All right, let’s get this out of the way at the start: yes, Bayonetta is a lady. Yes, she is well proportioned in certain areas and yes, she does spend an awful lot of time in a state of undress. Whether you want to see this as a piece of cynical manipulation, an aesthetic choice, or a comment on the objectification of females in videogames is entirely up to you, but the game would play in exactly the same way if the lead character was an asexual giraffe who had evolved far enough that he or she could fire large calibre handguns.
The precise shape of the pixels and polygons you’re controlling, at least whilst you’re controlling them, is essentially moot, because the sheer, slobbering insanity of everything else going on around you is far more interesting.
Bayonetta is a third person hack and slasher, created by Platinum Games, and the brainchild of one Hideki Kamiya, the man behind Viewtiful Joe, Okami and the original Devil May Cry.
You control the eponymous witch and must battle through 16 levels of utter, mind boggling chaos, in order to unlock the truth about your past. To that end, you kick, shoot, punch and cut your way through a horde of angels, each stronger and freakier than the last, whilst cracking wise, making innuendos and break dancing. All in a days work, really.
The controls seem simple at first: the left stick moves you, the right stick moves the camera, B and Y control your hands and feet respectively. X shoots your guns and A jumps, with dodging controlled by the right trigger and items used with a press of the D-pad.
On the easier difficulty settings, the game handles a lot of the more complicated moves for you, allowing you to mash the attack buttons with all of your might, but as you progress to the harder modes, you’ll find the level of finesse and accuracy required to take down even the weakest enemy hits the roof.
On Normal or above, Bayonetta reveals its true colours: no hand holding, no easy fights, no time to breathe. The action is fast and frantic and, in the centre of it all, you have to be calm and measured, timing attacks, dodges and movements to perfection. If you don’t want to watch your health bar swiftly depleting, then finding the rhythm of each enemy is vital. Watching the patterns and routines of foes becomes second nature and, whether you notice it or not, you’ll soon be timing your dodges with individual animation frame precision.
The levels are split into different verses, bite sized chunks that range in size from small skirmishes to pitched boss battles. For each of these verses, you receive a medal, an award telling you how well you’ve done in the previous fight. How many hits you dished out, the damage you received and the time you took are collated to create your ranking. At the end of each level proper, these medals are tallied together and you’re given an overall mark, ranging from stone to platinum. Online leaderboards let you show off your skills, or otherwise, and mean this meta game can become infuriatingly addictive. One missed dodge can be the difference between beating your friend’s score and having to accept their onerous gloating.
If all of this sounds familiar to you, that’s because it is. Bayonetta is a game that lovingly acknowledges its roots, in one way an homage to Kamiya’s earlier works, in another, a finely tuned, polished perfection of the systems and ideas that he, and the development team, began to build with Devil May Cry.
That’s not to say that Bayonetta is a simple clone, far from it. What the game lacks in originality of function, it makes up for with one-upmanship of the highest order. Everything is honed, tuned and tweaked. The gore is gorier, the mammoth boss battles bigger, the madness that little bit madder.
Most games in the genre let you use two guns at once. Bayonetta lets you use four. Most games in the genre have a double jump. Bayonetta has a double jump that sees you sprouting butterfly wings and taking flight for a little while. Bayonetta always endeavours to go that little bit further, turning even the most mundane actions into a ‘wow’ moment.
The game is littered with references, a lot of them coming from Rodin, Bayonetta’s large, bald, demonic arms dealer. Classic Sega arcade titles are lovingly sent up. Old Clover Studios games and recent Capcom gems receive knowing winks and there’s even time for a sly nod in the direction of some Hollywood blockbusters.
Bayonetta is, at the same time, both ridiculously, post modernly cool, and, without doubt, one of the campest games ever released. Any of the cut scenes would sit well in a Carry On film, albeit one directed by Takashi Miike. The mix of sadomasochistic imagery, extreme violence and dance routines creates an atmosphere for the game that’s very much its own, and adds to the sometimes overwhelming aesthetic maelstrom swirling on screen.
There are problems with the game. The story is a hair’s breadth away from utter nonsense, gibbering alongside each playthrough like an unwelcome uncle at a birthday party. The plague of all modern action games, Quick Time Events, raise their ugly, button-shaped heads as well, but the track backs from the ‘miss it and you’re dead’ ones are brief enough to make them only mildly annoying, instead of pad crushingly infuriating. These niggles, though, are never quite able to pull focus from the glorious carnage you’re wreaking.
Bayonetta is a triumph, an unashamedly brutal videogame that refuses to pull its punches but remains, for the most, fair in its doling out of punishment. When you die, more often than not, it’s because you weren’t playing well enough and not because the game has thrown a difficulty spike into your abdomen.
Everything here, from the visuals to the resplendently ridiculous soundtrack is tailored to leave you with a mile wide grin on your face, and it succeeds with aplomb and vigour. This new decade has its first gaming superstar, and her name is Bayonetta.
Bayonetta is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.