Unlike a lot of the gaming press I’ve been reading, I viewed Bayonetta with a large dose of skepticism. Sure, it was from Hideki Kamiya, the guy behind Okami, Viewtiful Joe and the first Devil May Cry. That’s a darn good pedigree. However, any game that goes to great lengths to emphasize the sass and sexiness of its female protagonist (Hello, Bloodrayne!) makes me suspect their motives. Yeah, they might just be really proud of their character design; but more often than not, the development team is just trying to distract players from the game’s shortcomings by saying, “Hey, look over there! Boobs!” I suspected this was going to be the case with Bayonetta and went into the demo fully expecting it to be a carbon copy of Devil May Cry 4 with Dante and Nero replaced by a sexy witch. I’m happy to say that I was wrong. Mostly.
It definitely has a similar art style to Devil May Cry. Greco-Roman architecture and religious symbolism abounds, and several elements of the attack animations (like the bullet flashes and the swirling air that accompanies high-velocity attacks) show DMC’s influence. Fancy combos are still important, though you don’t have a “style meter” like in DMC. Oh, and Baynetta is armed with a sword and four guns (two handguns and two…uh…high-heel guns), though you can use the weapons enemies drop when they die. That’s were the obvious similarities end, though.
As I said in the intro, Bayonetta is a witch. A witch that uses her magic hair as a weapon. What this means for the gameplay is that now the combo attacks can be even more over-the-top, flashy and physics-defying than DMC’s, because, hey, it’s magic! By the way, her hair doubles as her clothing. So when she uses it to, say, form a huge leg (complete with high-heel) to stomp an enemy, she loses some of her clothing. This was one of the selling points and what contributed the most to my skepticism. I was pleased to find that it really isn’t noticeable when you’re playing the game. The hair attacks last only a second or two, and there’s almost always a bunch of stuff happening on the screen, so you have to be paying very close attention to Bayonetta if you want to see her skin. Plus, my main concern was that the character of Bayonetta would amount to little more than a pretty face. Thankfully, the two cutscenes in the demo revealed a little of her origin story and actually made me interested in her. If the character’s personality is well-designed, I’m much more likely to appreciate the fanservice instead of viewing it as exploitative. It helps that her finishing moves–which are the most blatant examples of partial nudity–are really cool.
Bayonetta differentiates itself from DMC in a couple other important ways. The dodging mechanic, for instance, is vital for staying alive. Not only does it help Bayonetta evade enemy attacks, but if the button press is timed right she goes into “Witch Time.” Basically, the screen turns purple and everything around her slows down to a crawl, allowing the player to pull off a large combo before any enemies can react. Not getting hit also lets Bayonetta fill up the bar below her health with purple spheres (which she seems to collect after a certain number of successful hits and lose whenever she takes damage; all the text was in Japanese, and I can’t translate that fast). When it’s completely full, she can use a Torture Attack, which can kill a normal enemy in one hit or severely damage a tougher one.
So, contrary to my expectations, I really enjoyed the demo. The combat was a lot of fun, and I’m actually interested in Bayonetta’s story. I do have one gripe, though: there’s too big of a gap between the “Easy” and “Normal” difficulties. For an amateur action-gamer like me, normal is pretty challenging (I nearly died during the first battle and kicked the bucket almost immediately after the first mini-boss appeared). Enemies do a decent amount of damage and you’re completely responsible for inputting the combos properly. Easy mode weakens the enemies (they have less health and their attacks are weaker) and holds your hand a little with the combos. I would prefer if the combo-helper could be independent of the difficulty mode, so I could fight against the weaker enemies but still challenge myself to learn and master the combo system.