I was so excited to play Bayonetta this week; the director is the man behind Devil May Cry and Viewitful Joe. The studio is made up of the people responsible for God Hand, which I consider to be part of the trinity of amazing action titles. I had a chance to play Bayonetta at the VGexpo last year and walked away with a good feeling for it. Unfortunately as it turns out I should not keep my hopes up.
Going into the game I was hoping for some next gen God Hand but instead I got something different. Let's start with the game play, Bayonetta is classic action style. You move from set piece to set piece most often locked in a room with baddies and have to stylishly kill them. Rinse and repeat until the game is done, there are several boss battles and a few puzzles to mix things up but they come few and far between. What Bayonetta does right is that it provides the player with a fluid and responsive character, with no small part thanks to the combo system.
The combo system was carefully constructed and a highlight for the game. In most action titles all the combos in the game are pre-canned and there is a break in the flow between them. For example if you have 2 combos: XXXY and XXXX, usually after you do the first one you have to wait a second before starting the next one. Bayonetta however does things differently; instead of having combos out of long inane button combos (XXYXXXYYXYX) what they did was take button combos that you would normally press while jamming on the buttons and turned them into combos.
The fluidity of Bayonetta also removes that one second delay in attacking, meaning the second the last hit of your XXYYX combo ends you can start XXXYY without a second to spare. For each weapon load out in the game, the same combo tree applies to each one, meaning XXYX will be used for your sword combos as well as your whip ones. This makes Bayonetta one of the most responsive games I've played, but also gives me my first complaint about the game.
In my opinion every weapon in Bayonetta lacks personality due to the combo system. As I mentioned the same skill tree applies to everything meaning that you'll be attacking the same with the whip as you would the sword. Yes the weapons have different attributes to them but in terms of button presses it's the same thing one after another. An example done right would have to be Devil May Cry 3; every weapon not only had its own attributes but also style which would influence the combos.
One weapon in DMC 3 were gauntlets that turned Dante into a close range fighter with a move list based on charging your punches and kicks before unleashing them. Another weapon was an electric guitar/scythe which the move list was based on quick attacks followed by jamming on the buttons to unleash electrical blasts to take down your foe. Both weapons were completely different and the expert gamer could combine them both to create devastating combos by quickly switching between the two. While a universal combo chain is a great idea, it unfortunately simplifies the combat in my opinion. Moving on my next complaint has to do with the opposite of fighting, defense.
When it comes to defense in action titles, it always seems to be the weak link in the chain and Bayonetta is no exception. It should come as no surprise that there is no block button; DMC didn't have one (with exception to the royal guard style in DMC3). Bayonetta has an evade ability with one unique twist that almost makes up for the lack of a block, witch time. If you dodge an enemies' attack at the last possible second you enter witch time, everything slows down allowing you to pummel the enemy unopposed.
For the most part this is a brilliant system but the problem is that when you don't have it, the faults in the system are visible. For some reason witch time only activates after certain attacks with no explanation. Why a green energy ball and a red fireball are different I have no idea. To make matters worse there are some fights where witch time does not work at all. These fights involve gold plated enemies who can tear through your health bar in seconds. It's like the designers came up with this great idea and could not follow through with making it balanced. Now there is another defensive option, but I would like to talk about why it fails.
In Bayonetta you can buy accessories that can provide benefits, one such accessory is the power to counterattack, by pressing the left stick in the direction of the enemy just as the attack connects you block and stun the enemy long enough to attack. There are several problems with this; one is that you need to spend 200k halos (game currency) to be able to afford it. Without resorting to grinding levels I did not have enough halos to buy that until I beat the game on normal. Second, something so powerful and important to the game mechanics should not be hid behind a price tag. It is like a first person shooter that restricts you from picking up anything stronger then a pistol until you buy the upgrade.
As a game mechanic it is a no-no to lock up important skills from the player. Ninja Gaiden Black was great that everything the player needed to learn and use was there from the start, you weren't going to unlock an instakill move half way in. In NGB the only place to go was up, with new weapons and upgrades to the base skills that would see you through to the end. At last it's time for my final complaint against Bayonetta which is the usual complaint for action titles, the camera.
While it fortunately doesn't go crazy looking at everything except you, it is instead to slow. Using the right analog stick to turn the camera seems to take forever. You can use the lock-on button to quickly turn the camera but when you are trying to dodge 15 things at once it can be easy to forget. Also the camera has a habit of either being too zoomed in preventing you from seeing off screen attacks, or too zoomed out where you can't make out the attack tells of the enemies. Hopefully someday someone will create the ultimate action game camera and we will all rejoice.
Now I realize that this entry comes off very negative towards Bayonetta but I did enjoy the game. As an action title it is well done, but when I looked at the pedigree of the people involved I was expecting more. I wanted God Hand meets Ninja Gaiden Black; instead I got God Hand meets Devil May Cry. My top 3 action titles would have to be: Ninja Gaiden Black, God Hand and Devil May Cry 3 in that order.
While Bayonetta is good, it wasn't enough to knock these 3 off their pedestals. I do take some solace in the fact that no one has come close to creating the action game I want to develop which I think would be one of the best action titles, now all I need is a team to make it.
As you may have noticed I've kept quiet about the storyline in Bayonetta since it makes my head hurt. There is nonsensical and then we have Bayonetta, which makes Killer 7 and God Hand coherent. In all honesty nothing in Bayonetta made me go "WTF!", I've played God Hand, Killer 7 and No More Heroes, there is nothing Japan can throw at me now to surprise me.
P.S Also God Hand had a better ending theme in my opinion.