Born from former employees that had worked at Capcom’s shuttered Clover Studio, PlatinumGames had carefully crafted MadWorld and Infinity Space before striking a resounding chord when their strong-minded Umbra Witch strode onto the scene. Flamboyantly stylish, Bayonetta arrived at a time when critics were fairly downbeat about the state of the Japanese development scene. Although driven by Hideki Kamiya’s expertise, the studio soon not only found itself launched into the stratosphere but was broadly responsible for rebirthing interest in the ailing action genre.
Whether the result of pleas from those yet to experience the start of Bayonetta‘s tale or what had already been part of Nintendo’s master plan, we can be thankful that we can precede the explosive sequel by catching up on where it all began.
Having awoken at the bottom of a lake where she had been sleeping for some 500 years, Bayonetta discovers that she has no recollection of who she is or how she came to be there. Only knowing that she carries one part of the “Eyes of the World” and having learned of the powers that she is blessed with, she ventures to Vigrid where it is believed that the other half lies. That hunt spurs you forward as you progress through Bayonetta‘s many chapters, the Umbra Witch becoming embroiled in a continual battle with Angels that descend from Paradiso looking to thwart her progress.
Kamiya’s trademark humour is evident from the outset, even as the opening credits come to a close as informant Enzo urinates on a grave emblazoned with the director’s name. Although, it is in the game’s gratuitous combat system that players will find most satisfaction, drawing upon his experience in crafting the likes of Devil May Cry and Viewtiful Joe.
Bayonetta, who is seductive in manner before revealing herself as a relentless human weapon, relishes the combat scenarios that she faces, seen by her continual winks to the camera and her impatience during cutscenes when she sucks on lollipops to pass time and fires warning shots when the game’s nightmare-inducing bosses are waxing lyrical. Four handguns, two in her hands and two clasped to her heels, are all the firepower that she needs to bring to bear on her enemies.
Her hair, used as a conduit to summon demonic entities to perform Wicked Weave techniques, deliver more punishing blows at the tail end of any combo you perform. It’s a cacophony of sound and an assault on the senses as you punch, kick and blast your way through swarms of angelic enemies, but all the more gratifying for it. After bashing about more sizeable foes, a pact with the infernal demons that dwell in Inferno allows you to call upon them to finish the job. These Climax attacks are impressive feats, your monstrous attacker already brutally beaten now savagely torn asunder by an overly-sized demon as you mash buttons or rapidly turn sticks to reap more reward from the kill.
It is activating Witch Time that places many of Bayonetta‘s best-savoured moments at your fingertips, the last minute dodge of an enemy swipe slowing the world around you and opening a limited window for you to mercilessly pound your enemies. This is vital in the game’s more brutal boss fights and a necessity to securing higher scores.
New techniques, weapons and items await to be purchased from the Gates of Hell, a bar owned by smooth-talking owner Rodin, where Halos dropped by your enemies serve as currency. Everything that lines Rodin’s shelves helps to extend Bayonetta‘s move set and make the experience an even greater thrill to behold – this slow drip-feed having become a trait of the action genre, with players returning to tackle levels with more proficiency with the additional skills placed at your disposal.
Nintendo cosplay costumes are also immediately accessible to you, letting you garb Bayonetta as the Mushroom Kingdom Princess (Peach) or Saraslan Princess (Daisy) which will see her Wicked Weaves summon Bowser’s mighty arms. There’s also the Hero of Hyrule costume that equips Bayonetta with the Master Sword and allows you to block enemy’s attack much in the same was as parrying in Metal Gear Rising Revengeance, while the Galactic Bounty Hunter arms you with an arm-mounted beam cannon. Far from mere costume changes, these directly superbly mix up the gameplay in ways that promise to even entice those that have already seen Bayonetta through from start to finish.
As has now come to be expected, Wii U GamePad integration is led by Off-TV Play which sees no noticeable dips in performance or visual degradation compared to playing on the main screen.
Whereas newly introduced touch controls will also help to break down the barrier of entry for those that may perhaps feel intimidated by the relentless pace of the action genre. These can be used at any time without needing to dive into a menu to activate them, players being free to take out their stylus and start tapping away whenever they wish to do so. Intuitive to use, you touch and hold to move in any direction, quickly tap the screen twice to jump and slide to evade. To attack enemies you simply have to tap on them, and you will perform consecutive combos on them until an on-screen radial attack timer depletes.
Those that favour Miiverse interaction are also encouraged to share screenshots of the overall scores that you achieve at the end of each chapter (always aiming for Pure Platinum rather than Stone), while Bayonetta-themed illustrations are available to use in any posts that you make.
Bayonetta was readily lauded on Xbox 360, but the accompanying PlayStation 3 port was plagued by an inconsistent frame rate, loading issues and a lack of textural fidelity. Cast your fears aside that the Wii U would suffer a similar fate, as the Umbra Witch makes her mark on Nintendo’s console with spectacular grace. Now at 60 frames per second, Bayonetta feels incredibly fluid even though the game’s overall appearance seems rather washed out in terms of colour vibrancy.
For those feverishly anticipating the high-octane thrills of Bayonetta 2 but yet to experience the original, it’s best to ground yourself here before tackling the sequel. While not set to deliver the same impact that it did more than four years ago, Bayonetta remains just as entrancingly bewitching to newcomers as to those that fell for her seductive-style the first time around.