Developer: Platinum Games (360), Sega (PS3)
Year: 2009 (JP), 2010 (NA/PAL)
Once upon a time, there was a Capcom employee named Hideki Kamiya. This man was the director of the original Devil May Cry, which then spawned a series of games featuring half-human/half-demon men with silver hair, pretty faces and the ability to do ridiculous acrobatic stunts.
Fast forward eight years later and Kamiya, now teamed with Platinum Games, has unleashed his latest creation upon the world: Bayonetta. But this time, instead of featuring half-human/half-demon men with silver hair, pretty faces and the ability to do ridiculous acrobatic stunts, we get a hot witch in killer heels (with the ability to turn her hair into any tangible form). Oh, and of course she can pull off ridiculous acrobatic stunts too. But how does Bayonetta stack up against DMC and action games in general?
Short answer: very well. In fact, I'd say it leaps high over DMC's head and sets a new standard for action games to surpass. Long answer? Well...
In terms of storyline, Bayonetta isn't mind-blowingly original, but it's not completely cliche either. You play as Bayonetta, the last surviving member of the Umbra witch clan. Having been freed from an underwater coffin with no memory, she heads off on a tip from an informant to find a jewel in a set known as 'The Eyes of The World'. However, angelic forces are out to stop her, so it's up to her to give them hell while looking totally sexy in a suit made of her hair.
Yes, the suit comes off in certain situations. It's quite tastefully done, though.
You can tell that while Bayonetta was made to appeal to horny adolescents, it's also a game created for hardcore gamers. There are plenty of nods to Clover games, which weren't exactly targeted towards the mainstream market. Furthermore, the game is reasonably challenging, but also quite balanced in terms of difficulty.
Bayonetta implements the same type of gameplay DMC employed, that is, fighting through waves of enemies while progressing through a linear stage, solving the occasional puzzle and fighting the occasional boss. Also as in DMC, Bayonetta uses a combo system, but does not make your success as plainly obvious as the aforementioned game did (DMC used a D to SSS ranking system). The result is that Bayonetta takes the pressure off your shoulders, allowing you to focus on developing your own style of play. There's a crazy amount of weapons and techniques which all add up to an unbelievable number of combos.
A good control scheme, of course, is perhaps the most important aspect of any game in the action genre. DMC has been praised for this and of course, so has Bayonetta. As Bayonetta's emphasis is on spectacular attacks and combo chains, the controls need to be fluid, responsive, and translate perfectly into Bayonetta's graceful moves on-screen. This has been achieved and has exceeded my expectations of how I thought the game would play. It's crazy. It's fast. Which is why dodging (by quickly pressing RT) is so easy to do in this game. What's more, Bayonetta rewards you for dodging the exact moment before an attack hits you by activating Witch Time, a technique which slows time for a few seconds, allowing you to take advantage of the situation.
The only real problem that I really had while playing was the fact that the camera couldn't exactly keep up with the action at certain points, meaning that I couldn't see where Bayonetta was on the screen. This is fairly minor, however, as for the most part (99% of the time) I found the camera to be positioned in a convenient manner.
The camera does not shy away from showing you how beautiful the game is, and I'm not just talking about Bayonetta herself. The graphics for the stages are absolutely beautiful, being top-notch for a current-gen game. As I write this, a particular stage comes to mind: you are in another dimension, standing in a crumbling hall of some sort. As you exit, you realise that the tiny island you are on is rotating in an impossible direction, and you have to make the leap to another island nearby. You do so by jumping on these glowing, translucent platforms hovering in space, and you're surrounded by stars. It's almost as though you could touch them. It's awe-inspiring.
The other thing that I find amazing is how much thought has been put into character designs. Your enemies are angelic yet deadly, and their models reflect their motives and methods of attack accordingly. Bayonetta herself may have odd proportions while one is looking at a flat, 2D image of her, but translated in-game, when she's kicking her legs into the air or winking coquettishly at the camera.
The music is marvelous as well, with the soundtrack containing not only baroque-esque hymns and upbeat lounge jazz, but also a few retro Sega game remixes. The voice acting is top-notch, with Bayonetta's seductive British accent oozing delightfully through your speakers.
Bayonetta is a game that is perfect as a whole. Based on what I've written alone, I don't think there is any way I can express the experience of playing the game, when you are directly involved in controlling the character. There's something indescribably beautiful about Bayonetta, not necessarily something to do with the graphics or the fluid animations or even the emotion captured in the story, but about the whole thing; something very few game developers manage to hit on the head. It's almost as though you feel connected to the world, everything contained within that game disc, and as soon as you let go of the controller, everything pales in comparison.
This is the reason why I believe that Bayonetta will be known for a long time as one of the defining games of the genre. Its qualities and gameplay value means that it is certainly one of the games of the year.
And given that it is only the beginning of 2010, this shows how excellent it truly is.