Friday, January 22, 2010
Note: This is a review of the xbox 360 version of the game. There are several significant differences between versions, so, if you are planning on playing the PS3 version, while this review will definitely give you an overview of the game, you should look elsewhere to see what differences you can expect with the PS3 version of the game (although I have read that a patch is imminent which should remedy the issues present in that version).
The story deals with two factions, the Umbra Witches, and the Lumen Sages. These two clans represent darkness (witches) and light (sages). Both clans resided in the fictional European city of Vigrid, and, 500 years before the game takes place, they mysteriously vanished. The titular character, Bayonetta, is a witch who find herself awakened after a 500 year slumber. She finds herself in an unfamiliar place, and no idea who she is.
Oh NOES! Who am I?
The narrative unfolds in the classic amnesia driven mystery (yes, the main plot device is the progression of a character afflicted with amnesia; original, I know) style: the events surrounding the present are shrouded in mystique, and are slowly unveiled to the character, and the player, as the game progresses. It's not unique, it's not original, and it's full of cliche's. The voice actor for the Enzo character is really annoying, although his appearance in the game is fairly brief.
However, the cutscenes are well directed, and they take three different forms: fully animated scenes like one would expect, still shots with dialogue, and a mix of animation and still shots surrounded by a film strip. All three combine to actually make the serviceable but unremarkable plot compelling enough to at least watch it through. At first it seems jarring, and one wonders if perhaps there was a time or budgetary constraint placed on the team, but, over time, it seems to actually work. And the action sequences contained within are very well done.
The dialogue is corny, and the whole thing drips with a self parodying campiness, that, while intentional, might turn some players off., while appealing to others.
Visually, this is a very good looking game, with a great use of colour, and it runs at a brisk place and suffers very little discernible slowdown. Quite a feat, really. I have seen some complaints of screen tearing levied at the game, and while I have not noticed this myself, I thought it prudent to mention it. The environments are varied, detailed, and visually impressive. Character animations are sublime. Enemy designs evoke feelings of both awe and disgust, and the bosses.......they look absolutely incredible as they tower above you, setting such a sense of scale that I often had to stop and just look up in awe. The name of the game here is scale and detail. The special effects are also very noteworthy.
Everything looks both fantastical and believable, and it all compliments the action very, very well, leading one to feel nothing but excitement as they do battle with the games roster of enemies, of which there is no shortage.
The sound effects are great, adding to much the atmosphere and not detracting from the experience in any way. The music, on the other hand, will draw its share of detractors. I for one liked it, as it just seems to fit, even though it is basically the furthest you could ever get from my music of choice (death metal). The music in this game is a combination of ''j-pop,' jazz, and synth. It fits the over the over the top and humorous tone of the game, although I can easily fathom (and understand) people just outright hating it. In that case, mute away and listen to whatever you want.
Forgive me for a second:
WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW
Okay, sorry to regress to such childishness, but this game is just absolutely brilliant. For anyone that has played Devil May Cry, or more to the point, Devil May Cry 3 or 4, they know what to expect (for the most part). A fast, smooth, technical combat system with a heavy emphasis on offense, combos, and style. Stringing together ridiculous and stylish combos as you dispatch legions of foes is the name of the game. Essentially, at it's core, it boils down to a simple template:
Y button for punches, B for kicks, X for guns, R for dodge, a jump button, a lock on (which you don't really need, save for making certain moves easier to pull off) and a taunt button. Pretty simple, although it's how you put it all together that makes the game shine. You can mix and match attacks in an utterly ridiculous number of ways. Throw in air juggles, slams, throws, magic attacks, and so called ''torture attacks'' (which I will get to shortly), the ability to have two separate weapon sets equipped (each containing two weapons, one for the hands, and one for the feet...giving you 4 weapons available at all times) which you can switch between with the L trigger (even mid combo), and you have a quite a lot of depth to play with, if you are so inclined. To exemplify this, I will give you a sample combo:
Whip, pause, whip, jump, afterburner kick, weapon switch, sword slash, sword slash, downward kick, stomp(hold) bomb, jump, weapon switch, whip(hold) (pulls the enemy back into the air), weapon switch, downward sword slash.
Y, pause, Y, A, A,B, L, Y, Y, B, back-forward B(hold), A, L, Y(hold), L, Y.
This may sound complicated to the uninitiated, but it's not as hard as it may seem, and it can get a whole lot more complex with practice. The beauty of it though, is that it's up to you how complicated you want to make it. If you're content with just spamming attacks, then okay, as long as your defense is adequate, you can get through just fine, albeit not as stylishly. If you're the type of gamer though, who must explore the nuances of a combat engine, this game is for you. Already there are some remarkable combo videos out there, and they will just get better and better as time goes on. There is a rating system in place, similar to that in the aforementioned Devil May Cry, which grades you based on your combo usage and damage avoidance. Also, every single possible facet of the controls works perfectly.
An interesting mechanic present in this game is the usage of Bayonetta's hair to dish out pain. So called Wicked Weave attacks are combo finishers that deal out large and cool looking damage, and they are done with her hair.
Finshing attacks on bosses also utilize this mechanic, in incredibly ridiculous and inventive ways, which need to be seen to be believed.
In terms of defense, the options here a bit more limited that something like Ninja Gaiden, for example, as the focus is much more on offense here. Your best ally is the dodge button, and, if executed at the last moment before an imminent attack hits, you will activate 'witch time', which is essentially bullet time, as we now all know it. In this mode, the enemies slow down, representing a heightened sense of awareness for Bayonetta, meaning you have extra time to dish out the pain while the enemies remain mostly defenseless. It also leads to some jaw dropping moments as you really see some awesome maneuvers executed in glorious slow motion.
Also on the defensive end of things is the ability to negate any damage taken if you execute a dodge or a directional press at exactly the time you take the damage. This ability is unlocked via a magic ability and also an accessory. Both of these require fairly precise timing, and as such, are much less reliable than the ever useful dodge maneuver. This ability requires some practice to use, but will become very, very useful, once learned.
There are many other abilities to be unlocked via the games currency system, which takes the form of rings that look exactly like those found in the Sonic games. You can unlock many different moves, accessories that increase or add abilities, items, weapons, and costumes. There is much to be unlocked and learned throughout the game, and it will require multiple playthroughs to experience them all. In fact, the game seems to encourage replay, as there are 2 unlockable difficulties (Hard and Infinite Climax Mode, which does away with witch time) and a survival mode called The Lost Chapter (similar to the Bloody Palace mode in DMC), in addition to the aforementioned weapons, items, techniques, and accessories. In fact, one of the weapons requires the player to play through 100 Chapters of the game to unlock it. There are also online enabled leaderboards available to add to the replay value.
The weapons available include a standard katana, a whip, claw attachments for your hands and feet, various guns, including pistols, shotguns and rocket launcher boots, ice skates (yes, you read that correctly) and a couple of others I have not as of yet unlocked, but know about. I will not spoil those here. Suffice it to say, there are several weapons available, all with differing movesets.
The problem is, they aren't given to you in a linear progression throughout the story, which means you can end up beating the game while only possessing three weapons and some different guns. That's a bit of a letdown, as this game screams for more and moire inventive weapons. It's a great feeling to unlock a new and vastly different weapon every few chapters, something that, for example, Ninja Gaiden excels at.
The enemy AI is predictable in the sense that they almost always telegraph their attacks, and they usually don't gang up on you or work in concert. A few enemies break this last rule, but most stick to the typical hang back while one or two attack rule. I am not sure, however, how enemy behaviour changes in the higher difficulties.
The boss fights, as stated earlier in this review, are very memorable, due to their design and scale, as well as really numerous.
There are MANY boss fights in this game, and, true to genre convention, many of them repeat throughout the game. Some will find this tedious, others will relish the chance to fight these memorable bosses again. I was in the latter camp. If boss fights are truly enjoyable, then I am all for repeat appearances. Luckily for this game, all of the bosses are fun to fight. Not all fit the huge scale requirement, and in fact, a couple of the most memorable take place against enemies of a similar size and evenly matched in ability. These result in some fast and furious battles against equally agile opponents that can leave one breathing heavily when completed. They are reminiscent of the truly thrilling and remarkable doppelganger fights present in Ninja Gaiden Black, and while not quite up to par with those, come pretty close to their greatness. One of these fights, in fact, brings me to a novel mechanic int his game.
Bayonetta employs a mechanic called Witch Walk, which essentially allows her to walk on walls and ceilings. This is put to liberal use during two of those excellent boss fights, as well as during a few platforming segments. The platforming in this game, while not hugely present throughout, does consist of a decent chunk of the games time, and is all done very well. The excellent control holds up well in these sections, although the camera, in a few instances, can present a small, but not nearly gamebreaking problem. This is common in most 3D games, and, like many others, enclosed spaces can present a small problem. These instances are fortunately few and far between, so it's not really a detriment to the experience.
The witch walk and other gravity and perspective tricks are utilized to build some truly remarkable set pieces, which I will not spoil here. Suffice it to say, there was not one section of the game that was poorly designed, although there are 2 or 3 moments that involve vehicles and flight that may cause some disagreement, although these are not prominently featured, and not in any way broken. They just may not seem to fit with the rest of the game. Overall, the game continually ups the ante, and you will find yourself thrilled by the design ingenuity, scale, and style.
Another new mechanic present are the torture attacks. These are gruesome finishing moves hat can be executed by building up the magic gauge via combos, and then pressing Y and B when prompted. These are very impressive and exciting finishing moves, and they serve to add another layer to the wow factor.
There are a few simple ''puzzles'' found within the game, but they are not prominently featured,a nd there's nothing particularly great about them. There's also nothing particularly annoying about them either, something that I cannot say for the Devil May Cry games.
The load screens in this game are actually noteworthy, as they allow you to practice the combat, and, if you press the back button, you can remain in this mode for as long as you wish. There are button prompts that show you the combinations available, and how many times you have executed each one.
In terms of challenge, I can't comment too much on this, as I only just beat Normal, and have yet to begin Hard mode, although I plan to start tonight or tomorrow, and hopefully will have that and Infinite Climax mode bested within a week or two. I have read that Hard is quite the challenge, which is good to hear, as many times Hard is not all that much more difficult than Normal, and one must wait until they get to the next step up to truly feel challenged. Infinite Climax is supposed to be very, very hard, so I look forward to that.
I'll see you on Infinite Climax mode
Normal mode was challenging, but not overtly so. I'd say that, compared to the hack n slash genre's difficulty beast, Ninja Gaiden, this game was a step down in terms of challenge. Opinions will differ, but if Ninja Gaiden's Normal mode is a 10, this game's Normal mode is a 6 or a 7. It was fine, but t could have been a bit harder. I think genre veterans will find it about the same, although people new to the genre may find themselves scratching their heads at times, as there are a few instances where the game will give you a taste of what it can really do. I was bested at a few of these moments as well, and definitely saw the continue screen a bunch of times throughout the game. This can, and will, be remedied with more practice and familiarity.
I did not play Easy or Very Easy, and likely never will, so I cannot comment on those difficulties. The aforementioned new players will likely find themselves starting here and working their way up, and that's a good thing, as it allows a wider audience to enjoy the game, something that Ninja Gaiden stubbornly (and almost proudly) fails at doing.
I am anxious to see how Infinite Climax mode compares to the now legendary Master Ninja mode from Ninja Gaiden.
This game is all about style and combat depth, and it succeeds at both. The level design is fantastic. Not once was there ever a section of the game that was so annoying I wished I could have skipped it. I haven't played many games for which I could make the same claim.
I'm that damn good
As I stated earlier, there is not one single annoying or badly designed area present in this game, and that is truly one of its understated qualities that will likely go unnoticed due to the combat, but deserves just as much kudos. This game also changed my perception on huge, towering boss fights: they need not be underwhelming or limiting in terms of the combat.
This game is an absolute no brainer for hack n slash fans, and a must rent for everyone even remotely interested.
Overall Score: 9.5/10