For some reason, with this review, I feel like getting right to the point. Bayonetta is easily the best game I’ve played in a very long time. There, I said it: my raw and unfiltered personal opinion. But those of you who know me or are regulars to the site know that my personal view of the game is not to be trusted. It’s clouded by a thick haze of genuine love and affection.
But even under the cold, hard gaze of an objective mind, the evidence in incontrovertible: Bayonetta is an excellent game. So before my editor, Ian H., just deletes this review and fires me for abandoning the few shreds of credibility and integrity that I have left, let’s review the facts.
On a technical level, the graphics are solid, maybe not the best, but certainly good-looking nonetheless. But the game doesn’t just paint a pretty picture; a lot of serious thought and design went into its visual presentation. It’s difficult to describe to someone who hasn’t seen the game but the overriding theme seems to be the blending of the unexpected with an exaggerated sense of style. It’s an interesting blend of the mythological, the occult and the not-so-distant future held together by plenty of Japanese flair. The environments are varied, including bright, idyllic gardens, picturesque cobblestone streets, surreal realms and burning ruins. The colours are bold and evocative, ranging from sterile grays to lush greens.
The music is an eclectic mix of typical synthesized video game fare with some jazzy undertones. Nothing mind-blowing, although the main theme is quite catchy and there’s a nice rendition of “Fly Me to the Moon”. But the voice acting is definitely the highlight of the entire audio package. From the Joe Pesci sound-alike Enzo to the appropriately sultry yet sophisticated Bayonetta, the characters are well cast. They’re also great at delivering, the sometimes ridiculous dialogue. After all, this is a game with a sense of humour.
This is one of those games that is very self aware. The cut-scenes contain plenty of slapstick moments which provide a welcome respite from the frenetic pace of regular gameplay. There are even small references to Mad World, Resident Evil 4 and a certain Saturday Night Live skit related to bovine percussion instruments. But when it comes to its core gameplay mechanics, this game is all business.
As a 3-D beat’em-up, the majority of its gameplay revolves around its combat system, and it’s the one aspect of the game that is executed flawlessly. It’s responsive, fluid and immensely satisfying. Consisting of only a punch, kick and dodge buttons, it’s easy to grasp but deceptively complex. Right off the bat, it has a combo list that could rival those of Tekken or Soul Calibur. And that is not even including some of the more interesting unlockable maneuvers or the aptly named torture attacks (special heavy hitting finishers). Then there’s Bayonetta’s arsenal of weapons, which range from the ordinary; guns and swords, to the obscene; magic ice skates and tonfa-bazookas. But even normal armaments become something else in her hands or…uhh…feet. Did I mention she can equip many of those weapons on either her hands or feet? Well she can, allowing for some crazy combinations. Doing so changes the power and rhythm of her attacks and each has their own special effects. For instance the whip can be used to grab enemies and swing them around while the sword can be charged to unleash devastating damage. Controlling her is like orchestrating an elegant yet visceral and brutal ballet with guns and rocket launchers.
For all its merits though, the game does bare the burden of a single, but significant technical issue: it’s loading. The wait times themselves, are not unusual, but the instances in which they occur are. It loads, albeit very briefly, before opening the menu, pausing, giving item descriptions and even changing screens in your inventory.
But there’s an important caveat to this issue, it seems that this is primarily a problem with the PS3 version; the one played for this review. The general consensus among the public and gaming press is that the 360 version doesn’t have these same loading problems, but this has yet to be confirmed by us personally. Either way, PS3 owners should not, by any means, avoid this game solely based on this small issue, as it is this reviewer’s opinion that the excellent gameplay far outweighs it. I also experienced some noticeable slow-down in some of the later, and more intense, parts of the game. But those sections were brief in duration and certainly still playable.
So What I’m Trying to Say Is…
This is one of the most fun and satisfying games to come around in a while. At its core, Bayonetta is an impeccably designed action-adventure brawler with one of the best combat mechanics around. Its fast and graceful yet visceral. The presentation is heavily stylized, with furious, over-the-top action and great attention to detail with a little humour added in. There seems to be a few loading and frame-rate issues on the PS3 version, in comparison to the 360 version, but they aren’t significant enough to detract from all the good that this game offers.
Bayonetta was developed by Platinum Games and published by Sega. It is currently available for the PS3 and Xbox 360 for $59.99 CDN. Game completed on Normal in 17+ hours. Tears shed while attempting Hard Mode: 42.