Have You Met A ‘Bayonetta’?

Developer PlatinumGames kicks off the New Year with a bang with the North American release of Bayonetta, an action game from the brilliant mind of Hideki Kamiya, the same man who gave birth to Devil May Cry. Whereas the original Devil May Cry redefined the action genre for its era, Bayonetta does the same, and goes one step further, elevating action into the next generation.

The game puts you in the boots of the titular heroine, Bayonetta, an amnesiac witch trying to discover her past. But this isn’t your average run-of-the-mill witch. With a pair of gaudy glasses, a sultry British accent, a penchant for lollipops and an outfit made completely out of her hair, Bayonetta is a sexy, smart and sanctimonious slayer of angels. Where most games pit the player against the denizens of hell, Bayonetta turns it upside down, and pits you against the angels. The heavenly hordes are re-imagined as snarling beasts, decked out in gold armor, stone-faced statue and blood-tipped white feathers.

Contributing to the premise is the game’s overall style, a potpourri of anime-inspired over-the-top action with the charm and cornball cheese of Charlie’s Angels. The game takes absurdity to new heights, the story serving as nothing more than an excuse to showcase feats of acrobatic impossibility: super jumps, gun-laced break dancing battles, hair transforming into gigantic demonic dragons and a final showdown of galactic proportions. The word “restraint” does not exist, all caution thrown to the wind, and pure unadulterated insanity is allowed to shine in all of its heavenly glory.

The core gameplay can only be described as fantastic. As an action game, the usual assortment of punches, kicks and jump moves are all included much like Devil May Cry, but whereas melee combat and shooting were two separate halves of the equation, Bayonetta effectively fuses them together, creating a unique and flexible combat engine that rewards constant experimentation.

The sheer number of combo possibilities is mind-boggling, and the game tests not only your reflexes and timing but also your creativity. The controls are highly responsive, which is absolutely necessary given the frenetic pace of combat. Thankfully, the use of “Witch Time” accentuates the game’s core combat philosophy of pure offense — attack, attack attack! A well-timed dodge freezes time, allowing the player to levy as much divine punishment as possible in a single moment. The use of “Wicked Weave” also opens up the combo possibilities, as the title character’s costume literally changes into humongous fists or enormous stiletto heels as combo finishers to crush the angels into bloody oblivion. Successful evasions and high combo strings rewards the player with magic, which can be used to activate highly damaging techniques known as “torture attacks,” which, true to its name, employ various instruments of torture including spiked coffins and guillotines to destroy the angels in spectacular bloody fashion.

One of the more innovative features is the ability to equip different weapons in both hands and feet. The game’s repertoire of weaponry is vast and expansive, ranging from dual pistols, shotguns and rocket launchers, to katanas, whips, gauntlets and ice skates. The game gives the player free reign to make any combination of weapons as they see fit; for example, if you ever wanted to wield a Japanese blade with rocket launchers strapped to your feet, it’s totally possible. Opening the possibilities for creative destruction even further, the game allows you to store two separate equipment configurations and lets you switch between the two in real-time, making for one of the most flexible and fluid combat systems around.

The game isn’t all about combat; it also offers a great blend exploration and puzzle solving. The environments are imaginative, surreal, and stunning and only escalate in grand scale the further you advance. The puzzles are clever, incorporating the use of “witch time” in the solutions, and enemy encounters are well-paced between intermittent breaks of exploration. The crown jewels of the game are the massive screen-filling bosses who are as fun to fight as they are impressive. Each boss fight is multi-layered, with stages within the fight, forcing the player to use all of their skills to evade, shoot, punch, kick and eventually climax their way to victory.

This epic adventure runs from ten to 14 hours, but the replay value is high with the multiple difficulty modes. Where the easiest mode lets you go through the game by just pressing one button, the hardest is strictly for the most hardcore, as it removes “witch time” completely and changes up the enemy configurations, throwing the stronger late-game enemies in from the very start.

Bayonetta is one of those rare gems that come once every generation, the perfect marriage of art, technology, and game design. There aren’t enough words to describe the brilliance of the game, and there are things I haven’t even touched upon — from the coin-op inspired minigames at the end of each chapter, the animal transformations, the powerful accessories, the Alfheim side challenges, the potion mixing sub-game, and countless other features that help form one of the most refreshing gaming packages in quite a long time. If you own an Xbox 360 or PS3, you owe it to yourself to experience this wicked, furious and relentless roller coaster ride of an adventure.