Bayonetta could have been the best action game on the PS3. After all, this over-the-top affair from Hideki Kamiya and his team at Platinum Games not only delivers some of the coolest combat mechanics around but it coats the experience in an eccentric, hyper-stylish shell. Unfortunately, the PS3 port of Bayonetta is a very disappointing piece of software. I love Bayonetta -- just look at my review of the 360 version
for proof. But Bayonetta on the PS3 is a whole different beast.
The PS3 version has a lot of problems, primary among them being the excessive slowdown and loading. During certain scenes of high action, Bayonetta can slow down dramatically, enough to affect the gameplay experience. I can usually tolerate that sort of issue to an extent, but the loading problems are simply unacceptable.
This game loads all the time. When the player pauses the game during combat or a cutscene, there's noticeable loading before the pause menu is displayed. There's loading when you pick up an item and there's loading as you scroll through menus. There's even an obnoxious load time just to view a list of save files. For a game that's supposed to emphasize quick action and style, these loads are almost deal-breakers.
Besides these PS3-specific issues, there are also a number of problems that affect both the PS3 and the 360 versions of the game. Although the backstory in Bayonetta is extremely intriguing, the actual plot -- which I'll discuss shortly -- is loose at best. Bayonetta also has a few strange presentation elements that seem to contradict the game's normally detailed aesthetics. I refer primarily to the "filmstrip cutscenes."
Instead of fully animated cutscenes, the game will display some events with still models of the characters. The camera will continue to move during these sequences though, giving the otherwise static cutscenes a sense of motion. This is much more preferable to the age-old "talking cardboard cutout" that Japanese RPGs use during dialogue scenes, but I would have preferred seeing every sequence in Bayonetta fully animated.
It might be hard to imagine after hearing about these issues that Bayonetta is still a fun game -- but it is. At the heart of Bayonetta is a story about the traditional balance between light and darkness. Long ago, two clans -- the Lumen Sages and Umbran Witches -- maintained the balance between the opposing forces. The Lumen, aligned with the god of Paradiso, controlled the power of light, while the Umbra, funneling power from the demons of Inferno, watched over the darkness. Both clans had deep respect for each other, but a tragic event caused the two clans to enter into a terrible war. At the end, only one Umbra Witch remained: Bayonetta.
One of the most brilliant things about this backstory is how the two clans are portrayed. The Umbra Witches aren't necessarily evil so much as they are an important part of the universe's balance. The game, after all, is mostly about Bayonetta killing the angelic legions that stand in her way to the truth, but I never felt evil or diabolical while playing. It is just Bayonetta's purpose, and she fulfills that purpose with extreme skill.
Bayonetta is one of the coolest female characters I've ever come across in gaming. Although her sexuality is highlighted at almost every turn (which might lead gamers to believe she's a stereotypical heroine), she is also immensely powerful, calm and confident. Bayonetta is one of my main reasons to play the game, as she's just terribly fun to watch.
Of course, not everything about the narrative is great. Bayonetta's plot is all over the place, as certain character motivations and past events aren't clearly explained. Once you complete the game, things make quite a bit more sense, but this isn't as skillfully told as game stories like Mass Effect and Uncharted.
But raw storytelling shouldn't be your only reason for picking up a copy of Bayonetta (people like Ninja Gaiden, after all). This is an action game, so action is what you're going to get. The combat system is fairly easy to grasp but has an almost unimaginable amount of depth. The face buttons are used to punch, kick, fire Bayonetta's handguns (regardless of what weapon she has equipped) and jump. The most important input besides the face buttons is pulling R2. This will cause Bayonetta to dodge in any direction, which is arguably the most important technique players must master when learning the Bayonetta combat system.
When dodging an attack, timing is key. Pull R2 just before an attack lands and Bayonetta will leap out of the way in slow motion, which activates Witch Time. This allows Bayonetta to move at incredible speeds while her opponents are trapped in a sluggish state. Witch Time is implemented nicely, because it not only allows for great special effects, but also lets players catch their breath, reorient themselves and score a few much-needed hits on tougher enemies.
When it comes to the offensive side of the coin, Bayonetta also excels. The beautiful witch has the ability to equip weapons on both her hands and her feet, which helps lend a very unique taste to the combat mechanics. At the start of the game, Bayonetta's set of four pistols, Scarborough Fair, is used as both upper body and lower body weapons -- one gun for each hand and foot. As players progress through the game, more weapons are discovered, like a demonic katana, clawed gauntlets, ice skates (yes, really) and more. Each weapon combination results in a new set of combos, which is truly astounding. Having the freedom to wield a glowing katana while skating around the environment is almost too good to be true.
This massive number of combo sets might seem overwhelming, but fortunately most combos have similar inputs. For example, almost every combination of weapons a player comes up with will almost always have a combo for hitting "punch, kick, punch" in a row. This lets players bleed their skill over into new weapons, which is great. And while players can get away with just pounding on one button to attack, the element of skill comes into play when executing well-timed dodges and preserving a combo string for high scores.
Of course, there's much more to fighting than just performing combos and dodging attacks. When facing the many angels of the divine, Bayonetta can perform Torture attacks when her magic gauge fills up enough. These attacks -- which can be executed by hitting both punch and kick simultaneously -- are usually unique to each angel type and deal tremendous amounts of damage. Bayonetta, for example, will summon up a guillotine, a massive spiked wheel or some other fiendish device and then pulverize her poor angelic opponent. This system adds a great physical element to the normally skill-based, time-sensitive combat, as players can mash away at a button to power up the attack and earn more halos (the currency in the Bayonetta world).
Earning halos is an excellent reason to replay missions over and over, as there's plenty to buy in Bayonetta. Rodin, a fierce demonic arms dealer and bartender (again: really) runs the Gates of Hell, a grimy saloon that doubles as Bayonetta's main supplier of items and weapons. Here, players can purchase restorative lollipops to use mid-battle and accessories which augment Bayonetta's normal abilities. Players can also spend halos on additional techniques found outside the normal set of combos, like my personal favorite break dancing move that ends in a seductive pose and camera shutter. Classic.
Bayonetta also sports its fair share of boss battles, which are all entertaining. Bayonetta will not only face powerful opponents her own size but she'll also go head-to-head with "Cardinal Virtues" -- agents of Paradiso that represent the most powerful extensions of divine will. These fights are not only amusing in their absurd spectacle but they culminate into Bayonetta's fantastic finishing moves where she actually summons demons from Inferno to end the conflict. These Climax attacks are similar to the Torture attacks Bayonetta employs on lesser angels but they occur on a much grander scale.
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