Let's face it, the Middle Ages weren't a great time to be a witch. With the drownings, beheadings, and burnings, they just couldn't seem to catch a break. With plenty of lifestyle alternatives that wouldn't necessarily lead to a painful and fiery death, the population of spell casters dwindled before it was all but erased. One did manage to survive, though, frozen under a lake for five hundred years. She has awakened and the witch hunts are resumed, but they won't find easy prey this time around. With a smirk, a wink, and a twirl of her hair, Bayonetta channels centuries of brutality and oppression back on her assailants. She must be enjoying this.
The level of action coupled with the brutality of Bayonetta's special attacks is almost enough to give me goosebumps.
It's easy to draw parallels between Bayonetta and other action game flagships like Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden, but Hideki Kamiya's latest title scoffs at its genre predecessors the moment enemies appear on screen. In an acrobatic flurry of bullets, blades, and hair, Bayonetta wreaks a swathe of torture and destruction at sixty frames per second. Dante and Ryu should hit the gym before their next outing.
Combat feels visceral, and the level of action coupled with the brutality of Bayonetta's special attacks is almost enough to give me goosebumps. By stringing together combos and avoiding damage you can fill up her magic gauge, and that is used to execute various Torture Attacks, like summoning a guillotine to stuff enemies into, or a giant spiked wheel that will land on one unfortunate victim and spin mercilessly atop them. The witch takes it all in stride, and will only pause for a smug adjustment of her glasses before moving on to the next future corpse.
As cool as these skirmishes are, boss battles take the main stage by reaching absolutely ridiculous proportions. As Kamiya demonstrated his game, he stressed that he wanted to create an undivided focus on the conflict between Bayonetta and her adversaries. During a boss encounter, the entire world could be (and, as was shown, often is) crumbling around the two central opponents whose singular goal, to completely annihilate the other, is unwavering. The first example of this came when I began to cross a long stone bridge, only to have a hulking monstrosity of an angel rise up alongside the adjacent cliff wall and reach out to rip the walkway free of its supports. The fight was on as this behemoth swung the dislocated bridge in one hand, player and all, while clinging to the cliff with its other.
In another instance, a dragon head exploded through a chapel wall, and when it took to the sky that particular corner of the building was ripped into the air along with the player. The powerful jaws would snap and attack while its second head, snaking around the crumbled stonework, simultaneously launched fireballs at an unfazed and unblinking Bayonetta. Needless to say, my mouth was agape as I tried to take all of this in. These battles would typically conclude with a Climax Attack, which involves summoning a demonic portal through which our protagonist's hair can take the form of an even more formidable beast that treats bosses like chew toys. Even though I was on the edge of my seat, Bayonetta's subsequent exaggerated pose and confident swagger implied that she knew what the outcome would be all along.
The environments that were shown were beautiful, and it's obvious that a lot of care went into crafting a penetrating atmosphere which conveys both the warm glow of angelic bliss and the fiery hell of a demon underworld. The enemies were also very intriguing in this sense, being themselves a shining symbol of high ideals with a dark, festering side just beneath the surface. While this juxtaposition of light and dark was always present, it is also seemed deliberately confused, and that's something that I appreciate. How could these regal angels also be so aggressive and monstrous? It raises questions about the age-old conflict of good versus evil, and suggests that both may always exist within us. Completing the show floor demonstration gave way to a simple text outro which teased the game while letting these ideas linger in the air: "In a universe of light and dark, where perception is reality."
So how do you make an established action genre even better? Bayonetta's answer is both simple and effective: add more action. It delivers cataclysmic attacks at breakneck speeds; the result is a spellbinding presentation that is a treat to watch and ultimately satisfying to control. Having experienced the over-the-top gameplay and hints of an allegorical theme, I walked away thoroughly impressed.