Saturday, January 16, 2010

Bayonetta Review

In 2001, Hideki Kamiya delivered the first Devil May Cry game for Capcom.  Later, some of Capcom's biggest talent formed Clover Studios, which delivered critical-favorite Okami and the sequel to (and PS2 port of the original) Hideki Kamiya's Devil May Cry.  When Capcom decided to close Clover (while retaining the IP), members of Clover formed Seeds Inc.  Seeds merged with another studio to form Platinum Games.

Bayonetta isn't the first game from Platinum Games, but it's the first one with Hideki Kamiya at the helm.  And perhaps unsurprisingly, it borrows a lot of elements from Kamiya's earlier Devil May Cry.

The game tells the story of Bayonetta, a witch found in a lake where she'd been sealed in a coffin for the past 500 years.  Bayonetta has incredible powers and a talent for killing angels, but she doesn't have any memory of who she is.  Driving back from completing a mission, she's attacked by someone who sparks a memory from her past.  Using her informant, Enzo, supplies her with enough information to track the attacker back to an old European country called Vigrid, where she recovering her lost memories is the key not just to solving the mystery of her attacker, but saving all of creation.

As I mentioned earlier, Bayonetta borrows a lot from Devil May Cry.  The game is broken into 16 chapters, with slick cutscenes to fill in some of the story between the action-packed levels.  Like DMC's Dante, Bayonetta can attack with weapons or guns.  The big difference here is that Bayonetta can equip weapons in both her hands and on her feet, which can make for some pretty interesting combos.  The enemy design is top-notch, too.  While there's only a few different types, they do an excellent job of being both majestic creatures that really could be the Bible's angels as well as otherworldly, monstrous creatures.  That fits well with the game's mythology, that light and dark, Heaven and Hell, angels and demons are opposite sides of the same coin with a careful balance maintained between them.  This mythology provides a solid base for a surprisingly interesting story.  For the first chapter or so, it's pretty easy to dismiss Bayonetta as a shallow sex-selling heroine.  But as Bayonetta's past is explored, she's revealed to be a strong heroine who's playful innuendo hides the fact that she really does care about the people around her, with a sense of justice that's not a simple as "angels good, demons bad."

If I had to find fault with Bayonetta, is that it very much feels like a button-masher.  While you have a button for shooting, a button for your hand weapon, and a button for your feet weapon, and tons of combos that you can make out that combination, the action is fast-paced and rarely allows you to think about what combos you're going to use.  The thing is, mashing the buttons can still produce some very slick effects and you're never really penalized for doing it.  The only other real flaw I can find with it is that it's a tad on the short side, with my first playthrough taking about 8 and half hours.  There's some replay value to be had, though, with chances to improve your scores on the levels and plenty of hidden stuff to find.

Ultimately, Bayonetta is a stylish, fast-paced, well-polished action game.  You're not going to push crates around or look for a crest to open a door under a fountain.  You'll chop, smash, shoot, impale, crush, and otherwise brutalized tons of angels.  If you're looking for a more evenly-paced adventure you might want to look at other games, but if you're looking for action there are few games that pull it off as well as Bayonetta.

Final Score: A-

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