You’ve been here before. Gothic architecture; wise-cracking lead characters; ridiculous weapons and legions of crawling demons of all shapes and sizes – God Of War, Devil May Cry and Dante’s Inferno might be thematic stablemates of Platinum Games’ Bayonetta but they’re all three head and shoulders above the Sega published brawler in terms of class. Bayonetta, then, both in eponymous player avatar and actual game itself, is a frustratingly average third person adventure desperate aping the best in the genre only lightly peppered with moments of brilliance.
So gutting is the fact that, despite everything the game tries to accomplish throughout its lengthy single player adventure, Bayonetta doesn’t ever really do anything it could call its own. Sure, the star of the show is female but Bayonetta’s overly sexualised pose, language and clothing won’t do anything to appease gamers looking for something new – certain Japanese developers are seemingly currently keen to use female leads to attract the attention of teenage boys rather than giving players a genuine reason to take on the role of a woman.
Even her strutting gait wears thin after the first few steps, and left to stand Bayonetta’s pose seems nothing short of bizarre. Her skin tight clothing is never really explained or required further than to ensure the game garnered plenty of attention during the early screenshots, but it’s during many of the special moves, when the costume transforms into hair that then leaves the body, that the whole thing becomes mildly ridiculous. If you’re not a fan of near full-frontal nudity (something Sega were particularly keen to push in Japanese advertisements) Bayonetta’s clearly not for you.
Regardless, there’s a game hidden here somewhere, and it’s actually a reasonable one underneath all the fluff. Essentially created very much in the style of the rival titles mentioned above, Bayonetta is a mythical witch thrown into the game’s story via a series of poorly explained and rather scattergun cut-scenes and early gameplay sections, which don’t start to click into place until a good couple of hours in. Initially the whole premise of angels and demons is rather confusing, but you soon realise who’s meant to be fighting who via a series of flashback portions.
Viewed from behind and above, Bayonetta is a third person adventure in which the player is tasked with destroying thousands of angelic creatures and a hundred or so boss characters. Each level is split into verses (with checkpoints) and the player must carve their way through each set of increasingly powerful enemies and solve the occasional puzzle. It all moves at a blistering pace and once you’ve got into a rhythm you do start to get a feel for the speed at which you’re meant to fight, switch between weapons and get the most out of them given each situation.
Bayonetta’s trick is to equip the player with an ever increasing set of weaponry – you might start with just the ability to kick and punch but unlimited ammo is funnelled through not just a set of pistols but a duplicate pair attached to Bayonetta’s ankles. This massively expands the moveset, with combos drawn out via gunshots, pauses and jumps to create a huge array of devastating ways to inflict both physical and spiritual harm on your enemies, with additional arsenal either bought or traded in for rare collectables at the mid-level ‘Gates of Hell’ jazz bar.
So far, so Kratos. Platinum Games’ greatest trick, and one that becomes ever more necessary, is the dodge button. As you’d expect, the tap of the trigger isn’t purely for avoiding blades and teeth – indeed, timed correctly the dodge move kicks off a slow-motion trigger which not only hugely enhances your ability to deal death, but you’ll be able to run much faster which makes way for some of the game’s puzzles. It’s an interesting concept once fully out in the open and although hardly unique in principle, combined with the rest of the game it works well enough.
And therein lies the problem. Much of Bayonetta, despite the hype, simply works well enough. There are sections when the game surprises you, and indeed certain moments that genuinely impress, but for the most part it’s third person business as usual. Bayonetta offers a thin veil of pretense, that there’s more going on under the surface, but as it stands it’s a reasonably solid scrapper with a few neat ideas wrapped up in a glossy coat of long black hair. If you’ve got an Xbox 360 and don’t fancy buying a PS3 for God Of War III then this is a game worth investigating.
If you’re only equipped with a PS3, though, Bayonetta is a shockingly poor port. Sure, those screenshots might show that on the surface both versions are fine visually, but the PlayStation Bayonetta suffers from a poor framerate and tearing during the simplest of cut-scenes, unbelievably long (and constant) load times (even when walking over pick ups and navigating menus), huge waits when you try to save a game at the end of a chapter and even a bafflingly odd 15 second wait each boot as the game checks for ‘available hard drive space’. Seriously.
The worst part about all this is that death, whether caused by player skill or one of the game’s many sudden quicktime events (or otherwise unannounced life threatening cut-scenes), results in a 30 second load before you’re back in the action, which could only last a few seconds should you get it wrong again. When a game makes you want to skip a mid level shop because you can already pre-empt the wait it’s not a good sign – sure, you can practice your moves during the load screen and mess with your weapons, but should you really have to? Bayonetta is one game that really should have had an install option.
Still, the further you get into Bayonetta the more the game starts to show its true colours – the set pieces become bigger, the plot twists more interesting and the sidekicks less annoying – there’s certainly enough here to warrant a purchase but it’s not the top class AAA game that you might have hoped, and certainly not as comprehensively brilliant as Platinum’s Madworld, which which Bayonetta shares much of its wanton destruction, speed and gameplay mechanics. Bayonetta might have been something special, but it’s left knocking at the gates of Heaven whilst the old guard are readying up for war.
- Lovely visuals in places.
- A huge array of pickups and weaponry means that movesets are literally massive.
- Plenty of challenge.
- Decent voice acting from some of the cast.
- Great controls.
- Appalling PS3 port with horrific load times.
- It’s all been done before.
The truth is, sadly, that there are better same-genre games around just now. Dante’s Inferno and God Of War III on the surface (and judging by our playtests) appear to be smoother, slicker experiences with the latter a trusted staple for PS3 gamers who really shouldn’t be pushed towards Sega’s latest multiformat title. Sure, there’s a decent game here if you can’t wait for the big hitters just around the corner, but if patience isn’t a virtue of yours then perhaps Bayonetta isn’t the one for you anyway, at least unless you’re going for the 360 version. Shame, as Bayonetta has solid principles and a sequel could very well be amazing.
Editor’s note: this review is based off the Japanese PS3 version of Bayonetta. Should the European version released today offer significant improvements we’re quite happy to re-review.