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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Bayonetta (Playstation 3)

Those looking for fast-paced action and elaborate set-pieces will find much to enjoy in Bayonetta. Created by the same developers responsible for the Devil May Cry series, there are many similarities between the titles, but also significant differences. Intense gunplay is the star here with the ability to shoot from her feet and arms making for some wild moves. Bayonetta's controls are outstanding with a smooth feel allowing for impressive combo moves and spectacular finishing moves. It's not a perfect game, with some poor camera angles, annoying quick-time moves and a somewhat disjointed plotline conspiring to make it feel less polished. Despite these flaws, Bayonetta is a solidly entertaining title throughout making Bayonetta an impressive experience that will thrill hardcore gamers.

In Sega's newest release, players take the role of Bayonetta, a witch who's been awakened after lying at the bottom of a lake for hundreds of years. She begins her journey not knowing the details of her past, but as the story unfolds, she begins to find out the answers behind her past and why she's been awakened. The main character is an appealing one. Bayonetta is attractive in her own way, she carries the storyline effectively and there's some humorous lines from her and the supporting cast throughout that lighten what would otherwise be a tediously gothic title. It's a bit convoluted and we don't want to give too much away, but this is a fairly interesting storyline that gives you some motivation to keep you playing. Bayonetta plays very much as you'd expect a game from the developers of Devil May Cry to. Most of that series' basic formula is evident in Bayonetta. The action takes place in a third person viewpoint and is punctuated with elaborate cut-scenes. You have the massive amount of gunplay for long-range attacks combined with closer-range kicking and punching moves that allow you to inflict a lot of damage on opponents. One key difference between the series is Bayonetta's "Witch Time" mode. When you get close to receiving an attack, you can quickly dodge out of the way, which temporarily slows down time and gives you the opportunity to perform a number of quick attacks. This can be quite effective, especially with boss enemies who you can damage while putting very little on the line. Bayonetta can also call on Witch Time mode in other circumstances, such as when a door is blocked and can only be opened temporarily, allowing her to pass through. These puzzles add some thought to the gameplay, and some of them can be quite tricky, but they are short diversions that offer a brief respites from the otherwise relentless action.

In addition to the shooting and kicking moves, which are fairly standard, she has other abilities. One of the more impressive is a special attack move that allows her to target several enemies at close range using a lock-on attack. Another cool feat she can perform is one that allows her to walk on walls and travel vertically when the moon is full. This is key technique when it comes to certain impassible areas and blocked-off sections of levels. As Bayonetta slices through enemies, she can also call up special attacks called climaxes. These are massively powerful moves where her hair morphs into different demonic shapes that allow her to perform massive attacks on her opponents. As in the DMC games, players can perform finishing moves on opponents and use special attacks that gives each battle a satisfying end. These take the form of usually humorous actions such as kicking an opponent into a guillotine or stomping them with a giant foot. As in many other action titles, when you defeat enemies, you can collect objects, in this case halos, that build up over time and can be used for other purposes. You'll also be able to collect books that contain background information and other special items. These techniques mix the familiar with the new to create a refreshingly different take on the action genre. Of course, this only takes into account your encounters with standard enemies, the boss battles take things to an entirely different sphere.

Showing the influence of more recent games like God of War, Bayonetta features numerous battles with massive, screen-filling boss creatures. These intimidating beasts unleash massive amounts of firepower at the protagonist, and give off a sense of near-invincibility. However, Bayonetta isn't defenseless against their onslaughts. She can use her standard attacks and gradually break them down over time and call on her super-moves to decimate them when their life bars are near their end. What's interesting about the structure of these boss battles is the fact that the game offers several tiers of enemies. There are sub-bosses that are relatively easy and quick to defeat along with more epic confrontations that are tests of endurance and skill. A good point of reference is the larger a boss is on-screen, the more effort is required to defeat them. When you conquer these foes, the rewards can be quite impressive. Unlike the standard foes who only drop halos, the bosses drop special objects such as records that can be traded directly for special items and upgrades at the shop. There are numerous gateways throughout each level, which are special ports that you can enter which allow you to purchase items. These are also available between levels as well. When you arrive here, Bayonetta can use her accumulated points and halos to purchase a several different types of upgrades. These extra items include more powerful guns, extra fighting techniques and additional spells and other items. When you've purchased a spell or an item, you can go into Bayonetta's inventory screen and assign it to a button on the directional pad, allowing you to use it at any point in the game.

Another area where the game follows in the footsteps of God of War comes with its quick-time events. As you probably know, these are cinematic sequences where players press a single button to trigger an action. They're somewhat more dramatic than the standard action sequences, but have the drawback of requiring split-second timing. Failure to perform these moves at the exact moment usually causes Bayonetta to plunge into oblivion. This can make for a frustrating experience, especially when you have to go through the same sequence multiple times. Fortunately, these are scattered occurrences and you can usually make it through them. One interesting twist in all of this is that you can earn multiple rewards in some of these sequences by pressing button combos. Bayonetta further breaks up its action with several mini-games, usually arcade-style sequences where you have to zap opponents using a limited amount of bullets before the timer runs out. These provide another key element that breaks up the action effectively without losing the otherwise seamless flow. The action moves at a fairly relentless pace throughout and Bayonetta's level structure helps things along in several ways. Enemies typically surround you and attack at the same time. That section of the level is usually sealed off, making escape impossible until you've destroyed all of them. Once you're done with that section of a level, the game gives you a quick sequence of flash-backs, followed by a quick sequence where she blows a kiss and destroys the seal. It makes for a logical progression in these areas, though the road ahead isn't always as clear-cut in the game.

Bayonetta's camera system and occasionally oblique level design makes other sections frustrating to play through. You can usually tell where you need to go, but there are areas where the camera seems to block your viewpoint. Other sections of the game that require quick time moves also suffer from this problem, which makes for some sections that seem intent on blocking your progress no matter what you try. You'll need a lot of persistence and some trial and error in some levels due to these problems. Some battle sequences also suffer from this as well, causing you to take a lot of needless damage. Using the lock-on techniques and special moves alleviates this to some degree, but it feels like a crutch. Additionally, some of the puzzle sections where you need to use witch time in order to progress aren't clear on their objectives, which makes you spend too much time wandering around wondering what to do next. Despite its superb controls in its direct action sequences, the clumsy interface in these sections isn't quite as good as it could be, and makes the overall interface in Bayonetta feel less polished than it should.

However, these problems aren't enough to really detract from the overall experience, which offers a fairly consistent mix of hard-core battles and intense boss sequences. The action in Bayonetta is relentless in its pacing and intensity. Since most of the enemies attack together, you're constantly under assault which means you have to dispatch multiple foes before they drain your life force. The standard enemies don't put up much of a fight, but some of the boss battles offer a test of your abilities. Bayonetta moves with a surprising amount of grace and style, and while the controls take some getting used to, most players should get the hang of things by the second level or so. An extensive series of tutorials helps in this department as well. From an aesthetic standpoint, the game delivers an impressively detailed series of gothic environments that create an immersive world. It's not photorealistic, but there's enough grounding in reality to suspend your disbelief effectively while you're playing. Bayonetta's boss battles are easily the most impressive part of the game, with their massive size and menacing movements making them feel like a real threat, especially when the camera moves back and you can see how small she is in comparison to them.

While its gameplay is intense and the level of action can generally be described as chaotic, Bayonetta falls a little bit flat in its storyline, which feels disconcerting and sometimes falls into the realm of incoherence. However, the story in games like these is merely a means to an end, and don't detract substantially from the solid play mechanics and entertaining boss battles. From an artistic standpoint, Bayonetta offers a well-produced game and there are a few laughs along the way, in the form of inside videogame jokes. It's not for everyone, and its lives up to its M or Adults Only rating with amorous innuendo and plenty of violence, but none of it seems particularly gratuitous within the game's context. This is definitely not a perfect game by any means, it's a bit too derivative of some other well-known action titles and there are some technical problems with the camera system and some minor gameplay mechanics that make for a sometimes frustrating experience. However, these flaws shouldn't be enough to dissuade most players from experiencing this unique and memorable action title on their console of choice.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: B+

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