The first 30 seconds of Bayonetta are quite a ride. You'll fight a pack of demons on a broken cliff face plunging at rapid speeds down a mountain side, wildly pushing at random buttons trying to figure out what's what. But that doesn't mean it's not a carefully orchestrated beginning. In fact, the opening scene of the game is exactly what Bayonetta seems to be all about: spontaneous, crazy, and fun. There's never a dull moment or an enemy with just one head, or arm, or leg. But Bayonetta is fast proving to be a little bit more engaging than your average over-the-top action game. With the game's release just two months away, we had a chance to delve a little deeper into the game's story, combat, and gameplay with an updated hands-on demo that took us through the game's prologue and its first four chapters.
Those who have been following our previous coverage will already be familiar with the heroine of the game--Bayonetta is a leather-clad modern-day witch with some pretty remarkable powers and a sassy British accent. Found in a casket at the bottom of the sea 20 years ago, Bayonetta remembers nothing of her former life and is constantly haunted by memories, which she must piece together throughout the game. The game's opening sequence serves as a little teaser to Bayonetta's past: we see her fighting angelic-like demons side-by-side another witch named Jeanne, whose relationship to our heroine we won't discover until later. The game's prologue is set during the present day where Bayonetta is working with a muscle man named Enzo (think Danny DeVito) under the influence of a spiritual-leader-cum-crime-boss called Rodin, who looks and sounds suspiciously like Laurence Fishburne. What exactly Bayonetta does is difficult to determine--the only clue we're given is that she's searching for a stone for her necklace, which will somehow help her uncover her past.
The first combat sequence takes place during the prologue in a cemetery where you're finally taught how to fight. Bayonetta has a wide and varied combo library at her disposal, which you must slowly learn to master if you want to keep things interesting. You'll start off easy with punches and kicks, as well as a move that triggers "witch time." This is a slow-motion sequence that lasts about three seconds and makes all your enemies move slower while you remain in real time. Witch time is triggered by pressing R1 at the very last possible moment to dodge a blow before it is delivered and is relatively easy to master. Bayonetta also has guns (and oh, what guns!) equipped to her hands and feet. Holding down kick or punch will unleash a torrent of bullets (automatic aim) while rotating the left thumbstick before holding kick or punch will see Bayonetta spin around on her head (a la break dancing) and shoot her enemies with her feet. These moves will serve as the base for all the combos, the majority of which are unlocked from the start of the game.
Because there are a lot of combos, the game gives you a chance to practice them during the loading screens. While in combat, you'll only be able to remember four or five combos (six if you're mentally acute), but the rest will come as a result of trial and error and button mashing. This is both easy and satisfying, especially when you stumble across a previously unknown combo. Bayonetta can also pick up and drop weapons lost by her enemies, but be wary: the bigger and more impressive a weapon is, the longer it will take to swing it, which leaves Bayonetta open to attack.
Chapter One shows us that Bayonetta is a woman prone to serious and frequent flashbacks, in which she is an active participant rather than a passive observer. After receiving some new information about the location of the stone she's seeking, Bayonetta travels to the European citadel of Vigrid, where, predictably, she fights some bad dudes. Whether Vigrid is part of the real world or an imagined one--or even another dimension--we're not sure yet. Not even Sega can answer that question at this stage. What's known for sure is that Vigrid is infested with The Lumen Sage--evil angels and monsters guarding treasures, mountains, and passageways, which you will have to make your way through.
Here, we're introduced to the game's shop, subtly called "The Gates of Hell" and run by Rodin. You can enter the shop in between chapters or by accessing portals as you play. Each time you slay an enemy, you'll collect halos, which transform into currency for purchasing weapons, new moves, and accessories. These include magic charms and spells to increase vitality, as well as items such as health boosts. There are also treasures, which include new books that give you information about Bayonetta, her past, and the world she inhabits. You can assign items to the D pad for your convenience, as well as collect treasures, charms, and items in-game. The end of this chapter sees us fighting our first boss--the giant dragon demon with the face of a Botticelli cherub that we've seen in our past previews.
Chapter Two treats us to a bit of background information on the relationship between Bayonetta and Jeanne via a playable flashback. We also bump into a promiscuous young man named Luka, who Bayonetta insists, despite his protests, to call Cheshire. Luka is connected to her past somehow, but we'll have to wait until later to find out more. We then enter an area of Vigrid called Purgatorio (which is not actually the Purgatory). Because Bayonetta is fighting at nearly every turn, it's easy to imagine that the combat sequences could quickly become somewhat of a bore: the same combos, the same finishing moves, the same demons. But this is not at all true; in fact, one of the most engaging aspects of the gameplay in this demo was the varied and immersive combat. You're encouraged to be as creative and stylish as you want when you're killing dudes; the more flair, the more handsome the reward. The spectacular and over-the-top demons also represent different eras in the mythology of the game. For example, you'll fight demons that represent virtues and dominions, and others that represent principalities. Not that you'll be able to tell: though some are made of flesh and others are made of steel, they're all extravagant, weird-looking, and, as mentioned before, have various limbs.
The best way to finish a combat sequence is with some of Bayonetta's finishing moves, which include a torture combo and a terribly fun move playfully titled “the climax combo”. The former is triggered by a meter under your health bar, which you can build up by damaging your enemy's health while not sustaining any hits yourself. Once the meter is full, you'll be prompted into a quick-time event that, when executed successfully, culminates in an impressive and gory stage show that has Bayonetta throwing her enemies into coffins or cutting their heads off with a guillotine. The climax combo can only be used on bosses and is activated when you're nearing the end of the fight (and you're winning). After the quick-time event, Bayonetta's hair will come to life and transform into a giant creature--be it dragon, vulture, or sparrow--which will proceed to tear apart what's left of the boss.
During our demo, we also discovered that Bayonetta can walk up walls, but she can only do so when the moon is out. Surprisingly, we weren't taken back to the modern world but kept a path through Vigrid territories that became darker--fire, lava, rain, and hail--until we reached the last boss fight of our demo. We'd encountered this pesky dragon before, but now that it had managed to get on Bayonetta's nerves, we had to finish it off. It wasn't exactly much to look at, and even Bayonetta remarked on its offensive physique: a Buddha-like form consisting of two dragon heads and a giant, upside-down Roman head not unlike the ones you find in the antiquities section of a museum, plus some chains and pudgy baby arms flailing about. The entire fourth chapter of the game is taken up with this boss fight, which is epic in every sense of the word. We had to use every combo we could remember to keep one step ahead of the dragon and, one by one, decapitate its heads until the climax combo finale.
The last thing we thought we'd mention is the subtle humour that seems to be abundant in Bayonetta. The game's music, design, and dialogue seem to be a pastiche of different styles. Cutscenes have a habit of switching between normal and film-reel-style stills, while the game's music is reminiscent of both the "Pulp Fiction" and "Charlie’s Angels" themes, Japanese anime, and the electronica you get with old-school fighting games like Street Fighter. Bayonetta herself is a charming and hilarious character, sounding like a schoolteacher at one moment and Austin Powers the next ("Flock off, feather face"). Finally, the game likes to mix things up: after each chapter you’ll have to participate in a shooting minigame to earn more halos; in another instance, you’ll have to face off against three bosses in a row in the middle of a chapter.
No matter which element of Bayonetta you're most looking forward to, it seems there's something in it for everyone. Stay tuned for more Bayonetta coverage before its release in January.