German folklore tells of the existence of what is commonly known as the “doppelgänger”; an ominous, shadowy mirror of oneself glimpsed in the peripheral vision, usually a harbinger of doom or misfortune. However, though Devil May Cry (and its respective sequels) may wish it keep its eyes peeled – seeing as Bayonetta is very much the She-ra to its metaphorical He-Man – the title’s arrival is hardly a malevolent omen, but rather a gleefully absurd rollercoaster ride laced with a delicious sense of brevity and rarely making any sense whatsoever.
However, as frequently inexplicable as the plot – which follows an amnesiac witch covered in hair fighting a hideous, gibbering army of angels – is, the gameplay is reasonably simple; the player is given a joystick to move, the ability to punch, kick and shoot using as many buttons and a vast array of combos and special moves to seek out and master. Indeed, perhaps what impresses most (at least intitially) about the game initially is how refreshingly accessible it is; controls are simple but have depth, some attacks easily unleashed through sheer button-bashing whilst others requiring more skill and precision timing.
Furthermore, the game does add some rather interesting and certainly enjoyable innovations, one being its ‘Witch Time’ feature, unleashed when Bayonetta dodges an attack, which slows down time Matrix-style and allows you to rapidly attack your bemused opponents. It’s a simple addition, however it does lend the game some surprising depth in allowing the one a choice in how they play the game; do you wage an all-out offensive, or do you go on the defensive, dodging and jumping until you get the chance to go all Hiro Nakamura on them? Credit where credit’s due; Platinum Games have implemented the system extremely well, and it perfectly compliments the title’s frantic gameplay.
However it is for their sheer showmanship that I feel the developers should be praised; these are people who obviously want to lend their game a certain feel, mood and character and so should rightfully gain some respect from this. The character and art design is superb, particularly impressive being the angelic antagonists, bathed as they are in a wonderfully twisted aesthetic of Judeo-Christian imagery. Likewise, the game has a superb (and particularly Japanese) soundtrack, even if the endlessly repeated ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ indicates that Platinum Games have been watching far too much Neon Genesis Evangelion. Superb voice acting (tongues always lodged firmly in cheek), ridiculous Grindhouse-y cut-scenes as well as stunning graphics and effects round off an excellent, stylised package.
However, whilst levels are intricately carved and surprisingly detailed, Bayonetta is in fact a very linear game; one can’t escape the feeling of simply following a path and triggering off (admittedly outstanding) set-pieces, not helped by the game’s unfortunate tendency towards repetition. Nonetheless, I would argue that it is this linearity which lends Bayonetta its particular goofy charm and was very much one of the developers’ intentions; as I mentioned at the beginning of this review, the game is a rollercoaster ride, packed as it is with peaks and troughs, innumerable thrills and moments of mad genius matched by a dogging familiarity which is numbing when played for too long in a single sit-through but largely unnoticeable when sampled in small doses.
Bayonetta is fundamentally, ironically enough for a game centred around witchcraft, enchanting. It certainly does have its flaws but the game’s frantic structure, accessible gameplay and addictive impression ensure that the overall experience is giddying, if perhaps slightly more than the sum of its parts. Highly recommended.