Video Game Backlog Attack: Bayonetta
I have something of a problem with video game pile-up, and have for years. Dozens of unplayed video games inhabit my shelves, easily spanning twenty or more consoles. Increasingly rapid price drops, along with what I consider to be a rise in the overall quality of games, have amplified this issue to a whole new level. My Xbox 360 library alone is a task of Sisyphean proportions, sporting nearly 40 titles that have never seen the disc tray. This year, that’s all gonna change. First up: Bayonetta.
When it released on the US market in early 2010, Bayonetta was actually a pretty easy title for me to ignore. The game shares more than a little common ground with the long-running Devil May Cry series, and that was more than enough to keep me away for a good long while. Not that I don’t think the Devil May Cry games are any good, I’m sure they are. I’m just completely terrible at them. I’ve only ever really played the fourth game in the series, and while I managed to complete it, it’s not something I look back on fondly. It was a hollow victory, throughout which the game repeatedly derided me on my poor combo skills no matter how hard I tried, and I made a silent vow to never again return to the genre.
Eventually though, by virtue of excellent critical reviews and a $10 price tag, Bayonetta found its way into my collection-and subsequently, into my heart. Allow me to set the scene for you. The game opens in a cemetery, where Bayonetta stands over a casket. She prays over it intently, imploring Heaven to accept the soul inside into their care. And when the skies open up and a host of angels descend, she launches into their midst and gleefully decimates their ranks like a frenzied shark. Amplifying the ruse, her associate bursts out of the casket and begins tossing her a near-endless supply of handguns just as fast as she can empty the clips. Before the cutscene even ended and relinquished control to me, I was hooked.
On that note, let me say first of all that I’m glad that the cutscenes are as good as they are. Because there are a lot of them, and they are long. They almost always manage to be funny and engaging though, despite the fact that the story itself is fairly incomprehensible. Even having finished the game, I’m not entirely sure what it was about. Several parallels are drawn between this game’s narrative and Dante’s Divine Comedy, and noble attempts are made at some kind of plot depth. In the end, however, it boils down to “sexy witch kills all the angels”, and that’s really good enough as far as I’m concerned.
That brings up another point, actually, and probably my only caveat for potential buyers. Bayonetta represents the point of maximum capacity for most fetishes catered to by a single video game character. Imagine a game of Frogger, in which the one side of the highway represents jokingly sexy parody, and the other side is “I’m sort of glad nobody is watching me play this game”. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, I’m glad that video games have managed to push the old boundaries so far. I’m just saying that a game containing combos in which all your clothes disappear and your hair turns into a giant high-heeled boot for angel crushing is a game that might not be for everyone. But it might be for you, and that’s okay to admit. Creeper.
Vaguely unsettling combos aside, the combat is where Bayonetta really shines as a game. I normally flail helplessly at the idea of learning deep movesets that I will only need for about nine total hours of my life, but what’s here is pretty accessible compared to other games in the same genre. The loading screens even help you out, with a full movelist and a few seconds of open practice time between each area, I felt that this was a pretty great idea. In addition to new techniques, you unlock new and interesting weapons throughout the game: shotguns, a sword, claws with a variable elemental effect, and more. Guns are able to be equipped to your feet as well as your hands, and the game allows you to switch between two different loadouts with a single trigger pull, which keeps combat flowing nicely no matter which enemies you’re confronted with.
Being a witch, Bayonetta has more than just a great arsenal of weapons at her disposal. Every successfully timed dodge activates a few seconds of “Witch Time”, in which all enemies are slowed down and you’re free to do some serious damage without fear of reprisal. Learning to activate Witch Time with nearly every dodge will save your life in the later levels. There’s also magic, which can be expended for some of the more over-the-top combos, as well as the devastating torture attacks which target a single enemy and rarely leave them standing. There are also a variety of useful power-ups providing temporary benefits like increased damage or invincibility, these can either be purchased or made on your own through a simple crafting system.
Much like my experience with Devil May Cry, I got the lowest possible ranking-the dubious Stone trophy-on nearly every level, even on the “Normal” difficulty setting. Unlike that game, however, I never put Bayonetta down and sulked for a week between level attempts. The team at Platinum Games managed to instill every battle and cutscene here with such a frantic pace that it was nearly impossible to walk away from at times. Even after a tough bossfight, I’d find myself genuinely enjoying the subsequent cinematics. Then when play resumed I’d suddenly be driving a motorcycle or playing a Space Harrier homage level, and any thoughts about quitting for the evening would melt away. Bayonetta herself, between sporadic leaps into Creepytown, is a pretty charming character and a welcome departure from the usual sullen anti-heroes of the genre.
I completed Bayonetta in about eleven hours, which seems to be about on par with the standard first-time playthrough. Two higher difficulty levels are unlockable, as well as several items, upgrades, and costumes that you will likely not have the resources to obtain your first time through. So if you’re just looking for a quick game to run through between 80-hour sandboxes, Bayonetta is a pretty good plan. And if you find yourself really enjoying it, there’s plenty here to keep you coming back. At the current price point of $10-20, it’s hard not to recommend this game to any fan of the crazy combat action genre. Or, indeed, to fans of sexy witches who think they might like to kill about a million angels with the aid of some boot-mounted shotguns.