Bayonetta // PS3
January 24, 2010
Bayonetta is a game like no other. An astonishing piece of entertainment.. scratch that, art, that brutally punished every flaw in my videogaming skills which defeated me around two-thirds into the game, I both loved it and hated it in equal measure. Swearing publicly that I wouldn’t play it again, proclaiming to the room at large that it was a *string of unpronounceables*, I went back to it after half an hour, knocked the difficulty down to Easy, swallowed my pride, and pushed on to its fantastic climax. Bayonetta laughs at your definition of epic, swallows it in her hair and spits it back out at you, rewriting videogame theatre as she does so. The result is a game that everyone needs to experience.
Can’t touch this
Incarcerate a score of insane asylum inmates, feed them each a wheel of cheese before bedtime and ask them to empty the contents of their brains in the morning, and the collective bilge would still pall against the sheer insanity of Bayonetta’s bat-shit-crazy fiction. A lollipop-sucking witch whose hair devours demons is a detail that wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow by the time the final credits (eventually) roll. There is nothing else quite like it; Bayonetta is an important release, a staggering vision that stands head and shoulders above everything else in its sheer uniqueness. The fact it is still bogged down by the frustrations and hardcore elitism that typically plague this genre stop it from taking a place as one of videogaming’s greatest masterpieces; it will instead have to settle for tarnished brilliance, of potential not quite fulfilled.
Or maybe that’s just because I’m not a very good gamer? Periodically, chapter after chapter, Bayonetta handed my ass to me on a plate; the legions of angels and demons from Paradiso and Inferno eviscerating my health bar with only a handful of hits and condemning me to Stone awards (the lowest grade) for every level. Whilst a fierce passion for the industry doesn’t necessarily translate into elite videogaming skills, I had thought that I was no slouch with a joypad either. The fact that Bayonetta drove home the fact that I was useless at mastering its nuances at the end of every skirmish dampened my enjoyment of its madcap plot, lavish characters and fetishistic cutscenes. In layman’s terms, it’s too fucking hard.
The disparity between the Bayonetta of the cinematics – powerful and invincible – and the Bayonetta controlled by my own hands – awkward, predictable and slow – was jarring. Portrayed as a force of nature, a deadly killing machine so confident of her own abilities that she shoots her weapons behind her back, it’s a crushing disappointment to then be handed your ass by the most lowly of heaven’s minions. If this Umbra Witch had handled as well as the Caped Crusader in Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham Asylum, where a simple fighting system could also yield complexity without a dizzying list of combos, then my ten hours with Bayonetta would have felt much more of a pleasure, rather than frequently, a chore.
Finally capitulating to the difficulty in Chapter 10, after a series of swift, brutal deaths, I belatedly swallowed my pride and switched down to Easy. From that point on, the game was a breeze. Whether it was insanely easy because I’d slogged through so much of the game on Normal is now impossible to ascertain, but with the challenge removed I was once again liberated to enjoy Bayonetta as the theatrical spectacle that it is – and I finished the rest of the game in a single sitting.
Impossibly tall, twig-thin, razor-tongued, and clad in her own hair, Bayonetta is the most interesting new videogame character to emerge in years, the throbbing black jewel in Platinum Games’ crown, flecked with supporting gems like Luka, Jeanne, Rodin and the grandiose, camp and rather absurd Father Balder. That the script isn’t on par with its actors is a forgivable thing; overblown, bombastic tales of the end of the world at the hands of the Creator are just too lofty for our mere mortal minds to warm to. The prolonged final act, which, despite its epic-ness descends into a test of patience, can also be overlooked – it’s pretty evident that the developer was having too much fun to know when to stop.
When executed well, the combat is fluid and frenetic, if perhaps a little confusing in its execution. Wicked Weave attacks (where Bayonetta’s hair forms giant limbs with which to defeat her foes) dominate the entire screen, and are cranked up several notches for the QTE-enabled Climax moves for the bosses. Speaking of which, they are easily one of the game’s most impressive details; twisted, nightmarish creations that will linger long in the memory after you’re done with this game. The fact that they are often recycled throughout the game is a shame though, but probably makes them even easier to remember.
I’ve had enough!
Mastery of Bayonetta then, is key to unlocking the games riches. Ironically, it is probably a second playthrough of Bayonetta which will firm up my own personal opinions of the game. It’s medal-based awards system actively encourages repeat attempts, and it is only through dedicated practice (and lots of it) that any seed of mastery can begin to grow. Being exhausted by its bombastic pomp and overblown theatre, and with a clutch of unplayed titles on my shelf, that second playthrough will have to wait. As stated at the top, Bayonetta is unlike anything else you’ve ever played, unique in its vision, if not in its execution. It’s most certainly worth your money, your time and your patience, but don’t lie to yourself about your gaming abilities on the difficulty select screen like I did; the game will be merciless in its punishment if you do. Brutal but gorgeous, Bayonetta is the mirror image of its chief protagonist, then, and now my eyes have stopped bleeding and my adrenaline levels have returned to normal I’ll (grudgingly) admit that I wouldn’t have it any other way.