'Now now Cheshire, the fun's just starting!' That alone could sum up the intro to Bayonetta, an action game which throws you in control of our titular character and resident witch of kicking-arse, Bayonetta. Read this review if you want to become excited about one of the best action games not just so far this year but possibly for the whole of 2010.
A little back story here. Bayonetta explains in its (fully playable) intro that the Umbra witches (Bayonetta's clan) and the Lumen sages fought over the 'Eyes of the World', jewels with the ability to watch all existence and hence control its future. This took place 500 years ago and all the witches were wiped out, save for one (have a guess who that would be). After awaking from a deep slumber, the game picks up 20 years later when Bayonetta is seen in a graveyard with the informant Enzo, giving final blessings over a coffin
It is here that the game kicks off as control is put in your hands and through brief tutorials you are given the means to dispatch of the 'angels' that descend to take away the soul of Rodin, a demon who has supposedly 'died' already (although the game very quickly kills that rumour in its tracks).
Almost from the get-go you get a feel for how Platinum Games (the game's developer) give you the perfect amount of control over Bayonetta, a big combo list to work with and yet not have you work overtime in order to look flashy. Although the inevitable comparisons will be drawn with Devil May Cry (hereafter DMC), Platinum Games do a great job of building upon the foundation set by those games, taking them to great heights and adding their own elements to the mix to create something really exciting and satisfying to play.
As expected, buttons are allocated on the pad for punches and kicks (although this varies based on the weapons equipped), locking on the enemy, doing a safety backflip as well as jumping and changing into different forms (Bayonetta is a witch after all). The backflip is especially useful when if you initiate this just before an enemy strikes you go into something called witch time, where time slows down and you can rain a series of attacks down on the enemy to your own satisfaction. It makes for riveting battles and self-made set pieces galore.
Extra moves can be bought later in the game to increase Bayonetta's repertoire and it feels like the controls are mapped out appropriately to match the pace of the game. Players can also go to Rodin's store, The Gates of Hell, to purchase necessary items, weapons, etc. between chapters. You could easily end up thinking Bayonetta's unstoppable to some extent. Thankfully, the difficulty curve as you play through the game is such that this point of view quickly becomes irrelevant.
Although there are occasions where you will walk all over your enemies, Bayonetta will most certainly throw sections at you that will test your skills. In addition to this, the bosses are no pushover either. I will be decent by not spoiling these encounters for you but they are unquestionably epic and enjoyable too. Hopefully they will make you re-asses what you'll expect from boss battles in games in the future.
Gameplay alone is not this game's only forte. Looking at the graphics, Bayonetta is a sight to behold (not just the character, of course). Much like Uncharted 2 and Metal Gear Solid 4, there are moments where you will just stop and stare at the environments the game has you play through. All details look very solid and the characters are well defined and realised. Bayonetta's a fun and interesting character to play as, combining sassyness, mystique and ungodly strength as a witch (some of the things she throws in this game will back this point up wholly). Although putting glasses on the titular character (and her nemesis Jeanne) is a little touch it is nice to see and makes her no less bad-ass than expected. Any complaints relating to graphics will be petty at best.
Add to this the challenge rooms which have you defeat sets of enemies under certain conditions to gain a well-earned reward. They are optional but are good for those players dedicated to an extra level of challenge. Replay value is not only present in playing the game itself to get better gradings and hi-scores but also the extra weapons and costumes the player can obtain. Bayonetta really does give you a lot of bang for your buck!
As ever, for all the positive elements the game has there also has to be a couple of downsides. There are unnecessary instances of loading on the PS3 version (such as going into menus, the store, changing weapons, to new a few). Having played the 360 version to completion I have not experienced this first-hand but have heard from many owners of the PS3 version that it can be to the point of distraction and almost ruin the overall experience. Some may also see Bayonetta as the step-sister of the DMC games that came before it and not be able to get over the similar elements that are in both titles. There are also difficulty spikes (literally) at certain points in the game that may deter players from completing the game after all.
In parting comments, Bayonetta is not an imitator of what has gone before, nor is it the best bits of DMC, God of War or Ninja Gaiden. It takes its rightful place in the genre whilst adding its flavour, flair and flash to the proceedings and will no doubt be a benchmark by which future action games will be gauged. Watch your back Dante, Kratos and Ryu, there's a new lady in town (and by now, you know what her name is). Bayonetta is definitely worth your purchase and play time.