GameCrank: Bayonetta Review

Patrick

Once upon a time, there was a game company called Clover Studio. This development team was responsible for creating the Viewtiful Joe series, the cult-classic fighting game “God Hand,” and “Okami,” all of which were explosively creative adventures with profound senses of style. They earned thousands of fans from across the world and my deepest respect as well. Then, one day, the company was disbanded after several commercial failures and poor sales, and it was merged with a few other struggling developers to create Platinum Games. Determined to try to redeem their financial flops, Platinum pulled the smartest marketing move it could think of: creating “MadWorld,” an ultra-violent exclusive for the Nintendo Wii.

… sadly, you can probably guess the result from that description.

I really appreciated “MadWorld.” It was one of the first and most ridiculously violent M-rated games I had ever played, desensitizing me to hardcore violence. Seeing how some other unfortunate souls in this school never experienced such a bloody Renaissance, I’m at least thankful for that and its decent gameplay. The game had sparked a huge debate in the video game community when it first came out, and that’s for one large reason: people were speculating that the game was getting tons of hype and high-scoring reviews from critics simply because it was a playable Mature-rated game on the casual game-infested box of rainbows and lollipops. Me: I couldn’t care less. It doesn’t matter whether the game’s symbolic of some idealistic entity; as long as the game is fun, who cares? The game had unique style, a fun battle system, and a surprisingly involving story: what more do you want? It wasn’t a masterpiece, but who the heck expected it to be? I think it got a lot of hype simply because it was one of the only games coming out on the Wii in 2009, and continued to be one of the only games on the Wii all throughout 2010. There’s no denying it though: while MadWorld was greatly inspired and stylized, it seems like “Bayonetta” had more production values funneled into its first twenty minutes than MadWorld seemed to have during the entire game. This is no insult to “MadWorld” at all, as well.

Writing a review about Bayonetta is sort of difficult to design, simply because the game itself is so unbelievably sporadic and ludicrously insane. The best way to start is by name-dropping this title: “Devil May Cry.” “Bayonetta” was directed by the same man who created the series, and it definitely shows. Replace the main character Bayonetta with Dante, alter the story slightly, and there you go: “Devil May Cry 5.” The combat, style of progression, sense of style and presentation, and mostly everything else is very similar. I’ve never played a “Devil May Cry” game, but if you look at footage of both of these games, you can tell they were orchestrated by similar minds. Nobody has complained about this though, and neither shall I; I’ll take a new “Devil May Cry” rip-off any day as long as it’s decent.

Before I start spewing my praise for this game, I have to mention “Bayonetta’s” weakest aspect: the story. It’s not necessarily a style-over-story kind of issue, but more the other way around: the game just doesn’t do a great job of explaining everything. I have to think really hard to recall the main plot, actually, but this is what I can gather.

A long time ago, two clans of witches got into a war. Each of them was nearly exterminated, mostly due to the new witch-hunts provoked by humans during the same time as well. Hundreds of years later, the last Umbra witch, Bayonetta, re-awakens from some kind of hibernation. She has no idea who she is or what happened to her, but she’s willing to mutilate hundreds of innocent people to find the truth. Meanwhile, an army of angels has been unleashed on Earth, many of whom want to kill Bayonetta for some reason, and… forget it. Just play the game and you’ll find out. Very little about it makes sense, and I couldn’t be bothered to read the dozens of text logs the game tries to throw at you. This is the kind of story-telling that I like in games like Dead Space and Bioshock, but not here; the story should be approachable even if you don’t feel like sifting through pages and pages of text and Wiki articles. In the end, the best thing that can be said about it is that it takes you to a lot of cool places and gives you an opportunity to smack the faces off of angelic monsters. That I’m thankful for.

It’s hard to find a game these days that’s as off-the-wall insane as “Bayonetta.” The very first level in the game looks like the final boss fight, and it’s followed by a fifteen-minute cinematic consisting of almost nothing but fight-scenes and action that takes the laws of physics and blasts them straight out of an airlock. The main character, Bayonetta, is a Sarah Palin-inspired witch with hyper-automatic pistols strapped to each of her wrists and ankles, and she has the powers of some mysterious black-arts that even she doesn’t quite understand. Mini-bosses used in prior levels soon become regular enemies towards the end of the game, even though the mini-bosses could have served as their own bosses as well. The actual bosses could fill in for final bosses in most other games, and are also soon slammed in front of your face again and again as if they were simple road-blocks. The game is almost non-stop action, with only a couple of moments of exploration and breaks between fights. The amazing thing about all of this is that nothing in “Bayonetta” ever feels like filler… ever. There are no puzzles, no mindless wandering, and no wave after wave of repetitive enemies; despite the fact that the game never slows down and constantly hammers you with fight after fight, it always remains fresh, exciting, and never gets old, even when new enemies start to become more and more of a rarity. This is the kind of design that I wish Dante’s Inferno and a lot of other hack-and-slashers would listen to: nobody likes puzzles and platforming in a game like this, unless you’re given compound enemy challenges while doing so. The pacing in “Bayonetta” is just about perfect.

By just about perfect, I’m of course hinting at the quick-time-events (QTEs). I haven’t played a ton of beat-‘um-ups like this, so I hadn’t quite realized how dreadful they could be when used improperly. These button sequences are annoying, random, frustrating, needlessly stressful, and ended up killing me many more times than I died in regular combat. The timing is so specific for some of these things that I guarantee that everyone who has and will ever play Bayonetta will die at least once because of them. Even on the embarrassing Easy and Very Easy difficulty modes, you’ll still probably get surprised by some of them, and the game penalizes you every time you die (which is every time you fail one of these sequences). I could make an entire article on why QTEs are a terrible concept (and I actually might do so, now that you mention it), and Bayonetta falls for all the same traps that can ruin them. It’s probably the only part of the gameplay that I consider a significant problem.

One other thing about “Bayonetta” that I have to mention: its depth. The combat system is vast. There are literally dozens upon dozens of combo attacks, special abilities, and moves you can purchase, and weapons all have their own combos as well.  There are so many facets to the gameplay that a single playthrough will only be able to barely scratch the surface.  However, it’s the same kind of issue as seen in “Prototype”: not much of that depth is actually heavily facilitated during the gameplay. Only about a dozen of the combos are worth using, and on the default difficulty settings (at least for me) none of the extras are truly necessary. “Bayonetta” is by no means repetitious (like a mentioned before), but I do kind of wish that the move set was a bit more balanced. If you want to just palm-mash the face buttons, the game is still great fun, but if you want to survive the Normal setting and above, then you’ll probably need to utilize these design flaws as well. If Bayonetta were a full-out fighting game (and it definitely could be), then it would need a bit of attention before it could be considered balanced enough for tournaments and such. Bottom line, though–it’s still a treat to try out all the crazy moves just for the heck of it, and some of the attacks are so graphic that they’ll definitely stick with you for a while.

“Bayonetta” is a weird game for more than just its ludicrous sense of style. It’s a game that’s so near perfect that I don’t know if I truly love it or not. It seems like it should be perfect–the combat it unbelievably sharp, the graphics and art style are mesmerizing, the pacing is fantastic, and it’s one of the most original games I’ve played in years (which is depressing considering the fact that’s it’s almost exactly the same as “Devil May Cry”).  It’s just that there are a couple really annoying flaws that simply don’t go away; every game has problems, but “Bayonetta’s” problems seem to directly affect me while I’m playing the game itself. Chances are, though, that none of them will matter to most people: looking back, this is probably one of the best games from 2010 and, to anyone who’s ever enjoyed an action game before, it can be a spellbinding experience that’s nearly impossible to quit playing. I’ll be playing this game for months, despite the fact that it lasts no longer than a dozen hours. “Bay0netta” is a game that never stops getting better and better.

 

GameCrank is written by Patrick Pontes

 

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