From the initial moments of picking up the controller and actually experiencing what could be a playable stripper dance action-game, Bayonetta probably isn’t what you’d expect from the creator of Devil May Cry and SEGA…or is it? With an unparalleled mix of eccentric and sexually-engorged religious overtones, the game stars an amnesic, shape-shifting witch who’s adorned in revealing skin-tight ivory outfits and sporting impossibly long legs, a voluptuous bust, and a curvaceously perfect backside. Battling angelic beings as the camera conveniently pans in for numerous slow-motion crotch shots, with an equally-serious emphasis on gunplay with strap-on high heel pistols is the norm here.
Some activists will cite Bayonetta’s impossible body and unabashed theatrics as misogynistic, helping set back the march of feminism by decades, and is perhaps the most singularly exploitive female character since Lara Croft first raided tombs with those big guns of hers. But like Ms. Croft, those willing to look past Bayonetta’s more pronounced assets will find a game that’s deeply engaging, and richly decadent in gameplay mechanics as it is in virtual eye-candy. Whether the game is the work of pure adolescent fantasy or parody is largely up to the player, but its an experience that surely earns in mature rating and one that demands your attention.
You can almost feel from the opening prologue alone that this seductive tale of witch and angel clans is going to be a outwardly vivid one, its shamelessly flamboyant as the lead character herself lusciously gyrates and flaunts her polished goods among the waves of enemies like any good femme fatale should. Along the way players are treated to a tale that does its best to put our amnesic, shape-shifting witch heroine in context, complete with an Excalibur-like tale of her resurrection and quest to seek vengeance on those who imprisoned her, usually in the most violent and extreme ways possible. The quest of uncovering the past of the Umbra clan and her memories while keeping dimensional balance in order is obvious, and while there’s actually a skeleton of a plot to go with this madness, the game weaves through its ultra-cheesy dramatics to where the real focus is – stylish gameplay, and lots of it.
Developer Hideki Kayima and his crew at PlatinumGames have engineered a spiritual successor to his own Devil May Cry, only, as he coins it, “sexier”; not in the least bit surprising since he and his fellow developers migrated from Capcom and the underappreciated remnants of Clover Studios (Okami, God Hand). If you’re even remotely familiar with Dante and his prior exploits you should have little problem grasping the basic core of Bayonetta, only this now it can be rightfully classified as “hotter” than whatever “the man in the red trench coat” has ever done. There’s a healthy dose of button-smashing combo action, mixed with predictable context-sensitive prompts to help bring some of the game’s more cinematic interactive moments back to earth.
It also follows in the same vein in being somewhat difficult, but usually fair in execution considering how frantic, and ludicrous, the combat can be as much of the action to an outside viewer typically appears a discombobulating feature of over-the-top combo theatrics. These assumptions are only reinforced when items like stripped poles and healing lollipops are thrown into mix, perfectly complementing guillotine-summoning ‘torture attacks’ and ‘climax finishes’. Further helping the chaotic show is the well-implemented ‘Witch Time’ effect, which rewards quick-fingered players by slowing down time and allowing our lithe heroine to inflict even more damage on her hapless prey.
The game’s surrealistic nature can be deceiving, as the commands do require some technical precision as things become progressively harder and even stranger throughout. Unless you play on the easiest setting, which can be played one-handed. Feel free to draw your own conclusions.
While some may debate whether games can be defined as art, there’s no doubt that watching Bayonetta in action is almost poetry in motion, often with large boss battles to set the healthy tone and glamorous fashion-conscious mood. Its magic when it all comes together as trace element of Norse, Hindu, and other aspects of mythology and religion collide to create a distinct realm like no other. This influence is felt and applied everywhere, although at times it can be a bit much in laughably-cheesy context, the designers probably went a smidge overboard in creating seemingly lively environments where overzealous anime motifs and screeching J-pop versions of “Fly Me to the Moon” are constantly blaring through your speakers.
But Bayonetta is laughably overbearing in giving it all as she attempts to seduce the camera in truly overemphasized ways, with some moments that are far from attractive and bordering on outright embarrassing. But then again, somewhere out there are people that probably think of Bayonetta herself the ideal woman for their HDTV, so who am I to judge?
While the majority of my experience was with the Xbox 360 version, those looking to pick up the game on the PlayStation 3 should be aware of some minor differences that might affect their enjoyment. For whatever reason, the PS3 version of the game isn’t as smooth visually as its Xbox 360 counterpart, with some heinous slowdown and framerate jitters during some of the more action-packed moments (and there are plenty, believe me). And then there’s the loading times, which are also numerous and crop up just about everywhere. A potential deal breaker for those looking for the superior version.
With unabashed style that’s all its own, Bayonetta is a pure celebration of the erotically absurd, and it’s easy to fall for her wicked charms the first time going in. Its a frantic, eye-popping visual orgasm, laced with fetishtic style and supernatural bending theatrics rolled into one shape-fitting leather package. Its almost as much fun to watch as it is to play, and probably a uncanny masterpiece in its attempt for conceivable brilliance. It won’t appeal to everyone but it should be everything that a hardcore gamer, otaku, and closet pervert could ask for in an action game, as least one where stiletto heels are involved.