The titular character of Bayonetta is a modern-day witch of the Umbran clan who awakens from a 500 year slumber with no memory of her past. With an arsenal of weaponry, black magic, and hair that can summon demons, Bayonetta must destroy a sizeable chunk of the heavenly host in tracking down the truth of her past. Yes, Bayonetta is a game where you play a sexy witch who goes to heaven to kill angels. This is the game your reverend always feared you were playing. From its deicidal plot to its high-octane gameplay to its raw and shameless sexuality, Bayonetta is so devilishly bold that it’s difficult not to love it. Like a domme in disc form, this game commands your loyalty, even when it’s laying down the punishment.
The combat system is high-speed hack-and-slash, closest to its brother DMC but with a few signature twists. Bayonetta has an ability called “Witch Time,” which puts the world around Bayonetta into slow motion. An over-saturated trope, to be sure. The distinction here is that this power cannot be used at will, but is a reward for evading an oncoming attack at the last possible moment. This small addition has a surprisingly large effect on the dynamic of battles, as it rewards the most daring players, and ensures the highest scores are the most dangerous to attain. The player can also spend magic power to activate brutal “Torture Attacks”- QTE finisher moves in which Bayonetta summons torture equipment to dispatch angelic enemies. These counterbalance Witch Time, as they give the player pockets of breathing space in the otherwise intense fights. Along the way Bayonetta will accumulate a collection of weaponry, another familiar feature implemented in an interesting way. Bayonetta can equip two weapons at any one time, but each weapon is specifically bound to either punch or kick buttons. Some weapons can only bind to one of the two, but others- such as her signature guns- fit the hands as easily as the feet. Since the strike weight and speed varies between limbs, this exponentially increases the number of possible loadouts and combos to play around with.
Despite it’s difficulty at high levels, Bayonetta is still surprisingly accessible compared to other games of its genre. This title will not persistently destroy you like, say, a DMC3, but the beginner is likely to snap up more than their fair share of Stone awards (one rank below Bronze) on their first run. This is a perfect balance: the casual player can finish the game while the scoring mechanism will tease the more competitive player towards honing their skills.
It’s impossible to talk Bayonetta without having a conversation about sexualisation. It’s clear that every inch of Bayonetta is fetishized: she is a black-clad dominatrix who tortures her enemies, she sucks lollipops and curls suggestively around poles. And yet, things which might induce eye-rolling in another title seem stylistically appropriate here. This is due in part to the characters not taking themselves entirely seriously, and the fact that Bayonetta is an empowered agent, not an object. But those points are obvious: there’s something else to it, too.
The biggest reason Bayonetta just isn’t like the other girls is that her sexiness isn’t mindless. Many female avatars that trade on their appearance often seem like their sex appeal is a stapled-on afterthought. The thematic ties to sexuality are much deeper here, and much older. Consider what the archetypal witch was to the mind of the medieval rabble; women that were overly independent, concubines of the devil, conductors of secret, nude, nightly rituals. There’s a strong argument that the fear of witches is a manifestation of the fear of female sexuality. And that might be why it seems so fitting and cathartic to see the Umbran witch utilise her weaponized sexuality against the holy icons of her oppression. Bayonetta’s dangerous allure is not a gimmick- it’s deliberate.
The binding ideal of Bayonetta’s look is femininity, and she is infused with symbolism, from her long, prehensile hair (both a modern feminine marker and a common ingredient in magic “spells”) to her relationship with the moon (traditionally seen as female). The music reflects this too, with battle themes being upbeat, girly pop. Catchy and strangely fitting, but somewhat repetitive after a while. The richness of design extends to Bayonetta’s opponents: the angels. These are not beautiful winged men, but unsettling, detailed monstrosities ripped from the book of Revelation. They are everything Bayonetta isn’t: masculine faces and bodies covered in armour. Giants made of stone and metal to contrast with the soft nature-bound witches. They excude a godly light, and their realm, Paradiso, is bathed in eternal sunshine in contrast to the Umbran affinity for the night. The motifs and stylistic dualities are enthralling, which is a lucky thing since Bayonetta’s actual narrative is not handled all that well. Dialogue often feels awkwardly paced, and like some meaning was lost in translation.
The story is impenetrable, and the conclusion hardly answers any of the questions the player has. Bayonetta doesn’t trade straightforwardly on its plot, but on the iconic strength of its characters. The bumbling, overweight assistant Enzo, the persistently rakish investigator/admirer Luka, the imposingly masculine demon merchant Rodin and of course the unforgiving Bayonetta herself. These characters are all totally one-dimensional personality-wise, and yet they all exude a magnetism from their first appearances. The look of this game is challengingly complex at times, but is a constant spectacle that fits perfectly with its spectacular gameplay. Despite a few simple puzzles here and there, there really are no dull moments in Bayonetta; the action just keeps ramping up ever more. Just when you think the game has reached its climax, it will pull out another boss twice as large and ridiculous as the last.
As is the case with almost any game from Platinum, Bayonetta’s greatest strengths are on two fronts: unmistakable style and deep, complex combat. On the first count, opinions may vary. The near-constant lewdness might be too much for some to stomach, and there’s no shame in that, although I would insist that this title offers something quite artistically distinct from the run-of-the-mill videogame sex appeal. On the second count, however, Bayonetta is pretty much impeccable. Taking lessons Devil May Cry and Viewtiful Joe, Bayonetta has forged an addictive time-bending fighting system that is accessible to the beginner while still maintaining the high skill ceiling associated with its pedigree.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Wii U code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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