Sunday, June 27, 2010

Bayonetta Review - Seriously bizarre, seriously awesome

 See that suit? It's made of hair.If one was to inquire about what games they should purchase for their entertainment needs titles like God of War, Devil May Cry, Ninja Gaiden and stuff like Batman: Arkham Asylum would come up undoubtedly. Bayonetta bends that talk in a unique direction but will no less be added to this list of must-play action titles. But coming from the mind of DMC creator Hideki Kamiya, that was almost a sure-fire bet anyhow. 

What’s different about it? The answer is what isn’t. Bayonetta is one of those games that’s very difficult to describe. On one hand it’s a fast and frantic action game comparable to the likes of Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden. Combat is solid and undeniably fluid with plenty of combos and weapons at your disposal to prevent any onset of boredom. However, it’s over the top and exaggerated approach is unequivocally ridiculous and a considerable hook to the already excellent action.

 Yeah, these are what you'd call  angels. Bayonetta is an Umbra witch, which (hah) has a counter-part group known as the Lumen sages. The Umbran side is considered “dark” while the other is wholly “light” and they’re all in charge of keeping the balance of the universe intact. Well, a Romeo and Juliet type scenario goes down with a Lumen and Umbran getting together, all hell proceeds to break loose and after the dust settles Bayonetta wakes up at the bottom of a lake as the last of the Umbran line. Suffering from severe amnesia and full of vengeance, she takes particular morbid interest in letting the blood of angels. This is the basis of the game.

To be entirely honest, I’m not exactly sure what I just wrote. Angels are your main nemesis and killing them somehow brings the story together in laughably spectacular fashion. What I mean is that everything, from the combat to the clothing is unjustifiably exaggerated which is a huge reason why the game is such a pleasure to play. Bayonetta is ostensibly a dark stripper witch with a sarcastic personality reminiscent of Dante from you know where. Her attacks revolve around familiar combo systems you’d see in games listed above, with one giant quirk… they deal with hair. Yes, combos often end with Bayonetta unleashing what’s called a Wicked Weave attack. A massive boot, fist, or sword of hair could manifest and do devastating damage to surrounding enemies; she also loses most of her clothing when performing said attacks.

 Pretty lights often lead to confusion and dead angels.Yes, the stripper witch loses clothing tactically so she may unleash insanity unto her opponents with demon hair beasts. She even has special torture attacks that are unique depending on what angle you hit your opponent. Torture attacks can be unleashed by avoiding damage and dishing it out until your magic bar reaches a certain point. Simply press a couple buttons and Bayonetta will cause catastrophic damage in a multitude of hysterically gruesome ways. For example, Bayonetta gets behind her foe, creates a guillotine and spanks her victim until finally calling down the sharpened blade to behead the embarrassed and soundly defeated angel. Even better is her climax finishes against larger beasts. Bayonetta will call down a super hair beast which can be anything from a large dragon chomping down on the surprised enemy to an enraged bird that eviscerates the target. One such boss creature I faced was in the shape of a ball, and upon his defeat Bayonetta’s climax finish summoned multiple hands of hair that played volleyball with the thing before finally crushing it to a bloody pulp. Ridiculous? Yes. But oh so satisfyingly right.

 You can see how hurt enemies are  just by looking at them.

I should mention that stages are composed of the essential elements that make standardized action games solid. You’ve got your hidden treasures to find, heart and magic containers to increase health and abilities, and currency to purchase new techniques and weapons. Just about everything a typical action game requires Bayonetta has, and more. There are even small puzzles scattered around as well as hidden challenges called Alfheim portals which are very reminiscent of DMC’s challenges. Just about every level was setup in a way that didn’t make me feel cheated or bored. Actually, traversing these dynamic environments is half the fun since you’ll run into impossibly awesome scenarios quite often. Running up sky-scrapers while dodging missiles and fighting enemies while on rotating debris is commonplace in Bayonetta. Also, to follow with everything that’s already bizarre, instead of potions or some type of magical concoction to bolster your abilities, Bayonetta uses lollipops. Remember, she’s a dark stripper witch. It makes sense.

 Durga is a weapon that can be  worn on the hands or feet and can change elemental properties at will. Frame rate-wise, the game is smooth throughout its entirety and its visuals are pretty damn stunning too. Enemies and animations are intricate and move like you’d expect them to. With the variety of angelic enemies you also shouldn’t get bored of maiming them either. But what’s really important is the difficulty. Games like Ninja Gaiden are brutal and after you die they’ll send you back to the last time you saved. Bayonetta can be very tough at points, especially if you have trouble dodging. Much of the game revolves around Witch Time, which is initiated by dodging at the last second. Think of it like bullet time where everything slows down for a portion, but you can move and attack unhindered. Thankfully, if you perish the game brings you back to the last section or Verse you died at. Typically there’s about six or so Verses in a chapter. What’s even better is how death during a boss battle is handled. Most fights against the level guardian are multi-tiered, so if you get to the second part of the fight and die you’ll actually appear at the beginning of the second segment, not the very beginning. This design decision helps the game flow and I’m incredibly thankful for it.

Surely the checkpoint system is very forgiving and purists will dislike how it works. However, the game tracks how well you do including keeping tabs on deaths, combos, and items used. The fewer times you die, the more likely you are to receive a higher award at the end of the stage. The game will last you somewhere around 10 hours and with this state-tracking feature as well as having all your items and currency carry over into a new game plus, there’s plenty of reasons to revisit the game once you’re through.

Bayonetta is another triumph for Mr. Kamiya. Beneath this sea of exaggeration and ridiculousness is a serious, high-quality action game. You’d do yourself no justice by skipping out on it. 

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