If nothing else, Bayonetta is bizarre spectacle.
Consider the game's opening titles sequence, which shows a thug urinating on a tombstone bearing the director's name before moving on to focus on what appears to be a seven-foot-tall nun dressed in a skin tight body suit praying over a coffin. After a minute or two of corny dialogue, her clothes split at the seams and are torn from her body, leaving her naked for a brief moment before a darker suit magically covers her curves, forming out of smoke flowing around her skin.
Then a wacky club version of Frank Sinatra's "Fly Me to the Moon" starts to wind up and our nun, now revealed to be the game's titular anti-heroine, begins shooting and beating the demonic looking angels she had been summoning with giant hand cannons tossed to her by the coffin's suddenly resurrected occupant, a tattooed, cigar chomping arms dealer who tells her to concentrate not on the quality of the weapons he's throwing her way, but instead the quantity.
And this is one of the game's more constrained scenes.
As Bayonetta, an ancient, bespectacled witch who slays heavenly entities by the dozen as she quests to learn more about her long-forgotten past, players will ride an angel corpse like a surfboard on a tide of lava, summon forth iron maidens and guillotines in the midst of battle to torture their enemies, and rip off her clothing, from which will be formed smoke-like dragons and birds that can crush truck-sized angelic warriors in their teeth and swallow golden serpents the length of a football field as though they were little more than worms.
The genius-if such a word might rightly be applied to a game that so gleefully glorifies violence and the destruction of religious icons-of Bayonetta is that its antics never become repetitive or boring. This isn't a game in which players slowly master a series of moves, but instead one in which new magical abilities, fighting skills, weapons, and finishing sequences are thrown at us so frequently that the player hardly has time to fully appreciate one bit of gameplay before being handed the next.
Moreover, the action choreography and special effects accompanying each new element repeatedly raise the level of spectacle. For example, Bayonetta goes from running on the sides of walls to breakdancing and shooting enemies with guns strapped to her boot heels to "punishing" an enemy by using its elongated neck as leverage to bash it on the ground over and over again all in the space of a single chapter. The cumulative effect is one in which players' jaws drop further and further with each passing sequence until their lower lips all but rest on the carpet.
And, surprisingly, it's completely accessible to players of all skill levels.
Many Japanese action games (like those in the Devil May Cry series) all but shun casual players with their extraordinarily challenging levels of difficulty. And while Bayonetta does offer exigent modes of play for more masochistic gamers, it also has a mode dubbed "Very Easy Automatic" that dramatically ratchets down enemy battle prowess and allows less skilled players to make Bayonetta perform all of her most outrageously eye-popping moves simply by mashing buttons. It's a smart decision that I wish other Japanese developers would follow.
However, there is one part of Bayonetta that I just wasn't able to get down with: The sex.
As already noted, Bayonetta sheds her clothes frequently during combat to unleash magical attacks on her enemies, but I'm not nearly as concerned by this as I am her many fighting moves that clearly draw from stripper choreography. She spins around magic rods, quipping that she should have been a pole dancer, and she has a habit of spreading her legs, at which point the camera rarely fails to zoom in on her crotch.
Her sexuality is tawdry, like cheap, dirty pornography; the sort of thing teen boys will find thrilling becasue of its taboo nature, but which players in possession of a more sophisticated appreciation of the female form will view as puerile. Bayonetta ends up being objectified more than almost any other female game personality I've encountered-which says quite a bit-and never becomes the strong (albeit somewhat evil) feminine character she could have been.
I'm also a bit disappointed with the story. I rarely expect much from the narratives of Japanese action games, which typically make about as much sense as a cow in a dress, but Bayonetta actually has some intriguing ideas-enemies that forgive her even as she murders them, a cute little girl who calls this bloodthirsty witch "mummy", a man who hates Bayonetta for killing his father even as he finds himself drawn in by her sexuality-that either end up being resolved too predictably or never lead anywhere interesting.
It may not live up to the expectations of flawlessness handed us by overseas game reviewers, but I can't deny that Bayonetta's stylish action had me hooked from start to finish. Mature players craving something fresh and memorable-and who don't mind controlling a character who cheerfully sets upon and destroys in outrageously violent fashion spiritual symbols representing the divine-would do well to give it a chance, even if they aren't typically drawn to the Japanese hack 'n' slash concept.
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Developer: Platinum Games
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