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Hideki Kamiya’s masterpiece rolls into town as TVG says goodbye to friends and family for fear that this game might kill us...
- Stunningly realised visuals
- The best combat in any hack 'n slash title
- A true gamers game
- Weak puzzle sections
- Clumsy camera
- PS3 version lets the side down
There’s a reason why Bayonetta offers players a veritable menagerie of ‘Torture’ and ‘Punish’ special moves while also presenting the kinkiest looking witch we’ve ever seen as a protagonist. These sadomasochistic themes aren’t merely glancing references to dark magic, nor are they a cheap ploy to lure adolescent boys into buying a game by dangling an increasingly scantily clad (depending on how skilful you get with the combos) lead character in front of them. Of course, these factors do play a small part – there’s no denying that – but the allusions to sadomasochism are part of a much more complex and subtle ballet in the game’s design by legendary Director, Hideki Kamiya.
Kamiya cut his teeth directing the original Devil May Cry and Resident Evil 2 at Capcom, the lineage of which are clear in this second title from Platinum Games. We’re going to stick our neck on the block and suggest that there is no harder game on current-gen consoles than Bayonetta. It’s a game that seems to throw as many boss battles at the player as it does regular combat set-pieces. You’ll be battling what you’d assume to be the concluding boss of one chapter, only to find out that there’s another one to defeat straight after. Upon that chapter’s completion you’ll breathe a huge sigh of relief, thinking that there’ll be a couple of puzzle sections and some tame set-pieces at the start of the next chapter before you’re thrown back in at the deep-end. Not so... the next chapter instantly pits you against two of the same boss type that you just fought against, only simultaneously this time around.
Bayonetta will bind you, gag you, chain you to a rack and then ratchet up the excruciation until you just can’t take anymore. Then, when you think the pain is finally over, it’ll start lashing you with a Cat o’ Nine Tails before picking the nails from your fingertips with a pair of pliers. It is unbelievably cruel in its difficulty, make no mistake, but this is also what draws gamers to it – true gamers that is. Gamers who play a round of Mega Man as if they’re brushing their teeth in the morning, or who wouldn’t hesitate for a second in setting the difficulty to ‘Veteran’ on their first playthrough of Modern Warfare 2. This type of gamer will be in their element and will beg for the harsh mistress that is Bayonetta to deal out the punishment harder and faster, never satisfied until every corner of the game is 100% bested. In fact, this type of gamer might just fall in love.
If it were a chilli, Bayonetta would be a Dorset Naga, but you get the point already – it’s very hard. There are Very Easy and Easy settings with an ‘Automatic’ feature reminiscent of the ‘One-Button’ controls in Forza 3, but we get the impression that these settings have been forced on the game by marketing people, scared that Bayonetta’s admirable elitism will alienate the lucrative casual market. We strongly advise booting-up the game on Normal and, if you’re a real glutton for punishment, then you may as well play through the whole campaign to unlock Hard. Amazingly, there’s even a ‘Non-Stop Infinite Climax’ difficulty level beyond Hard, which ranks amongst the likes of Deus Ex’s ‘Realistic’ as the best name for an elite difficulty setting in any game, ever.
Of course, there is a skill to making a game both this hard and enjoyable at the same time. Any developer can spawn an army of enemies in one set-piece. It might make a game hard but, at the same time, it’s usually dull as ditch water. What Kamiya proved back in 2001 with Devil May Cry and is now reiterating with Bayonetta, is that he’s a master of ratcheting up the difficulty from one climax to another, across one boss to the next and into a flurry of mini-bosses, each of which requires a specific combat technique to defeat. Bayonetta is unrelenting in this sense and never leaves the game tired with repetition or cheap design ploys. The combat not only moves at breakneck speed, but break-all-the-vertebrae-in-your-spinal-column speed, to build a fever pitch unlike any other hack ‘n slash game out there.
Features such as the ingeniously simple idea of linking bullet-time (or, in this case, ‘Witch Time’) with the game’s blocking system – so that avoiding enemy attacks at the last possible moment awards you with a short window to attack enemies in slow-mo (a critical technique for most of the combat situations) – are proof that Kamiya is an old dog who’s thoroughly capable of mastering new tricks. The range of attack combos, although set-out in an old-school fashion, are nonetheless as intuitive as any other system, while the variation in enemy attack styles ensures that you’ll have to mix-up your combo usage to stand a chance of staying alive. Features such as the ‘Torture’ moves also provide welcome moments of violent eye candy between the hyper-fast action, although all of this pales in comparison to the nigh-on sublime direction.
The level of hands-on camera direction that Kamiya and his team have applied during combat is key to the game’s truly riotous action. Whether Bayonetta is flailing through space in a huge clock, decapitating a two-headed dragon (which, confusingly, also has a talking cherub face in its belly), or summoning a gigantic eight-eyed parrot from her illustrious hair, Platinum Games always makes sure that the camera positioning is both varied and apt. Some Uncharted 2-esque quick-time events, which tend towards free movement rather than restrictive button prompts, are also on-hand to make sure that this pace doesn’t dip whenever Bayonetta isn’t busy sticking her katana sword into a gaggle of unruly angels.
It’s perhaps testament to this heavily directed combat that the camera seems so clumsy when it’s left to its own devices during puzzle sections. Nevertheless, some fiddling around in the options can remedy this camera clumsiness during the rare moments of calm between battles. Given the obvious parallels to Capcom’s Devil May Cry series, it’s certainly not a huge surprise that these puzzles don’t take centre stage in Bayonetta. Their role is one of light relief and you do get the feeling that Platinum Games hasn’t put quite as much thought into them as the puzzles that you’d find in the likes of Sony Santa Monica’s God of War series or Ubisoft’s Prince of Persia trilogy. For the first half of the game at least, Bayonetta is a bit of a one trick pony in the puzzle stakes, although the ante is upped a little as you unlock more techniques and features later on in the proceedings.
And the proceedings go on for a satisfyingly long time as well. Any gamer who isn't superhumanly talented with a gamepad can expect to spend at least 15 hours on the main campaign, although a length of around 20 hours is perhaps more accurate for the average player. Platinum Games has also plied the game with a menagerie of different unlockables that can be purchased by collecting halos (dropped by each defeated angel), although a lot of these unlockables are out of reach with the amount of halos you can expect to gain from a single playthrough on the Normal difficulty. Persevering with Hard and Non-Stop Infinite Climax will unlock these new weapons, techniques, and items etc., making the insane levels of difficulty beyond Normal feasible at least and thereby tying an impressive level of replay value into the game.
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