The Trouble with Hairy Women.
Bayonetta is like some wild fantasy invented by a psychiatric patient with seriously twisted mommy issues. Not only does the main character sport gigantic versions of just about every classic Freudian fetish object—oversized heels, massive legs, and lots and lots of hair—but Bayonetta is also one bad mother.
[image1]Springing fully hair-clad from the brain of director Hideki Kamiya, Bayonetta is all woman all the time. Her hair doubles as both clothing and weapon, her targeting indicator is a giant lipstick mark, she loves pole-dancing (what woman doesn’t?), she has pussies—those are felines, you pervs—for earrings, she’s curvier than a mountain road, and she loves to torture men. Literally.
Even though she spends most of the game dragging around a little girl who calls her “mummy”, Bayonetta has all the maternal instinct of a socket wrench. She just wants to have fun, and like a black-haired Brittany Spears, she won’t let a little thing like kids ruin her good time.
And that’s the genius of Bayonetta as a character: Even though she’s the victim of a long-standing war between angels and demons, she’s not out for revenge or recompense. She’s not trying to collect any items even though a powerful gem has gone missing. She’s not looking to restore order to the universe even though a cosmic balance has been disturbed. She’s not searching for lost memories even though she’s an amnesiac.
No. She’s an agent of chaos running around killing angels for shits and giggles, sounding smarmy while doing it, and making chaos look sexy. Like a stoner brother still living with the folks, whatever she accomplishes happens incidentally.
The game’s combat mechanics most closely resemble those in Kamiya’s own Devil May Cry. The mixture of melee and ranged weapons will instantly be familiar to fans of DMC, and fans of genre successors like God of War and Ninja Gaiden will settle right into the combo-driven combat. As you purchase and unlock more weapons, you can personalize your foot and hand weapons to suit your preferred play style. The enormous range and depth of the combat mechanics and customization possibilities keep the game feeling fresh well into subsequent playthroughs.
[image2]Bayonetta’s major twist to the action-game formula is its use of Witch Time. If you dodge an enemy attack at the last moment, time will slow allowing you to run around kicking ass while your enemies stand helpless. It’s a mechanic taken straight from Kamiya’s underappreciated Viewtiful Joe, but it fits better in the fast-paced 3D combat of Bayonetta.
Every borrowed idea feels new and imaginative in Bayonetta, and it wears its influences on its sleeve. Much like in No More Heroes, spotting the references and allusions to past games is all part of the bizarre fun of the experience. In addition to expected references to past Kamiya games like Okami, Viewtiful Joe, Devil May Cry, and Resident Evil, watch for nods to older arcade classics in the Sega catalogue like Outrun, Crazy Taxi, After Burner, and Space Harrier.
Even if the core structure might seem old-fashioned—enter an area, a barrier forms over the exit, kill the enemies, the barrier disappears, move to the next area—Bayonetta constantly keeps things interesting and engaging. Just when things might start to get rote, some crazy action set-piece will occur.
Much of the game happens at gravity-defying angles and in logic-defying locales. The game opens with a fierce battle on a tumbling clocktower with you fighting hordes of enemies while the tower tumbles end over end towards the ground. A later climactic battle takes place on the side of a skyscraper. Others happen on and in spherical objects. Even if the game progresses linearly, the path is anything but straight.
Most engrossing of all are the enemy designs. Like some schizophrenic combination of medieval illuminated Christian texts and ancient Hindu art, enemies are all made of gold, ivory, and stained glass. Since you’re at war with the angels, all of your enemies are physical embodiments of various virtues. Seeing Grace and Glory come at you with nasty claws and holy fire is both enchantingly beautiful and freakishly tense at the same time, not unlike having your finger sliced off by the Hope Diamond at the hands of Megan Fox.
[image3]Grounding the entire experience, however, is fluid and deep combat. For beginners there’s an automatic setting on the two easiest difficulties that only requires you to keep pressing a single button. That single button leads to complex combinations of kicks, punches, special moves, and dodges. It won’t teach you to be a better player, but you will be able to cruise through the game and watch in blissful awe as Bayonetta slices, dices, dances, and suggestively gestures her way to victory, leaving your other hand free for, um, other pursuits.
For the more adventurous and experienced, the higher difficulties take off the training wheels and drop you into the shark tank. On normal difficulty, you’ll learn the ins and outs of the basic weapon combos and Witch Time. Once you move into the highest difficulties, however, you’ll have to learn one of the game’s subtler treasures: dodge offset.
With dodge offset you can hold down a button that’s part of a combo string, dodge an enemy’s attack, then resume the rest of the combo string. It takes some time to get down, and learning to use dodge offset at different points in a combo will contort your fingers and brain for a while. While complex to master, dodge offset is what truly sets Bayonetta apart from its peers.
Bayonetta is an action game fan’s wet dream. Despite a derivative structure and a few technical stumbles—like occasional slowdown and frequent screen tearing—Bayonetta takes everything that’s good about every other combo-heavy action game, cranks up the intensity, fine tunes the combat, and bundles it in a single, sexy, “au naturel” package.