Game Review: Bayonetta - gonzo-sexy mayhem is bewitching

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Although the game takes about eight hours to complete your first play-through, it's not the kind of experience I could handle all at once. There's so much going on, so many outlandish sights, gravity defying perspective changes, and crazy music cues (the game's theme song is “Fly Me to the Moon”), a half-hour of play would wear me out. But I always quit looking forward to coming back and playing more soon. As you defeat your holy foes, you earn money (halos) to buy upgrades, new combos and abilities, and other items, but you won't come anywhere near collecting enough lucre in one play through. This encourages replay, and if you up the difficulty level, the added challenge and new options will make the second or third time almost as enjoyable as the first. Actually, maybe even more enjoyable since you won't have any qualms about skipping over the story-sequences.

The story in Bayonetta reveals the down side of self-indulgence. It's aggressively dense and obscure, with long cut scenes that either confound with annoyingly cryptic dialogue or annoy even more with massive exposition dumps. As the game goes on, these get longer and longer, and while the ratio of sense to nonsense remains pretty constant (1 to 5 I'd say). The achingly endless cut scenes towards the game's finale had me picking up my Nintendo DS to play other games while the Bayonetta jibber jabber played out in the background. More annoying than that, for me anyway, are the action cut scenes. I despise sitting through pre-animated cinematics of my character doing awesome things. I'm playing this game so I can do those things! Luckily the game let's you skip them, and I'm not sure you'd miss much by doing so the first time through.

Bayonetta is spectacle of the first order, with imaginative, wild visuals that could almost be charged with assault they're so aggressive. The game revels in its lack of restraint, giving scenes of riding motorcycles up flying rockets and giant spiders made out of hair. It's available on X-Box 360 and PS3, but the Playstation version has serious performance issues. I'd go with the X-Box here if you've got the option. It retails for $60.

Bayonetta offers pleasure after pleasure designed to feel at least a little guilty. This third-person action extravaganza is a glorious, self-indulgent mass of sound, fury, and fun. You play as the sexy-librarian-looking Bayonetta who wears a skin-tight black bodysuit over her curvaceous form and has automatic pistols in the heels of her boots. Except she's not a librarian, she's a witch, and the body suit isn't black leather, it's her hair and it can turn into giant spike-heeled boots and stomp on people. In addition to the twin shooters in her shoes, Bayonetta can also double fist another pair of guns or swords or clawed gauntlets or (my favorite) a glowing pink whip. Press those buttons just right and she'll cavort through an astonishing array of combos and attacks, up to and including a floor-spinning break dance routine that sends bullets flying in every direction, all while delivering saucy one-liners in a sexy British accent.

The game's setting evokes the classic trope of a war between heaven and hell, or Paradiso and Inferno in the parlance of Bayonetta (horning in on EA's Dante's Inferno territory?), but these heavenly minions and the game's arcane and obscure story have little to do with Judeo-Christian tradition. The monsters are however awesome. They have a gilded, baroque feel to them, with angelic and cherubic faces surrounded by golden filigree and melded onto outlandish, huge monstrous forms. In a fun twist they all carry names of various virtues like Glory, Ardor, and Joy. The combat, which is the heart of Bayonetta, never ceases to please, even in the big boss fights (which are usually a sore point for me in games). While definitely demanding of careful timing and skilled execution on the game's harder difficulty systems, players looking for some crazy fun can set it to Easy and go to town.

(Video after the jump.)

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