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Bayonetta on PS3 and 360 creates an unnerving, if a little schizophrenic, fighting game. Craziness abounds as witch-ly and wicca themes combine to convince the player that there is something unsettling at work here, although sometimes it's hard to tell if this is a genuine intention or just a side effect of the here-there-and-everywhere plot.
Hideki Kamiya was a former designer and director at Capcom, in his roles there is was responsible for some of the most stylish and innovative games of the last twelve years. His latest game Bayonetta revolves around a witch of the same name and her battle against the angels. The game takes many of its stylistic and game play cues from one of Kamiya san's previous game's, Devil May Cry, placing a heavy focus on style and high action combat. The question is, with the game set for release in the busy first half of 2010 in the west, will it stand up to similar higher profile titles like God of War 3 and Dante's Inferno?
I will confess to not being an aficionado third person action game that Bayonetta falls into. I have dabbled in similar titles but I have never committed myself to mastering their intricacies?. As such placing the game in the context of its piers on a mechanic level is tricky for me, but it certainly proved far more accessible than my previous ventures into the genre.
Its accessibility revolves for the most part around a forgiving checkpoint system. Game play is segmented into distinct arenas and clearing one counts as a checkpoint, with subsequent deaths restarting Bayonetta there with full health. While some sections can prove challenging, judicious use of the dodge button, which if timed correctly also activated slow motion, saw me through most situations on the normal difficulty setting. This save system ensures that failure only limits upgrade points preventing you unlocking extra weapons and moves, rather than impeding progress. It is a choice I applaud as often in similar games a lack of headway results in me giving up.
Bayonetta's ease of progression is especially important because the story offers no incentive to push forward. A beautiful witch with amnesia battling twisted angels may sound like an interesting concept, but unfortunately the plot jumps around like a seven-year-old after a double espresso. On the plus side the story's disjointed format does allow Bayonetta to take you from one fantastical situation to another with little concern for continuity.
The plot's shortcomings are easily made up for by the combat and pacing.
A prime example the story's incoherence is a transition between two scenes, in the first you are fighting a giant plant like angle in heaven and in the next you are riding on top of a missile Space Harrier style towards a city. I could explain the events that occur to allow this but really it offers very little enlightenment. You could argue that you don't have to follow a the story but personally I always feel a game should be experienced as the developer intended, and this nonsensical, exposition filled cut-scenes for me only serve to diminish the experience.
Fortunately the plot's shortcomings are easily made up for by the combat and pacing. Areas are varied and bring with them their own unique sets of challenges. While I quickly found myself recognising reoccurring enemies, new ones were always being introduced at a pace that kept the action fresh. Mix with this a wide range of set pieces and I was left with an experience that constantly tempted me forward just to see the next amusing absurdity.
Bayonetta uses her Wiccan arts to great effect during combat. Her powers allow her to summon all manner of things to help her pulverise her angelic foes in to pate. Manifestations range from the more mundane; such as stiletto heels that chain into combos, to demonic beasts that she can call up from hell to finish her foes. These moves are dramatically more powerful, and visually impressive, Bayonetta's standard arsenal of moves, often requiring quick time events to activate. Fortunately the cues for these events tend to be clearer than those of the games piers and thus less infuriating.
The scene came out of nowhere but it created a real sense of scale between the diminutive witch and hulking body of the angel.
It is fortunate Bayonatta's abilities allow her to wield such extravagant powers as the larger angels she has to fight frequently dwarf her. One set piece in particular sticks out in my mind, fighting in the ocean against an angel that could best be described as an oil tanker with legs as I surfed about on a piece of airplane fuselage. The scene came out of nowhere, courtesy of the disjointed plot, but it created a real sense of scale between the diminutive witch and hulking body of the angel that dramatically increased the impact of the battle.
Bayonetta's appeal is hard to define for me. It seems to think its weakest elements are essential to the core experience placing a heavy emphasis on its bizarre plot. Perversely somewhere between its own conviction, style and game play I got swept up in the experience. It brings very little new to the table, feeling rooted in an aging Japanese design ethos, but it executes with such confidence and polish that is hard not to enjoy the ride. In honesty I don't know how it will fair as a new property when placed against games with the pedigree of God of War. As it stands now there are no games offering a similar experience, but by the time the game releases in the west the landscape may look quite different.
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