Thursday, January 6, 2011

Bayonetta Review: Brainless Fun, and Also There Are Boobs

bayonetta_2-500x219Pankin's post about Arkham Asylum yesterday convinced me that a write-up of a year-old game isn't as bad as doing a write-up of a year-old movie or something. Decent games are too plentiful for anyone to play them all when they come out, and it's likely that a lot of you got games of 2010 as presents last month and are currently working through them now, or maybe you got some gift cards and you're looking for ways to spend them.

With that in mind, I hope you can forgive my year-late review of Bayonetta, developed by Platinum Games and Nex Entertainment and published by Sega in January of last year. If you find yourself unable to forgive, let's wind the clock back and pretend this is a timely review, okay?

Bayonetta is a frenetic third-person action game in the vein of Devil May Cry or Shinobi: use comically complex button combinations to rain death and hellfire down on your enemies while avoiding said death and hellfire yourself. The best games in this genre feature addictive gameplay and smooth, precise controls, and Bayonetta is no exception.

Also on display is the genre's trademark over-the-top violence - enemies are dismembered with guns and chainsaws, slimy appendages are viciously torn from giant bosses, and blood and guts are in abundance. Bayonetta (the character) delivers all of this punishment with the expected flair (and a fair share of glib one-liners).

So far it's a very competent game, but it's a bit by the book, yes? Well, we're about to talk presentation, which is where this game distinguishes itself for better or worse.

The story is sketchy, confusing, and completely unimportant, but it runs roughly thusly: Way back in Olden Tymes, there were some priest dudes and a bunch of witches. By various means, they maintained the balance of the universe, until one of the priests knocked up one of the witches and then everyone fought and died I guess.

bayonettaYou play Bayonetta, the spawn of that unfortunate union, and you are an eight-foot-tall Amazon goddess with librarian's glasses, an English accent, giant endowments and a skintight catsuit that would make Seven of Nine blush. Also you are all the time sucking lollipops suggestively, and you perform attacks with your hair, and your catsuit is also made out of your hair so sometimes when you do attacks you end up mostly naked.

I would count Bayonetta's character design as one of the more reserved design choices on display here. You know, relatively speaking.

Anyway, you're Bayonetta, and you're a witch with amnesia who wants to uncover the secrets of her witchy past, and to do this you blow apart angels with your guns and your hair and your guns that are attached to your feet.

That's right, angels. Bayonetta pits the player against angels, seraphim, and pretty much the entire heav'nly host. Normally you might feel bad about beating up God's emissaries to mankind, but luckily for you the angels in this game are all slavering buzzard-demons that occupy their time by swiping at sweet little girls with serrated claws and spiked tentacles.

Along the way, you encounter a strange girl who thinks you're her mother, a Gaston-looking journalist who thinks you murdered his dad, and an antagonistic character in red who ends up being your friend at the end. You start out burning ancient European cities to the ground, and you end up having to destroy the creator of the universe so that s/he doesn't create a new universe and kill everything in the old one.


The story makes little enough sense as-is, and it doesn't help that it's all stitched together with weird cutscenes in which the characters' hair, clothing, and surroundings move, but their lips, eyes, and bodies don't. You can see one of the best examples at around 1:23 of this video (the part before is only slightly less ridiculous, though).

This was obviously an artistic choice spurred by the fact that it also saves the money that would be spent on lip-synching, and it has the unintended side-effect of making most of the game's already ridiculous cutscenes look like they're being acted out with Barbies.

3469958358_999354ee95Said cutscenes play as though they were conceived, written, blocked, shot, and edited by a thirteen-year-old boy who just recently discovered masturbation, which is to say, we spend a lot of time staring at Bayonetta's lovelies. If you want to play this with your mother, girlfriend, or priest in the room, you're going to be pressing the skip button a lot, and even then you may need to reconsider your choice of audience.

Take all of this, add a heaping helping of sugary J-pop, and you've got Bayonetta. I watched this game unfold in front of me with what I can best describe as bemused horror, an odd mixture that led to me liveblogging the entire game over on my Twitter feed.

Luckily for it, the gameplay was more than fun enough to get me past the mind-numbing presentation, and luckily for you the game can be found virtually everywhere for $20 or less. If you've got a love for action games and a high tolerance threshold for shame (and maybe also nausea), you could do a lot worse than Bayonetta.