At the heart of this third-person action game is the titular protagonist Bayonetta: a supernatural warrior and part of an ancient clan called the Umbra Witches, a sect of scantily clad emo chicks. Her foes, the Lumen Sages, are angelic deities who resemble squawking magical chicken-people or flying baby heads. Both groups of beings have been at war since recorded time and represent the balance of light and dark and stuff and nonsense. Bayonetta has awoken after a 500-year nap and now suffers from severe memory loss, although admittedly not so severe as to hinder her ability to kick celestial butt. To expand any more on the plot would be an object in futility, as is so often the case with video games such as these; it’s absolute gibberish.
Gameplay is all about the combat, and Bayonetta mixes it up with both ranged and melee attacks delivered in such back-breaking fashion that it would make even the most experienced yoga practitioner’s eyes water. Button combos have a tendency to get a bit mashy, as there are so many available. That said, the game lets you practise and refine combos during loading screens – a smart idea and a nice touch. A crucial element to the combat is ‘Witch Time’. This is the tried-and-true ‘slow down time so I can dodge stuff and beat up baddies easier’ mechanic. Simply put, if you pull the right-hand trigger at the correct time, you can run circles around foes, dealing mass damage for a short period of time.
Speaking of mass damage, Bayonetta can unleash torture attacks in which she summons guillotines or Iron Maidens to dispatch her enemies in some pretty gruesome ‘old school’ ways. Still, her most powerful attacks are those in which she transforms her raven tresses into dragons, heeled boots or fists to pulverise larger, more powerful enemies.
There is no question that the combat system is an extraordinary achievement. The fluidity at which moves and attacks can be strung together is impressive, and the detail of Bayonetta’s character animation is nothing short of remarkable. Unfortunately, at least for me anyway, it’s still not enough to make this a great or enjoyable experience.
For reasons unknown to myself, the majority of the online gaming fraternity has positively whipped itself into a froth over this title. My question is, “Why?” Bayonetta was created by Hideki Kamiya, the man behind the seminal extreme actioner Devil May Cry, which was released nine years ago. Nine years is a long time in the video game world and for all its visual magnificence and highly polished combat system, Bayonetta feels positively archaic, perhaps as it borrows too readily from its decade-old predecessor.
Worth a mention also is the portrayal of the game’s lead character; there’s something quite revoltingly fetishistic about the whole thing. Whether it’s the way the camera lingers a little too long on a particular body part, or the stream of badly delivered sexual innuendo, or the constant ‘come hither’ looks, it’s all a little sad. Call me a fusty, naïve prude.
So what then is at the root of my dislike for Bayonetta? Quite simply I found it a boring game. No amount of combo strings, hairy finishing moves, high heels, folksy guns, lollipops, eye-popping environments, gargantuan, meticulously detailed bosses, boobs, flying baby heads and ludicrous dialogue is going to change the fact that the game is a painfully linear, single-player (in this day and age) experience that can so quickly descend into a button-mashing endurance trial. Chapter X, Level Y: Kill all angels. Move to next level. Repeat. That’s pretty much Bayonetta in a nutshell.
Many new games, as flawed as they often are, do at least attempt to expand the vocabulary of the video gaming experience. Bayonetta does not.