Review: Bayonetta

Jordan Deam | 14 Jan 2010 13:00
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Even with the feature list already stuffed to bursting, I've neglected the most game-changing addition to Bayonetta's hack-and-slash combat: "Witch Time." When you dodge an enemy attack just before it would have landed, you activate a temporary slow-motion effect that makes every target around you a sitting duck - you can move in to set up the perfect combo or simply unleash on the nearest victim. The controls are so responsive that you can dodge at any moment, even within a combo, which rewards players who keep a close eye on their opponents even when they're busy flying around the screen and lashing out at everything that moves. And when you do avoid what would have been a punishing blow with nary a microsecond to spare, then effect is nothing short of exhilarating.

You'd expect the action to be this stylish and polished with Devil May Cry creator (and hack-and-slash genre pioneer) Hideki Kamiya at the helm. But you might be surprised by the creativity and attention to detail on display in the level design. Many environments in Bayonetta have three distinct versions corresponding to the three planes of existence that you fluctuate between throughout the course of the story. The bulk of the game takes place in Purgatorio, which lets you see the outlines of human bystanders but prevents you from interacting with them. Inferno, on the other hand, is filled with crumbling ruins and torrents of lava, while Paradiso is probably the most visually striking realm with its luminous textures, pastoral scenery and cosmic backdrops.

Just as important as these metaphysical trappings, however, is the way you actually navigate your environment. When the moon peeks out from the behind the clouds, you gain an ability called "Witch Walk" that allows you to run along pretty much any surface. At first, you stuck trotting along the sides of buildings; but later levels take the concept much further by including floating structures that require some serious spatial reasoning to reach. Your path through each level is more or less linear, but these routes are often so serpentine that you never feel like you're being tugged through the same bland corridor over and over again.

If there's one area where Bayonetta clearly falls short, however, it's the storytelling. It's a little disappointing that for all the other ways in which the game departs from conventions, the plot is typically incomprehensible Japanese schlock. And while Bayonetta herself is incredibly well characterized, the supporting cast read like a list of cliches (the burly brother in arms, the smarmy lady's man, etc.). Worse, most of the game's story is relegated to the cut scenes, which are more often tedious than fun to watch. Nonetheless, the world is absorbing enough that your curiosity will probably prevent you from skipping them, and let's be honest: When the subject matter is this eye catching, you won't mind sitting back to watch now and then.

Bottom Line: Bayonetta takes the sex and violence that developers have been using to sell games for the last decade and amps them up to their most absurd, hilarious and thrilling conclusion.

Recommendation: Buy it. There hasn't been a character or a world quite like this in gaming, and with so much to experience and master, there's enough here to keep you hooked for weeks.


Jordan Deam played Bayonetta in two-handed mode the whole time, thought he's totally not judging you if you didn't. Well, not that much.

This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.

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