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Xbox 360 Review: Bayonetta

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Bayonetta is a game of excess. Maybe that is the joke. Maybe that is why the designers decided one fight with each boss was not enough. Maybe their grand plan was to have Bayonetta, her twisty-hair clothing and all, battle the same boss back-to-back.

Maybe an American doesn’t get the joke.

Everything about Bayonetta comes back to the boss battles, mostly because that is all it truly offers. Trying to dissect the level design, most of which act as nothing more than a portal to few arena-like combat scenarios, is pointless. They are entirely boring, a bland, empty build-up to keep the player moving until another grand-scale demon brawl, typically on top of falling debris.

When you have something this epic, doing it twice is a mistake. One of Bayonetta’s highlights is a jaw-dropping encounter in the middle of the ocean. The mammoth battle sets scale by keeping Bayonetta on a small flotation device as she is free to move under and around the bizarre melding of flesh, concrete, ancient Japanese art, architectural design, and heavenly body (don’t ask).

Then Bayonetta makes an incalculably stupid mistake, doing the entire thing a second time on a shattering building, minus the free-roaming. What was awe-inspiring a level ago is now a hollow, a shameless means of pushing the length to “acceptable” modern standards even though eight hours is about right. Bayonetta goes for 12.

Again, it would be tolerable if the game didn’t completely run out of ideas five hours in. A fight with what the game decides is a Golem ends hilariously, Bayonetta’s hair comes to life so it can play volleyball with the defeated transforming block. The gag works once. Twice, not so much.

Bayonetta comes with a slow start, even after a prologue that tries to pull the player is so many directions, you need to choose whether you are going to follow this story or the action. The opening scene pits Bayonetta against a giant dual-headed dragon with a baby’s face for a body (again, don’t ask), multiple assaulting angels, all while on a spinning, falling clock tower. With the music and guns blaring, blood spraying in all directions, trying to pay attention to the narrated backstory behind it all shows how little this title cares for its baffling, confusing, “anything goes” narrative.

The latter is not a complaint. Bayonetta seems overjoyed that its wonky tale of witches, hell, heaven, Earth, alternate dimensions, and gods is so free of constraint. It lets the action take on a new level of absurdity, particularly during the multi-tiered finale that seems to be an in-joke. After fighting a game-long nemesis (on launched missiles), a newcomer to the plot (another fight on falling debris), and a giant god that requires you to create a second big bang to kill (seriously), the credits offer additional fights. Even recreating the entire universe is not enough for Bayonetta to call it quits, nor is a single roll of the credits.

It is not hard to figure out Bayonetta’s allure. The lead character’s sex appeal is exploited more than the boss designs, and her frantic, almost effortless fighting style is both easy to execute and wildly inventive. Sega fans are given a truly honest, beautifully done homage to Space Harrier even if it goes on a bit long (with of course re-used bosses). There is even a genuine attempt to create sympathy, an enjoyable cinematic in which Bayonetta shows her mothering instincts are intact to (at that time) an unidentified little girl. In fact, that is the most grounded out of the copious amounts of cinema sequences, and oddly the best.

When it is over, universe recreated and all, Bayonetta is a mixture. Frustration, joy, laughs, and remarkably crafted confrontations are part of its design. It is the frustration that holds it back, but not because of the occasionally cheap difficultly (despite creating the universe, a workable camera is still too much to ask). Bayonetta is the story of what could have been with a designer who knew when to say enough. Then again, maybe not saying enough is the joke after all, and in that case, it just isn’t funny.

Bayonetta is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Strong Language, Suggestive Themes. This game can also be found on: PS3.

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.