perjantai 10. tammikuuta 2014

REVIEW - Bayonetta | Xbox 360 | 2009

GENRE(S): Action
RELEASED: October 29, 2009
DEVELOPER(S): Platinum Games, Team Little Angels, Nex Entertainment (PS3)

Once upon a time, there was a new IP based on a very early draft of a Resident Evil spin-off, called Devil May Cry. Released in 2001, this over-the-top third-person action game quickly became one of the PlayStation 2's most heralded exclusives, and one of the most influential games of the decade. When the time came for Devil May Cry 2, creator Hideki Kamiya was ousted from the project; he always wanted to do a sequel, but he never got the chance. At that time, he was working on the cult beat 'em up Viewtiful Joe. After nailing yet another PS2 classic for his resume with the unique Ōkami in 2006, Kamiya resigned from Capcom after being disappointed with how he and his work were treated one too many times, and founded Platinum Games together with his former Resident Evil buddy Shinji Mikami and Ōkami producer Atsushi Inaba. After signing a deal with Sega, the core founders began working on two separate projects - Mikami started work on a third-person shooter by the name of Vanquish, while Kamiya pursued his desire to make another game like Devil May Cry, but something... sexier. He admittedly took advantage of the latest Devil May Cry 4 to get a good view of the current standards of hack and slash. The result was Bayonetta - the most over-the-top, pompous, ridiculous, and yes, probably the sexiest action game you've ever seen. Let me tell you, despite my personal reservations, and some genuinely enfuriating core elements, it is quite good... and as you may have heard, difficult as hell.

Keep staring at that ass and the game will have yours

Hellena Taylor : Bayonetta
Grey DeLisle : Jeanne
Dave Fennoy : Rodin
Yuri Lowenthal : Luka
Liam O'Brien : Father Balder
Stephanie Sheh : Cereza
Allan Groves : Enzo
Richard Epcar : Narrator

With her amazing senses and combat skills, and her hair - which can morph into anything, including her skin-tight outfit - Bayonetta is a witch, that much is obvious. However, no one really knows where she came from; she was found 20 years ago sealed in a coffin at the bottom of a lake, with no memory of her past and nothing tied to it except for a chestpiece which she is told is one half of the "eyes of the world". Bayonetta heads for Europe to search for its counterpart and hopes to discover the truth about her past, all the while hounded by a much uglier bunch of God's angels than you might've heard of, and another witch who looks a little too much like a female Dante.

Angelus asskickus.
A lot of people still think of Bayonetta as a Devil May Cry spin-off, and it's no wonder, since it makes a well-placed, subtle reference to not only Devil May Cry, but just about every game Hideki Kamiya has ever been involved with, around just about every corner, with the least subtle reference to DMC being Jeanne's strong resemblance to Kamiya's original version of Dante. Early Sega classics, too - for just an obvious example, wonder where those golden rings used as currency came from. Heh. Well, if I had thought of this as a Devil May Cry spin-off, I'd most likely left it off my wishlist. I liked the first game - hell, for the first couple of missions when I bought the game way back when, I even thought of it as the greatest game ever made. I started to dislike it somewhere around mission 5 or 6, and the final boss just had my balls for breakfast. He was so frustratingly hard that I had no choice but to start the game over and save all of my power-ups for him. I finally beat him, quickly at that, but having to do that left a mark. Also the fact that the game as a whole didn't turn out quite what I expected after a strong start and a cool lead character in Dante. I still wanted to buy the first sequel, but I read somewhere it wasn't even nearly as good as the first one, so I forgot it for a spell - I borrowed it from a friend and confirmed what I read was right a few years later. It sucked. The third game just didn't look like my kind of game. Demonic guitars and all that - way too Japanese for me, especially in those times. I almost succeeded in skipping the fourth game altogether, as well - too bad I didn't. And, that game happens to be the most influential game when it comes to this one. But, Bayonetta has a lot going for it either way. It was made by the same people who made the very original Devil May Cry, ironically inspired by the later games, but if we're being honest here, I might as well say it out loud: the thought of the game gave me a boner. Dante, Kratos, those damn Belmonts, replaced by a witch who has a skin-tight outfit (formed by her fabulous hair, no less), two handguns, two more guns as her heels (not AT, but AS), GLASSES (don't ask, it's just... just), the cockiest British accent you can take, and one amazing ass.

I've seen a lot of sex in many forms in modern video games - not counting Japan-only commercial releases which have had sex since the dawn of time. More or less realistic female characters straight out of the dreams of the anyguy, tits 'n' asses, penises (thank you, Grand Theft Auto), sex minigames (thank you, God of War), and finally, in the most recent years, outright fucking. However, it is the always suggestive, never executive style of Bayonetta which truly makes you sweat. If it doesn't, the developers have done something wrong or there's something wrong with you. Yeah, even if you treat 'em as just characters in a game, especially since the graphics are not THAT good, you must have a brain. And this little thing called imagination. I think my imagination has never run as rampant as it does whenever they take a close-up shot of Bayonetta's wide open cleavage.

If you've followed me for a long time, then all that I just said sounds like bitter irony, 'cause I have breathed fire on games that use sex as a commercial weapon - for example, the original Tomb Raider series. Perhaps I view Bayonetta differently, 'cause it's so honest; it's 100% obvious what the developers were actually going for here. They admit without a shadow of a doubt that sex is the most important key element of Bayonetta, and even a bigger inspiration for the game than Kamiya's desire to do another Devil May Cry game ever was. Every interview you ever read about this game, especially with Kamiya, they're saying that doing the game was the easy part, but making the lead character look just perfect all the time, regardless of the circumstances, was the hard part. The game never ceases to show off Bayonetta's graceful form. The cutscenes are full of all sorts of sexual humour and innuendo - even moreso when the mandatory love interest comes along - every smallest window for an ass, crotch or cleavage shot is most definitely used, and strands of hair are literally all that are in between of the player and Bayonetta's hottest spots during her boss finishers (she summons a huge hair monster - yeah...). Nothing is actually ever shown, but the game doesn't really make that clear for you. It's like pushing you to play to see a bit of boob. And it suddenly becomes even more difficult, and you suddenly become even more desperate to see the game to the end. It never happens, so stop playing because of that. Instead, play Bayonetta if you love these kinds of ruthless action games, because it is a very challenging game; it offers up a very formidable, rare challenge. Speaking of challenge, let's delve into the world of Bayonetta's audiovisuals. Now we're talking serious, in case you're wondering, and the downsides of the game which will haunt you right up 'til the end.

Escape from Midgar all over again.
Now I said that the graphics aren't quite that good, but it's rather the cinematic style of the game which is the actual bomb. About 30% of the cutscenes are of the standard variety and the rest are photo stills; this might be a Japanese thing, but I also have a theory that the rest of the game was so hard to make, and some of these scenes so hard to direct, that they had to look for an alternative. However it might be from the developmental point of view, in the view of us gamers they're dumb and distracting, and make the already confusing story that much harder to follow. Might as well let it be known that I liked the beginning of the story, it had good potential but it dumbed down towards the end, losing all direction, turning way too confusing for its own good and eating away at Bayonetta's strong characteristics. If I'm completely honest, I'd gladly have an ugly lead character if it meant having a good story with good character development; seems like the main focus was a little misplaced in that sense.

The most definitely worst part of the game is up next. Remember the good old times, when controllers felt like they were made out of rock and you could just throw them around the room whenever you got angry at a game and they still worked perfectly? And if they didn't, there was nothing that duct tape couldn't fix? Well, that's not the case nowadays, it seems, and I'll have to buy me a new Xbox controller because of Bayonetta. Back in the days, you got angry at a game and threw the controller against the wall because of the game's difficulty. Yeah, well, Bayonetta is a very difficult game, but what's way more frustrating about it than its difficulty level is its SHITTY MUSIC. Seriously. Whenever the Bayonetta theme song hits, I'm seriously popping a vein two seconds into it - J-pop to the max... I can't fucking stand it. Be the current battle as easy as it may (relatively speaking), that song makes me want to hurl the controller out of the window. What's worse, the two secondary theme songs here are a completely destroyed version of "Fly Me to the Moon" something that I guess is supposed to be a cover of "Scarborough Fair". The most horrendous fact is that the worst tunes were composed by none other than Masami Ueda, who worked on some of the greatest music in the early goings of the Resident Evil series. Other contributors do a much better job; just as I'm ready to bash this game's soundtrack to the lowest pits of hell, the game surprises with epic choirs and piano pieces straight out of Castlevania which don't really belong here, but sound way better than those which "do". God damn, my temples just started to pulse just from thinking about most of the music. It sounds much worse than pigs at slaughter. But when it's good, it's GOOD. Bayonetta's is the most on/off soundtrack I've ever heard. Too bad it's the off part which sticks.

No ma'am, that outfit ain't skimpy at all. You
could do skimpier.
Bayonetta is a hack and slash game, about as typical as you can get - but that's good, right? I learned my lesson a long time ago: there's no point in going over who copied who, all these games are the same and they all copied Devil May Cry to some extent. Bayonetta more than most, but it was made by the same guy, so is it any wonder? Besides, what's the point in fixing something that isn't broken? Flashy combos, flashier combos for hard currency at a conveniently placed gun store (that in this case is the threshold of hell, literally), attribute upgrades to make your life easier, magic, "bullet time", monsters, hordes of monsters, epic boss fights, surprising out-of-the-blue one-time set pieces, QTE's, mission-specific awards, challenge rooms to test your limits etc.. And then the few things that make this particular game special and worth your time even if you've clashed through every other game in this genre (miss that and your game's toast). These are things this genre's been about for a long while, and we still love it.

As soon as the game really starts after a quite lengthy tutorial, you're given a chance to get comfortable with your surroundings before heading into the first real fight - so, if you get a good award for the tutorial, based on the mission time, combo score, number of deaths and number of used items above all, don't pat yourself on the back just yet. The game is really, really unforgiving with those awards - way more unforgiving than Devil May Cry ever was. Anyway, this is where the game truly starts reminding you of Devil May Cry. Also, Ninja Gaiden for the Xbox. It's got a very similar structure and progression - the game itself is not as difficult as either one of those games, but it's difficult to do good at it. Really difficult, and the game pushes you to your limits with constant insults for your reckless behaviour, the ultimate insult being the Stone Award, the worst possible award being given to you for an overall decent performance after nearly every mission on your first playthrough, I reckon. Death awaits around every corner. There's some adventuring in the between, as you can explore cleared areas for collectibles, but basically, the game is about moving from battle to battle. It won't stop until you're at least one foot down the grave, at least once per level. Don't expect breaks.

Bayonetta's default arsenal (mmm, arse) consists of a set of four guns dubbed the Scarborough Fair (*grunt*), her very well trained legs, and her literally endless hair. Two of the guns are strapped to her feet and function as her high heels, so you can even finish up a flurry of kicks with a hail of bullets. No idea how she fires the guns... oh well, let's not pay too much attention to the details. The hair comes to good use in mega-effective combos known as Wicked Weaves. Bayonetta ends these special combos by morphing her suit into a giant high heel stomping an enemy, a giant fist and whatever. QTE's to finish the bosses feature Bayonetta morphing her hair into a gigantic monster that does a usually humorous number on the boss, for example a set of giant hands playing volleyball with an orb-shaped boss until they get frustrated with their little game and just crush the shit out of it. All the time, you're allowed to mash a given button to increase the volume of the final attack and stack up on some extra scores, which ultimately translates into money. Depending on how well you do in standard fights, as in if you're able to keep your focus and stack up on both your magic and combo meters, you can do finishers on most regular enemies as well. These are called Torture Attacks, and they're nasty. For example, you can cut an enemy in half with a chainsaw right off the bat and even keep the chainsaw as a weapon for a while, or stick a poor helpless fool into an iron maiden and be done with 'em. Where these torture devices and weapons suddenly poof up from, that's another thing. Let's just leave that subject and focus on how awesome it is.

In time, you inevitably stumble on a few alternative weapons which you don't have to use, but are advised to, as some of them might prove really useful in certain fights. Also, before you go spending all your hard-earned Halo rings on one-time power-ups, you should try your hand in whipping them up yourself utilizing the art of witchcraft on different ingredients you find scattered all around - less towards the end, though - or try to earn those power-ups in a fun little rail shooter minigame that you can play between each mission, called Angel Attack.

Epic boss fights. A bit surreal, but epic.
As in most action games, the camera is your worst enemy. By default, it's even worse in Bayonetta, since it's so damn slow. After doing what you're going to think is best, turning its speed to max from the camera options, you'll run into a heap of different trouble. The camera quickly pans into each corner you pass, way too close to Bayonetta (nice ass, though), obscuring all the action that might be taking place, and generally disorienting you. There are even some of those infamous instances that might send the camera on endless rotation. The camera in the boss fights is largely fixed, so it doesn't produce such huge problems in those, but the game introduces extremely hard regular enemies early on - some of which are harder than any boss in the game. Except for the last one - once again you're required to make safe and smart decisions long before heading into the last fight. Luckily the checkpoint system and other technical aids make it possible for you to survive the final fight... s (the "ending" goes on FOREVER, beyond your usual grasp on "forever") with more than the ultimate possible set-up. Take that, Devil May Cry... take it up the arse.

Some hardcore players might say, though, that Bayonetta's REAL challenge begins after the first Normal playthrough. The Hard difficulty level is not only unlocked, it is FORCED upon the player. You must start an entirely new game to replay the game on Normal, and let me say this once more, Normal in itself is most likely a far greater challenge than you have experienced in any game of any genre in a long time, even if you're not the least bit interested in HOW you do, just that you DO. Hidden among regular portals to the Gates of Hell (the in-game store run by the spitting image of Samuel L. Jackson) are portals to Alfheim, which is like some kind of a divine circus (as in Greek circus) for God and his cohorts. These are the challenge rooms of the game, and if you thought the challenge rooms in God of War, any of the first three games, or the trials in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, or finally the optional missions in Devil May Cry were different pieces of the same cake, I strongly advise you check these out, as these might very well suit your needs for a true challenge. These challenge rooms can only be accessed during the game, not from a menu. There's no rest for you - if you wanna do them, you must do them in the midst of getting your ass kicked anyway. That's what Bayonetta does. Maybe those gratuitous close-ups of her ass are metaphorical... a subliminal message to the player. No, I'm sure they are. Just maybe not this particular, aforementioned message, but something else entirely.

There's also an Easy Mode, and a Very Easy mode, which actually are even more insulting than the constant Stone Awards you keep getting. Combos are performed automatically here with the press of a single button, which has had some players dubbing these "One Hand Modes" - considering the game's main draw, it should be no mystery where that nickname comes from. Either way, both of these modes are for sissies. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: if you can't take a game on a standard difficulty level, stop playing it. There's absolutely no respect to be had for beating the game on an easier level. ...Except Ghouls 'n' Ghosts.

Giving a deadly headache the most effective
treatment possible.
Finally, Bayonetta takes full advantage of modern video game Trophies and Achievements. Not only will nailing each Achievement in the game - I probably don't have to spell out how hard it is - make you dance and jump out of joy, each one also counts to a large-scale in-game Achievement called the Umbran Tears of Blood. Now these are the shit. There are 101 Tears in total. Each of the 50 Achievements in the game equals to one "Tear", the remaining 51 appear as crows you must catch across each difficulty level in the game, including the dreaded Non-Stop Infinity Climax (how's THAT for a unique title for an extreme mode?). Beating all the Alfheim challenges mentioned back there unlocks an extra scenario, where you get to play as one of the main antagonists, in the style of Resident Evil 4. Neat extras, which are however impossible for a casual player to accomplish. Bayonetta demands dedication... with a husky, overtly sarcastic voice.

So before I wipe my mouth and call my girl, I'll say it again: sex might be the only reason you're initially attracted to this game. Yet, don't take it for granted, don't judge a game by its cover. Bayonetta might not look like it, but it is a very, very serious action game. Be warned (again) that its visual style and music leave a lot to hope for, and if you think Devil May Cry already overshot absolutely everything too much for your personal comfort, perhaps leaving Bayonetta on the shelf isn't such a bad idea. However, Bayonetta quickly proves its worth as a hack and slash experience, and if you're able to overlook its worst problems (by muting your monitor, for example...) and entirely shift your focus on any game's most important quality, gameplay, I think you're in for a decent, extremely challenging treat. Better than Devil May Cry? ...Maybe. There's just one way to be sure. Haven't played the first one in a while...

+ Fast-paced, challenging combat
+ Good controls; the basic combos are very easy to learn, but to do some true damage, fight more cost- and health effectively, and earn better mission awards, you'll have to experiment a little
+ Lots of collectibles and extra challenges for the truly motivated player
+ Epic boss fights that must've went on to push God of War III to even further limits than was originally planned
+ Consciously ultra-sexy all around...

- ...Good taste does have its limits, though, and they are most definitely breached, not by the constant suggestion itself, but the over-the-top visual presentation which simply isn't for everyone
- The story starts off really well, but falls like a comet; it's confusing and very disjointed
- The camera does nasty tricks to you
- The music is absolutely horrible for well over a half the time; it's frustrating to the point where it's even more enfuriating than the game's high level of difficulty

< 8.5 >

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