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Perhaps the best way to begin explaining Bayonetta is by describing its titular heroine. She's a ten foot tall witch, her clothes are made up of her own hair, she has guns attached to her feet, talks like Lara Croft and looks like that English teacher you always had a crush on. She moves beautifully and kills efficiently, she is the absolute zenith of action heroes.
Bayonetta is as refined and beautiful as the game she stars in. The first game from Platinum Studios (comprised of the remnants of Clover studios, Capcom's maverick collective) and directed by Hidecki Kamiya (Okami, Viewtiful Joe), Bayonetta stands tall amongst the current crop of imitation brawlers (Darksiders and Dantes's Inferno, im looking at you) as a shining example of this straining sub-genre, and with God Of War 3, its real competition mere months away, its just ahead of the game.
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Cut from the same cloth as Devil May Cry and its ilk, the game is a hymn to the central tenets of Japanese action gaming; sky high production values, bursting with invention and utterly, utterly insane. Bayonetta succeeds in distilling everything that made its peers great and shaping those elements into a purified whole. It has the style and cool of Devil May Cry with non of the ponderous backtracking, the brutality and finesse of the Ninja Gaiden combat system, but without the punishing difficulty and it has the grand scale of God Of War but with substance to match the style.
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The story is weak, but then these types of games have never been played for the story, its always been about kicking ass, and this woman does indeed kick ass. From the outset we are introduced to our heroine amidst a hail of bullets, blood and angels feathers. Dressed like a nun and brandishing a bible as a deadly weapon, Bayonetta explodes into your gaming life to the sound of a J-Rock remix of Fly Me To The Moon and from then on the game keeps a breakneak pace, never stopping until the final crawl. Its hard to pinpoint when you fall utterly in love with this game, the turning point for me came when I purchased the breakdance technique from The Gates Of Hell, the games wonderfully gimmicky upgrade shop, this move makes Bayonetta windmill along the floor with heel guns blazing before finishing in a modelling pose complete with camera click. Its a spectacularly over the top move in a game full of them and its the point when I realised I was experiencing something truly special. In a way, the games many crazy idiosyncratic nature creates its own story, ancillary to the main narrative.
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Bayonetta is gorgeous, and not just the witch herself. The environments she traverses are beautifully rendered and varied, improving on the typical dungeon locales of this type of game. On the downside, there is so much happening on-screen at once that screen tear and frame rate issues often creep in. this isn't so much of a problem for this 360 version but those buying on PS3 will be sorely disappointed at the shoddy port given to their console. Bayonetta herself is perhaps the most impressive visual, her appearance and movement are rendered beautifully and its easy to make mistakes while being distracted by some of her more elaborate movements.
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The problem with many brawlers (Ninja Gaiden specifically) is the punishing difficulty curve, yet even that isn't present here. Normal offers a decent challenge for veterans and there are 2 easy modes for the n00bs to sail through. Platinum games has given the gift of ease while not detracting from the die hard challenge hunters, endless scoring throughout the game means that there is always chance to replay any chapter and beat your previous score, thus prolonging the life of an already feature packed game. Added to this a sack-load of unlockables (costumes, characters etc.) and it becomes clear that this really is the game that keeps on giving.
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As well as the aforementioned special moves, Bayonetta can pull off 'climax' moves. Usually triggered after a boss battle, these gratuitous displays feature the heroine stripped down to her birthday suit while her hair morphs into a gigantic demon from hell, summoned to devour her enemy. Many will dismiss these sequences as gratuity for gratuity's sake and they'd probably be right. But this is prcisely what makes these types of games so appealing, why should decency and discretion matter when you've just hacked your way through a legion of bad guys, you're here to enjoy yourself.
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Hail to the queen: Final verdict
Bayonetta is a wonderful experience for newcomers and seasoned brawler fans alike. For their first game, Platinum has crafted a benchmark in action gaming, one that has taken whats been done before, made it better and handed the gauntlet to the next generation soaked in the blood of fallen angels. It will be interesting to see how future brawlers can top this, a game that pretty much defines insanity. Bayonetta beats you around the face and scratches at your eyes before giving you a big kiss, to all who shy away from third person action adventures, PLAY THIS GAME, to everyone else, bow down to your new queen.