Bayonetta is the second game to get a real review here on Gamersyde. After DjMizuhara's videos a few days ago we had the chance to play the import Japanese version of Platinum Games' first HD release. We expected a lot for Kamiya's big return to a genre he helped perfecting with Devil May Cry, and he certainly didn't disappoint. Update:Bayonetta is released today here in Europe, so in case you missed it here is our review again!
But who is Bayonetta? Don't expect a deep and multifaceted character here. Bayonetta is nothing more that a pretext for some over the top and sexy cut-scenes, and Kamiya himself admitted that the story isn't really what matters in the game. Still, you can expect some revelations and surprises. The sexy witch is there for the show, and in that role she's just perfect.
Even if the story isn't the game's strongest element, the numerous and lengthy cut-scenes certainly didn't get neglected, far from it. There are two types: The regular animated ones, with some very good motion capture and animation, and some more photo-romance typed ones where only the camera is in motion. These ones certainly seem surprising at first, but they add a real visual identity to the game and most likely allowed the developers to put even more resources into the fully animated ones. Also worth mentioning are the English voices, more than good enough to fit the over the top nature of the characters.
But the Heart of Bayonetta is of course its gameplay, and this is a point where there isn't much negative things to say. Kamiya's team put together an incredibly complete and deep fighting system. Bayonetta puts the bar very high in terms of number of moves available, but also in the way they can be chained gracefully. And even if her arsenal is already very deep in the beginning Bayonetta can use many different weapons, either some collected from fallen enemies or unlocked throughout the levels. Each new weapon opens new moves and combos, and the ability to switch from one to another at all times by a simple press on the left trigger multiplies the combo possibilities.
The weapons and moves, as numerous as they already are, are only a part of Bayonetta's full arsenal. She has at all times her favorite guns available, in her hands of course, but also strapped to her feet. This allows her to keep firing whatever position she is in, including in the air. And of course Bayonetta's uniqueness is her ability to use her hair as an incredibly powerful weapon, temporarily having her more or less nude in the process. Yes, Bayonetta's clothes are actually her hair, always expect the unexpected with Kamiya! These attacks can go from a big fist to a boot falling from the air, and more importantly they are used in the forms of huge demonic animals as finishers for the various boss fights. And just like with the weapons, the guns and hair of the witch are all used together with rather disconcerting easiness. Clearly Kamiya and his team worked long and hard to perfect such a gameplay system, and the mountain of work behind all this is totally transparent to the player.
The enemies didn't get neglected in the least though, the dozens available go from the small cherub to the huge city block sized boss, with all the expected variants in size and speed in between. Each enemy, whatever its size, requires to think a new tactic to be put down efficiently. Some will be easier killed from the air, others will snap you out of the air and remove a big part of your health in the process. The difficulty is of course when various types of enemies are on the same screen, and it's in that case that the right trigger gets even more useful than expected. It allows Bayonetta to dodge attacks with a kind of pirouette, but more importantly with the right timing it slows down time to allow for a furious counter-attack that can last a variable amount of time. This dodging system is introduced very early in the game, and it soon becomes a natural part of the fighting system. Starting the game this is only possible while on the ground, but this is one of the moves available to buy later on, and it's of course a more than suggested upgrade.
It's indeed possible to buy new moves, weapons and potions (here taking the form of lollipops, what else?) at the game's shop. This is where the rings that most enemies leave on the ground when killed will be used. The shop is available before starting a new level, but also for the longest ones right in the middle of level itself. The least talented players such I myself will certainly enjoy being able to get some more health potions before going back to the fighting.
In a game like Bayonetta, bosses are an integral part of the experience, and again Platinum didn't fail to deliver. The more you progress into the game, the uglier they get, and of course they all require different tactics to be taken down. The most advanced ones have of course various phases, usually introduced after a rather devastating move by Bayonetta. Once again here Platinum proves their mastery of the genre.
The biggest competitors of Bayonetta, mostly Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden 2, tend to suffer from difficulty peaks, frustrating the player in the process. It looks like Kamiya's team took a long hard look at what was wrong with these and made sure that there would be enough checkpoints and put in infinite continues with a full health bar. Of course using a continue will instantly kill your chances of getting a good score at the end of the level, but for the average player who just wants to keep fighting an see more insane cut-scenes, this doesn't really matter. It's been a long time since such a hardcore game had basically zero frustrating points in its main gameplay.
But not everything is perfect with Bayonetta. Platinum seems to have been a bit frightened by the thought that the players would get bored by its usual gameplay and introduced some bonus (but still mandatory) phases. Revealing what they are exactly would kill the surprise, but these phases are not so hidden homages at old Sega classics and wouldn't have been such a problem if they hadn't been so long and repetitive. The first one especially was particularly frustrating because of many unnecessary insta-deaths. These phases certainly required a lot of time to be done and the developers certainly wanted to use them fully, but in the end, they become one of the annoying parts of the game.
Another negative point is that some cut-scenes require a single timely button press, usually at rather unexpected times, and missing it means another insta-death. This will be most annoying for the player trying to get a good score, and even for others and the fact that dying means a rather long loading to go back just a few seconds before that button press is just maddening.
Even though the gameplay itself is as close to perfection as possible, the technical part isn't that excellent. The loadings are quite frequent and also quite long. More importantly the game, as it should, tries to run at 60 fps, and while it never has a negative impact on the ever important gameplay, it sometimes has a real hard time doing so. The tearing is very present during busy fights or with some bosses, and some phases like the clock-tower sequence can be almost painful to watch. These problems are even more visible with the PS3 version of the game, a port done by a Sega team rather than internally by Platinum. Again the gameplay is still there, but the game's visuals certainly are impacted.
Despite some weaker parts and a technical side not always at the top, Bayonetta easily becomes the new reigning king of the modern Beat'Em All genre. With a gameplay as deep as it is easy to understand, an incredibly varied arsenal and numerous enemies and bosses, Platinum released here nothing less than THE new reference. A game that no player that considers himself a gamer should miss.