on June 20, 2012
I've been a fan of the beat em up genre for a very long time. It started with Renegade and Double Dragon back in the NES days, and then continued with games such as Final Fight and the Streets of Rage series in the 16 bit era. During the PS2/Xbox era, this genre took a huge leap forward. With the release of games such as Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden, the combat in this genre evolved into something that became brilliantly complex and added an entirely new dimension of depth to the gameplay. And now, with Bayonetta, the genre has reached what is perhaps its peak moment. Bayonetta is an action game that sets a new standard with its fluidity and depth, and is wrapped in a package that shines in a way that is so outrageous and creative, that you can't help but admire it.
The character you control, Bayonetta, is a witch with a mysterious past. She's getting relentlessly attacked by angles and other heavenly forces, and it's up to her to fight back and destroy them in the most violent and creative ways possible. That's pretty much the gist of the narrative. There is a story here, but it almost seems to be intentionally convoluted, and also seems to purposely not take itself very seriously. Instead, the focus is on the fantastical individual events that display an absurd amount of humor, sexuality, and creativity. This is a game that delivers an onslaught of sense-overloading stimuli and never ceases to entertain. The level designs themselves begin with somewhat standard fare, but soon progress into epic set pieces that will have you stopping in your tracks, just to absorb everything that's going on around you. Your enemies are savage and ruthless, and give off an uncomfortable contradiction to their heavenly origins. The boss fights are some of the absolute best of this generation...absolutely epic and intimidating, and really give you a sense of accomplishment once you bring them down. Overall, the game is like nothing you've ever seen before. A real feast for the eyes and ears that at times borders on TOO much, but never crosses that line.
The heart and soul of Bayonetta is the combat. I could honestly take up the space of 3 or 4 full length reviews when discussing the incredible combat system of this game. In a nutshell, this game sets a new bar for depth , tightness of control, and just overall awesomeness to its fighting system. Throughout the game, you'll be able to acquire new weapons, techniques, and accessories, but what is really stunning is that almost everything is available to the player right at the beginning before they even realize it. Bayonetta's fighting techniques are seemingly infinite in the numbers of combinations you can execute and chain together in battle. You will be forced early on to master the dodging technique, as not only is it necessary to survive, but it also triggers a "Witch Time" mechanic that slows your enemies down and allows you to unleash brutal vengeance upon them. As you play through the game and your skills evolve, you'll start to realize that the more moves and combos you master, the LESS it is that you know about the combat. You will realize the incredible possibilities that Bayonetta is capable of, and this will encourage you to play through the game again and again. This is SO refreshing in an era where many similar games are way too button-mashy and don't reward/encourage skill and creativity in their combat. As an incentive to learn more, you are rewarded after each battle, based upon how well you performed, with currency to purchase items, power ups, and new techniques. The controls are wonderfully responsive. Bayonetta will do what you want her to do, when you want. And most importantly, it is always fun, no matter what style of fighting you choose to adopt. This is the best combat system I've ever experienced in a game of this genre, and that is saying a lot.
Not to say the game is completely without some minor flaws. There are some camera issues at times in the areas where Bayonetta is fighting enemies in more narrow corridors. One of the final stages of the game has some major control issues during a mind-tripping vertical walk across some disappearing/reappearing platforms. The colors can appear to be somewhat washed out in some areas, and screen tearing occurs at times (both of these issues are, from my understanding, only on the PS3 version of the game). But none of these issues are anything close to game-breaking. In fact, they're barely minor annoyances. You will be so wrapped up in this crazy game world, slaying the forces of heaven with the most badass fighter to ever grace a game of this type, getting completely caught up with the insanity taking place around you, and having an incredible time the whole way through. Platinum Games has won a spot in my heart for delivering this blood-pumping action masterpiece that surely goes down as one of the best in its genre. Buckle up and enjoy the ride!