Bayonetta – The PS3 Attitude Review
The latest from the man who gave us Devil May Cry, Viewtiful Joe and Okami, Hideki Kamiya has labelled his witch starring action romp Bayonetta as the game he always wanted to make.
If such is the case, it’s safe to assume Kamiya-san has a penchant for three things in life: highly-sexed women, the supernatural instilled with a heavy dash of religious overtone, and action. Action that can literally cause eyeballs to extend out from their sockets in disbelief.
But it’s hard to talk about Bayonetta without commenting on its salient lasciviousness. For make no mistake about it – Bayonetta is the gaming equivalent of ten Viagra, crushed and sprinkled on giant oysters, served by Angelina Jolie. Naked.
You could argue that, as a product, Bayonetta is a throwback to the days of gaming past; the near forgotten epoch when the mass objectification of women was de rigueur in gaming. Lara Croft – the poster-child of this insidious man-made movement (with emphasis on the man part), staring demurely out while engaged in some ridiculous pose that just so happens to emphasise her biggest assets – the epitome of all that was puerile and immature in this burgeoning multi-billion dollar industry.
But while Ms. Croft was entangled – stiffened even – by her upper-class British pedigree, knowing full well when to flash her knickers and when a smile would suffice, Bayonetta is a brazen over-sexed succubus who isn’t happy unless she’s flashing a lot more than underwear. In other words: Bayonetta is a lot like Lara Croft, but only after a bucket of vodka; overtly sexual and the stuff of every (young) man’s (wet) dreams.
Such an assessment doesn’t just come from the fact that you see flesh in Bayonetta (and make no mistake about it, you will see a lot of flesh), there are other connections. The accent for instance, and the physics-defying body types; all hallmarks of women designed with one thing in mind: to appeal to the baser instincts of men.
But while Lara knew she was attractive, she rarely relied on her physical charms to get the job done. Bayonetta, on the other hand, not only knows she’s hot; she utilises this fact to bedazzle enemies with gratuitous crotch-shots and a sexual attitude that is borderline decadent. Everything about Bayonetta and the persona she purports is sexual. She can’t walk without oozing desirability, a lolly-pop seductively lolling around her sensuous mouth.
Indeed, her very attacks often require her to show more flesh than your average skin-flick, with hair flying about in reckless abandon, and thus allowing for her nakedness beneath to be unveiled. In what is an amazing accolade, Bayonetta may very well be the paragon of the chauvinistic gaming world. But is this a bad thing? How much of this flagrant flaunting of sex and violence is actually offensive? Paradoxically, could Bayonetta’s glaring sexuality be more a sign of a strong female persona rather than a mere plaything for men to denigrate?
Much akin to how jokes about one gender being inferior to the other only became funny again after the idea of one gender actually being inferior to the other at all was so patently asinine, in a strange twist of fate, it’s only now in this era of gaming maturity that a game such as Bayonetta can exist. Yes, it’s juvenile, with her legs akimbo and blowing kisses at defeated demons while breasts are thrust directly into the camera, but is it so ridiculous that it descends into offence?
Bayonetta is almost a parody of the games created back when they were shamelessly marketed at its key demographic: teenage boys whose ideal woman was a hot chick with unreal dimensions and a thirst for getting dirty. No; Bayonetta is an unrepentant declaration – a celebration almost – that guys like tits and guns, and we should no longer feel the need to deny this very fact.
It’s all blazingly kitsch; with its terribly cheesy music played over spectacular leaps and colourful takedowns. It’s also remarkably humourous and done with a tongue firmly implanted in its cheek. The only woman I can think of being offended by Bayonetta’s brazen mischievousness would be a stuck-in-the-mud who has just missed the point entirely.
It would be unfair, however, to simply demote Bayonetta as a mere young-man’s sex-infused fantasy. As, if it’s impossible to discuss Bayonetta without mentioning its hyper-sensuality, we’re equally incapable of talking about the title and not highlighting the game’s action. The sequences dreamt up by Kamiya-san are truly ground-breaking. Given, it’s beyond outlandish; scenes that include characters suspended in mid-air while they execute an endless barrage of dazzling manoeuvres in order to dispense of a menagerie of weird and wonderful creatures, but in terms of style and design, Bayonetta has it in droves.
Fans familiar with Kamiya-san’s Devil May Cry property will instantly feel at home with the controls and presentation of Bayonetta. Combos are king, with the leggy witch capable of chaining together sequences that illicit the appropriate amounts of oohs and aaahs at every turn. Build up a magical gauge, and you’ll soon be unleashing Torture Attacks, scripted set-pieces that are as gruesome and devastating as they sound, on the unwitting – and relentless – angelic monstrosities. Add in Witch Weave, and those attacks take on a whole unworldly element.
Ultimately, however, the game-play in Bayonetta is only as deep as you want it to be. Yes, it’s possible to switch fighting technique or kit her out with different guns on each of her four appendages. But, for the most part, challenges are surmountable by repetitive button-bashing.
That is not to say it doesn’t make sense to equip a fire weapon on Bayonetta’s feet so as she can walk across flames, but the game doesn’t enforce a level of immersion that demands a great deal from its players. At least not on the normal level of difficulty. Ramp up the hardness setting, of course, and only the wise and talented will prevail. Irrespective of the difficulty chosen, it’s mindless fun nonetheless, with enough concoctions, combos and combinations available throughout to add a large degree of re-playability to the title.
Which is good news, for its plot is both meandering and, for what can actually be comprehended, forgettable. It’s incidental, however, as Bayonetta’s back-story (a quasi Jason Bourne type story with a smattering of unremembered prophecy and the usual mystical mumbo-jumbo) and motivations are second to the excuse such a tale offers its creators in inventing a beautifully intricate and unique landscape; a universe in which Bayonetta herself fits firmly within. The locations, presented in crisp 1080p resolution, are always infused with character and detail; from the smoky seediness of Rodin’s bar (The Gates of Hell – a veritable one-stop-shop for all your weaponry needs) to various locales across the spectrum of Heaven, Hell and everywhere in between.
It’s this flare for design that elevates Bayonetta above your standard third-person action title fare. The minions you face are unique and increasingly bizarre the further you progress in the game, with boss character confrontations both frequent and memorable. The game-play is densely populated with a myriad of options and nuances that distil a tangible sense of customisation. In fact, the extent at which Bayonetta can customise herself and her weapons is noteworthy; a catalogue of tweaks and upgrades that often revitalises what could have been a stale and onerous grind through hordes of adversaries. It’s far from it. Bayonetta is a guilty pleasure for those of us who gravitate toward the razzle-dazzle of third-person actioners.
Finally, and considering we’re reviewing the PS3 build of the game, it’s only proper that we mention the elephant in the corner. It’s true that developer Platinum Games worked solely on the 360 version of the game, the assets and code-base dutifully handed over to Sega for PS3-porting duties while the original creators acted as guides in the game’s second incarnation. Needless to say, this situation is not optimal, for – as talented as the guys over at Sega are – the conversion team naturally did not have as much time with their build as the A-Team over at Platinum had on the 360. There are therefore numerous and well documented differences between the two renditions. The question remains, however: do these differences add up to a great deal and hence warrant shunning the PS3 version altogether?
It’s like being given a brand new car. There’s nothing wrong with the car – it runs great and does exactly what it’s supposed to – only for a sibling to receive a faster, more snazzier model. Inherently you cast an envious eye over what your cohort has just received, jealous of what they now have and you don’t. All this despite you being quite happy with what you originally got. Such is the case with the PS3 version of Bayonetta when held up to scrutiny against its faster, prettier 360 cousin.
Invariably, remarking that one thing is faster than something else inherently suggests the other is slow. Like when a world-record is broken and the previous time becomes synonymous with ‘ho-hum’ and ‘dated’. Though this analogy holds true in terms of both Bayonetta versions, it’s not really a big a deal some might make out, as though Bayonetta on the PS3 does endure a decreased frame-rate compared to the smoother 360 version (just over half the frames are present in the PS3 version if recent analysis is accurate), it’s hardly unplayable.
It’s just disappointing both versions couldn’t match each other’s technical virtues. What’s more disheartening is that there is no reason why the PS3 version shouldn’t be on par with the 360’s. Aesthetically the game is pleasing, but there’s really nothing on display here that should stress the might of the Cell chip to any great length.
Unfortunately it would seem that, unlike previous PS3 ports that have suffered in quality due to the arcane architecture of the PS3 and developers who had yet to fully grasp its wily ways, in Bayonetta’s case, the reason behind the games’ differences on the two competing platforms is more to do with politics and timing than technical shortcomings. We have no doubt that, in the hands of the original developers and with an extended development cycle, Bayonetta on the PS3 could match its 360 counterpart. Not that they’re a million miles apart, of course, but the differences should be highlighted in the interest of transparency.
In fact, though the inconsistent frame-rate is noticeable to the naked eye, what’s much more disconcerting are the in-game load times. In this day and age, while other titles are doing away with them altogether in some cases, Bayonetta’s incessant loading on the PS3 is wholly inexcusable. Sure, loading times between deaths and at the start of chapters can be tedious (at least you can practice combos while you wait), but it’s the constant stalling within the game due to these frequently occurring freezes that really jars you from the flow of the action. As whenever Bayonetta picks up a new item, prepare to be greeted with a two or three second loading message before the item in question finally spins into view.
But are such flaws enough to warrant skipping Bayonetta completely? If you own both HD consoles and graphical fidelity and performance is what drives your hand, the 360 version is easily the one to go for. That said, Bayonetta will inflict its fair share of cramps on those who shun the PS3’s more ergonomic controller, so it all depends on preference. After all, the PS3 version is far from being a terrible port. It’s just not a particularly good one.
If you only have a PS3 and are a fan of the genre, then there is no reason why you shouldn’t take a punt on the PS3 version – unless you take umbrage with purchasing what is admittedly a slightly inferior product. If you do make that PS3 choice, just don’t show your 360 owning mates, and pray to as many gods, angels and hair-covered witches that Sega release a patch to mitigate the infuriating loading issues. At least something to address the in-game stuttering stop-start shenanigans would be appreciated.