Review: Bayonetta

Bayo cover

With Bayonetta 2 due out for Wii U on October 23rd, I thought I would drag up a couple of pieces I wrote for the now defunct ‘badgercommander’ site.

Below is a revised copy of the article posted back in November 2010. The content has mainly been edited for ease of reading (back in the day I had no editor).

Bayonetta interested me from the moment it was announced. The abundant visual flair on display alongside the promise of almost never-ending combinations of attacks – depending on the weapons the witch, Bayonetta, had attached to her appendages – seemed delicious. This was particularly so considering some of the bland hack-and-slash dross I had been putting up with from the Dynasty, Samurai and Gundam series.

I’ll admit that I have a love/hate (mainly hate) relationship with Devil May Cry and seeing its director Hideki Kamiya at Bayonetta’s helm should have given me a least a few misgivings. However I played the part of the game (available in the demo) in which Bayonetta and her team-mate Jeanne stand on a platform that is falling through some kind of otherworld, all the while fighting an inexhaustible throng of drooling Angels which look like shiny versions of the creatures from Pan’s Labyrinth. For a game to be able to so casually throw that set-piece in at the very beginning of the game, mocking lesser bedfellows, showing us what it could do and that it was happy to showcase this in a mere tutorial, was impressive.

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The game appeared confident it was the best thing to happen to the genre in some time – lest we forget, the genre that is home to heavy hitters such as Kratos, Ryu Hayabusa and Dante. I was sold.

Bayonetta delivers level after level of breathtaking sights. A dizzying fight in a graveyard had me saying “Player Agency be damned”. This game is about hitting everything for massive damage while spinning from a magical pole, bullets flying interminably from ludicrous high heels. This is about darting away from a bloodthirsty Angel/Demon creature at the last second, triggering slow motion, knocking seven shades of shit out of everything before having your costume (made of your own hair) turn into a giant spider so that it can rip a Seraphim limb-from-limb. A sly wink, possibly with a lolly pop hanging from Bayonetta’s mouth, is made to the publishers SEGA as each enemy explodes into Sonic rings.

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I will admit that there are moments where it slows down and some of the bosses take a few too many hits for my liking, but it isn’t long before you have unlocked swords, flaming claws, shotguns and bazookas – among others – leading to an escalation in on-screen violence.

I was also interested by the protagonist’s depiction. Despite a lot of early obsession about Bayonetta’s proportions (not least from Hideki Kamiya, who harped on about her bottom) and hyper-sexualised appearance she turns out to be a much more interesting character than I expected. I am not saying that the story is any good or that the Witch is some kind of ‘Ellen Ripley of video games’, but she is much more interesting than the Princess types of the JRPG or the only-there-as-dressing side-kicks. Certainly Bayonetta is designed to be ‘sexy’ but it all seems to be a bit of a joke, one that even the protagonist is in on. Every strut and pose seems to be part mocking and part self-parody. For all the winks and pole-dancing it is never as if she isn’t in control of this image, nor is she some kind of nymphomaniac obsessed with men. In fact, the strongest relationships she develops over the course of the adventure are with females (the aforementioned and equally ridiculous-looking Jeanne as well as a little girl). I don’t want to get into it too deeply, but a lot of people who have these preconceptions of what Bayonetta is going to be just by the box art and screen shots will find most of these perceptions to be false.

Easily my favourite character is the irritating Enzo pictured above, mainly because he reminds me of Joe Pesci

Easily my favourite character is the irritating Enzo, pictured above. He reminds me of Joe Pesci.

The level of customisation available through weapons and accessories is impressive in terms of breadth and depth. The stupefyingly large bosses are also largely brilliant once you get into a rhythm.

I could go on about how Bayonetta is a superlative game, but unfortunately it forgets when to stop.

This bumbling starts directly after the boss fight with what I had previously assumed was the main villain of the game. They are pitched as such for the first ten levels! This clash takes place on top of a Gothic skyscraper with both Bayonetta and her opponent switching between the X and Y Axis as they stomp, slash and shoot their way across a fountain garden and then onto a precipice before the fight culminates.

With that overcome I felt that the game had reached its natural conclusion. Instead it dragged on for another three chapters and, with it, it yanked away most of my good will for this game.

The final chapters are exhausting, frustrating and dreary. The series of crimes this game decides to commit includes (but is not limited to):

  • An irritating and nonsensical turret sequence;
  • A buggy, precarious platform section;
  • A badly signalled instant-death chase portion.

It then seems to stop the bombardment of playing to its own weaknesses by offering a mildly diverting final boss fight. Then this too doesn’t end, instead giving you a Quick Time Event followed by a 3D equivalent of the car smashing sequence from Street Fighter II which, I discovered, you can fail.

By the time the credits started rolling (that trigger further unskippable fights) I had to say ‘Fuck this game’.

But, but, can Player Agency generate enormous boots of hair?

But– but– can Player Agency generate enormous boots of hair?

Bayonetta is still probably one of the best made games I have played this year but I can’t rightly say it is among those I enjoyed the most. The Angel-smashing and Space Harrier nods are well worth the entry price but I urge that people decide when they are done for themselves. Don’t let the fact that you might ‘miss out on content’ persuade you to push on, since the odds are good that you aren’t going to miss it.