This is one of our first ‘community reviews’, basically someone from our community does a review for a SEGA game. This time it was long time member (well, as long as we have been around) SEGA Uranus. He was also on this weeks podcast, which should be up later tonight.
Hit the jump to read SEGA Uranus’ Bayonetta review…
Hideki Kamiya, the creator of Devil May Cry, Viewtiful Joe, Okami, Resident Evil 2, and a bunch of other games is pretty much universally known as one of the best game designers around today. I however, do not agree with this majority. Say what you will about how much you enjoyed his games, but I thought almost all of them are either too “Interesting” artistically and less about actual gameplay or their difficulty were so crazy high that it just seemed like a way to mask poor level design and repetitive gimmicks within the game. As you can tell, I was initially extremely critical of his latest game; Bayonetta.”
So what is Bayonetta exactly? Well, it is an over the top action game about a witch who magically manipulates the hair on her head instead of using wands, brooms, or pretty much anything you would expect from witches. She even uses guns, and two of them are on her heels! I am surprised that is the first time (to my knowledge) that this has been done. Her hair normally just covers up most of her body, but she can turn it into giant hands, legs, and best of all – demonic monsters that look like everything from birds to dinosaurs to things I cannot even begin to describe. If you only see seconds of footage from the game and nothing else – Even if it was not gameplay – you will know it is nothing like anything you have ever seen.
I want to get this out of the way right now; If you are coming into Bayonetta interested in the story in any way, set your expectations as low as possible. I have beaten the game two times now and still cannot understand some of it, and there are a few things never even explained. The game starts out with a tutorial of sorts with Bayonetta and another character similar to her on the face of a crumbling clock tower falling down the side of probably the largest cliff of all time. You then get to fight angels and listen to someone narrate the history of the world. It explains that there was a war between the Lumen Sages (followers of light) and the Umbra Witches (followers of darkness) and that Bayonetta is the last of the Umbra. I rather not explain anymore, because it is not what happens in the story that is interesting, it is how it happens. I cannot even begin to express some of these sequences and do them any justice, they are just too awesome to be spoiled. Trust me on this one.
While the story in Bayonetta is no better than any Japanese animation out there today, the cutscenes are where the real magic happens, even if they are a bit on the long side. You are not going to care what the characters are talking about, but you will absolutely love everything that they do… Most of the time. I have no idea why the story takes itself so seriously sometimes, it almost always feels forced. For instance, around the middle of the game, just as Bayonetta is finishing off a boss in a playful and comical way and spewing out one liners left and right, one of the main characters almost dies in a really emotional way. I have no idea what was going through PlatinumGames’ heads when they made stuff like that, but it just does not fit in when the rest of the game is so goofy and unbelievable.
With a style like this, you just know the characters are going to be hit or miss, but thankfully they are all absolutely brilliant, hilarious, have excellent art designs (some of the outfits are stunning) and have fantastic voice actors that fit the tone and setting wonderfully. While most people can look at trailers and assume what they will of Bayonetta herself, the truth is that she is a really fantastic character that rarely ever does anything sexual, and when she does, it is always in a highly tongue-in-cheek manner that parodies female stereotypes in the game industry. I especially love Luka, Jeanne, Cereza and Enzo, the latter of which I felt had too few scenes. He does not appear at all for about 80% of the game, and it is a shame because he really had a lot of potential, but he is almost exclusively used for minor gags. Still, when it comes down to it, these are some of my favorite game characters in a long time and I am hoping we see them all again very soon.
The first thing I noticed when playing Bayonetta was there was no blocking at all. You are supposed to use the right trigger (R2 on the PlayStation 3) to dodge everything that comes your way. If you dodge an attack at the right moment, you enter into “Witch Time”, the game’s form of the much overused “Bullet Time” occurrence that was made popular from the game Max Payne, which was about ten years ago! Right off the bat I thought this was a very poor decision as I assumed one would be able to just constantly avoid everything without any special tactic in mind and then enter Witch Time to kill the enemies while they float in the air helpless.
However! Within the first few battles I learned that if you dodge three times in a row that Bayonetta will do a bit of a jump in the air and stall when she touches the ground. If you are hit at all during this animation the damage you take will be increased, and it is easier for enemies to combo you, so it really works out perfectly for the game. If you were worried that the game was going to be easy, especially after MADWORLD, you can put that fear to rest. I feel it is easier than the likes of Viewtiful Joe, but this is because every death in Bayonetta will be the player’s lack of skill usually. The game constantly throws you in overwhelming positions where in some points you will not even be able to wrap your head around it and wonder if it is even possible, but it always is, and it is always extremely rewarding when you do complete it, only to find out what you just faced off against is nothing compared to the next section.
I can tell a few of you are going to be turned off by that though. I am the same way. While I love my games to be challenging, there is a line between fun and outright tedium. Bayonetta has five difficulty levels, while Hard and Non-Stop Climax difficulties need to be unlocked, Normal, Easy Automatic and Very Easy Automatic are open from the start. The “Automatic” modes have a gameplay altering change to them, which is that when you tap the Y button (Triangle on PlayStation 3) you can do almost any attack and combo in the game, you are even shot towards the enemies even if they are across the screen, but it is not to the point where the whole game just plays itself, you still have to have some skill. If you find one section too hard or too easy, no problem, you can just change the difficulty at any time and not have it effect your save file. You can also always go back to any level at any point, not to mention view your lifetime progress through the game. I can honestly say that this is the first game originally designed for speedrunners and score attack fiends that I have played in a long time that anyone from any skill level can enjoy, even if it is their first game experience.
Something that is a big issue with too many action games nowadays I think is that the platforming and general exploring is always secondary, or always far too shallow to compare with the rest of the title. In Bayonetta, this is not the case. While the game is pretty linear and the main draw is no doubt the battle system, every level has lots of really solid platforming sections and among them there is a lot of hidden goodies throughout to keep you searching for hours, many are in extremely clever places or even require backtracking, but it is all optional, so if you want, you can skip it all and still have a blast. Actually I think the platforming, exploration and puzzles are good enough on their own to have their own game without any battle system at all and still be a generally stellar game! That’s impressive! It is all expertly complimented by the outstanding level art. You will never want to leave the world. Sometimes it is just fun to look around without any general goal. In fact, I have to say I am a bit disappointed that some of the level gimmicks were not used a few more times. It is a shame that puzzles using keys or the gravity effects were not expanded a bit more upon, but I suppose that just leaves room for a sequel!
All of the levels are not fantastic though, there are some forced vehicle riding segments that play fine enough, if not a bit on the unpolished side (especially when compared to the rest of the game) but go on for far too long, even if they were cut in half they would still be pushing it. These do not sour the experience, and are nice distractions to a point, but I wish PlatinumGames would have worked on them for a bit longer, or just saved them for a future game.
The first time I beat the game I only had about four weapons, but imagine my shock and excitement when I found out I was missing out on at LEAST ten more! Better still, you can mix and match almost all of them giving you almost unlimited ways to fight your enemies. They are not used just for fighting, either. None of them feel too similar to the preceding one you received, and all of them are enjoyable and different enough to be used alone in each playthrough without the experience getting repetitive, and at the same time still, none of them have insanely high attack patterns you need to learn (I am looking at you Tekken), it is how you mix your weapons together for combos, not just using one sword in the air to attack something twenty times over. Not only that, but almost all of the enemies have their own weapons, and when they are defeated, you can use them too! Anyone who has ever played something like Streets of Rage will be right at home with them, they all have their own special “Health” bars which depletes every time you hit someone with them and disappear when the bar is empty. Unlike Streets of Rage, however is that you have a second attack button to use with each weapon. What this does is usually wastes up the entire bar instantly for a special attack, which varies from just a very strong attack to extremely long distance throws or an attack from every angle.
Probably my favorite feature with the game – And the one I see mentioned the least – Are the Alfheim Portals, which are hidden sections that take you to battles with varying rules, basically it is the game’s version of mission mode. In each one you are given an objective to complete and a limited amount of time and hits you can take. You are not allowed to use any of your items, either. These are easily the hardest additions to the game, but are extremely fun and clever. Some missions range only being able to hurt enemies in Witch Time to trying to stay in the air for a minute by jumping on enemies constantly to only being able to use ten punches and ten kicks to everything else you could imagine. These all reward you with making your health and magic bars longer and eventually some Achievements. If you are worried about failing these, do not worry, you will… A lot, but you are given an infinite amount of tries and they are completely optional, so you never need to bother with them. My two complaints about their addition is I wish you could access them from inside the menu after you find them, and I wish there were some Alfheims with more than just fighting. With all of the excellent platforming and puzzles, you figure they would have made some of these missions rushes to the end of the stage or where you climb to the top of something in a limited time, but again, it just leaves more room for a sequel!
So with all of this excellent content for fighting, just how good is the battle system? I can say with confidence that it is one of, if not the best battle system in an action/adventure videogame to date. Some of the concepts for fighting are even up to Virtua Fighter quality, and with all of the weapons you can use, I honestly do not see how the fights in the game could ever become even remotely repetitive.
With every attack you avoid perfectly, with every taunt you pull off, with every heavy attack you preform, you get some more magical energy. Once it is filled up enough you can pull off the brutal Torture Attacks, which are where Bayonetta makes some kind of torture appear device, be it a copper butler, a chainsaw or my favorite, a guillotine. As soon as they come up you are given set of buttons you need to mash as fast as possible, and the faster it is done, the more haloes you get which you can spend in the shop to buy character upgrades and pretty much everything else.
In most (even some of the best) action games, you rarely see that much variety in enemies, but not here. While the game does suffer from being recolours and some of them have art that is so detailed that it just looks cluttered (sometimes even on the highest definition televisions out there you still have a hard time telling just what they are supposed to be), but at least they all have enough diversity in them for it to always stay interesting, even after fighting them a hundred times over. Some enemies you need to hit special weak points, some you need to force them into specific sections of a level, some you can only throw stuff at, some even constantly change their properties! My favorite is a flying ship enemy that attack in pairs. You have to stand on them to attack their weak points, and when they die, you can use them as platforms to access hidden areas in the levels, very cool! Not to mention, the bosses in this game are some of the best I have seen in a long time, and some of the biggest too! A few are actually so big that you can traverse on their bodies! My only complaint with these are that near the end of the game you have to refight them all again, one of them is even fought four times overall. It is always done in a different context, so it does not feel the same, but I still would have just preferred another boss instead, or more platforming or puzzles.
Poor controls could have easily ruined the whole game considering just how much happens and the kind of combos you will have to pull off in the game, but it is not the case here. Everything works just as you would imagine, all of the face buttons are done really well, and you can even assign health items and such to the d-pad for quick use. I have to say though that I think the rest of the buttons are mapped somewhat poorly. While again, it all works once you get it down, I think it could have been a lot better. You get transformations throughout the game – I will not spoil them, but how they are pulled off with pressing the right trigger (R2 on PlayStation 3) twice really fast. Sometimes you are going to transform when you really just want to dodge or visa-versa, but once you get the timing down it is not as annoying. Not only that, but you get five, maybe six more abilities that use the right trigger that it just ends up feeling cluttered when you have troubles pulling off what you want to do but accidentally do something that is not even similar. And while camera issues are a bit rare, there is a way to reset it, but you have to push right analog stick down. This sounds fine, but it is not when really the only time you will need it is when you are fighting, minor gripe, but I felt it needed to be pointed out.
The music in Bayonetta is really great. While I do not think much of the theme: Mysterious Destiny, I adore almost every fight song, in particular the cover of Frank Sinatra’s Fly Me To The Moon. I especially love the remixes of SEGA tunes from games like OutRun, AfterBurner and Space Harrier, but some of the slower and more dramatic songs do not really get me anywhere as interested. I would have really liked it if they got the song they used for the Japanese commercials called Something Missing by MiChi, but really, that is grasping at complaints. At best the music is amazing, at worst the song fits well, so really there is nothing wrong.
Now we come to most likely the least impressive aspect of Bayonetta, which are the graphics. While they are in no way bad, they fail to impress especially when you consider this came out around the same time as Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Thankfully the art is usually so fantastic that you will rarely ever begin to care. The animation is another thing that helps the look of the game with all of the characters and spells being expertly planned and executed. Some of the characters, like Bayonetta, Jeanne and Joy all share the *exact* same animations, but they are all done in a way that it does not feel forced, in fact it is hidden and pulled off so well that when I finally noticed, I did not care. The cutscenes are especially well animated and extremely cinematic, but that comes at the cost at half of the cutscenes not having any animation at all. Yes, some scenes in the game just use still models and have their voices play over while they zoom into the characters face or show a bit of the world around you, while it is always done in a really creative and “Artsy” way I think it should have just been used for memories, otherwise I will say I think PlatinumGames got lazy and just wanted to finish them as fast as they could.
If there was one thing I hated about Bayonetta, it has to be the QTEs (Quick Time Events). The Torture Attacks work out perfectly, but things can get messy when life or death occurrences come up. In my opinion, the QTEs should only lead to more or less Halos or points, never instant deaths. A big problem with this is that almost every cutscenes in the game could use QTEs, but only about half of them do, and they almost always caught me off guard. It was pretty cheap and annoying, but you are always taken to the section right before the death, you have unlimited lives as well, so you should never get too upset of discouraged from any, but it can still be frustrating as they come out of seemingly nowhere, and you are never told or even hinted to be ready for them when you start playing.
No matter who you are, you are going to be able to finish it and enjoy it fully, and when you beat it, I am certain the first thing you will want to do is beat it again. It only took me 10 hours to complete the story, but I missed so many of the items, secret paths and Alfheims that when I started a new playthrough, it was like I was experiencing a whole new game, especially considering how much the levels change just with the new abilities and weapons. Do not worry about jumping into this game wondering if it is a good value for your money, it just is. It has more unlockables than any game I can even think of, it has some of the most flexible gameplay I have ever seen in my life, and everything about the game just drips in with masterful creativity and genius. This is one of those games you can still pick up years from now and still love it just as much as you did the first time you played it, nothing but an honest to goodness classic. Bayonetta is not perfect, but what it happens to be is one of the best action games money can buy, Hell, it is one of the best games money can buy this generation. If you like any form of action at all, you need to play Bayonetta.
+ One of, if not the best battle system in an action game to date
+ Fantastic level layout and art
+ An amazing cast of characters
+The replay value is some of the best in the genre with more unlockables than most games have in a lifetime of DLC
– The story is poorly explained and has clashing styles. One second it is goofy, the next it is dead serious.
– A few unexpected cheap deaths, mainly from failed QTE attempts.
– The graphics could be a little better.
– Some of the bosses are reused too often