. The presentation though, no matter how dark and serious things got, was never too full of itself to avoid going for a cheesy joke and always retained a bit of playfulness, which is a great comparison to make to the characterization of Bayonetta herself, always playful yet still a take no crap kind of woman. I would highly recommend this game to people who like the Devil May Cry style of gameplay or for people who would like to be surprised by something new, grand and engaging. If you have a chance, pick up a copy and you’ll have yourself a good time.