Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Bayonetta Review

+++ Extremely fluid combat
+++ Outstanding Environmental Variety
++ Non Serious Cutscenes are great
++ Large variety of weapons
++ 50+ Hours of content
++ Visually enthralling from start to finish
++ Great last few boss fights
+ Random non combat levels are relatively fun
+ Decent Soundtrack
+ Custom Soundtrack option makes later playthroughs much more enjoyable
+ Extremely Difficult
-- Tons of bullshit QTEs guaranteed to kill you at least once
- Weapon balance is all over the place
- Alfheim portals are absurdly difficult relative to the rest of the game
- Some of the bosses are easier than normal levels
- Extraordinary lack of health pickups
- A little too much button mashing for QTEs
- Excessive Fanservice

The Good

Bayonetta is pretty handily the best game of the Devil May Cry mold ever produced. This game diverges just enough to make it feel both unique and improve the overall experience. Weapons can be attached to either your hands or feet and used as charge attacks alongside sometimes changing the overall attack pattern. Despite this fluidly changing between weapons mid combo retains the position that you were already at provided you’re using sensible weapon choices, this means that you can always transition smoothly from one combo to another. In fact you can chain mid air combos into ground combos and vice versa with relative ease, something always lacking in the DMC verse. Alongside all of this is the mechanic of Witch Time, every time you dodge an attack well the game slows down and turns purple. In Witch Time you do more damage and it’s obviously much easier to hit enemies. (certain enemies are incredibly hard to kill at first outside of it)

This game has a very impressive starting environment but instead of changing environments immediately you instead approach the same area from a different perspective. Each time the area gets more and more visually impressive. Adding Lava or Space and random gravity switches enhances the area every time you walk through it. In fact you generally don’t even notice until the second or third playthrough how much of the game is essentially a breaking up of the first few levels in as interesting a fashion as possible. Ultimately the game adds a new, fantastic environment in the last few levels (along with a mid game inexplicable motorcycle level) that tightens together the most insane environments I’ve ever seen. It’s not quite as pretty or as varied as Final Fantasy XIII but it’s also 1/6th the size in scope.

There are two primary types of bosses in this game. One of these is Jeanne who you fight 4 times, essentially these fights play out like the Dante/Vergil fights in the DMC series. They aren’t as good or tightly tuned as the DMC 3 fights but they’re still a lot of fun and decently challenging. The other type is against a Giant vaguely Angelic monster thing, every time you fight one of these it is always cinematically satisfying. While they tend not to be overly hard (aside from the first and last ones which provide a moderate challenge) they’re still fun and even the QTE button mashing isn’t too irritating. Particularly impressive is the boss you fight on top of water. While on a raft you are still able to perform standard combos and jumps and move around the enemy somewhat freely. The QTE isn’t so great in this fight but it eventually works out and the visual experience is unmatched in the rest of the game.

There are 5 difficulty levels in this game. Normal tends to be moderately difficult aside from the Alfheim Portals, while Hard is slightly harder (mostly harder enemies earlier in the game) and Nonstop Infinite Climax is much harder still. In the hardest setting you don’t have access to Witch Time, thus changing the dynamic of various enemies in the game. Eventually I figured out a few sets of attacks that worked well on even Grace and Glory and did reasonably well. But, to give you an idea a single 4-5 hit combo from them will take you from 2 full life bars to almost dead on harder modes (it is difficult to escape it once it begins, though the initial dodge isn’t that bad). The easier modes let you access an “Automatic” accessory. I don’t recommend using this as your first playthrough since it makes the game a bit too easy but if you have beaten the game on normal it’s fun to go back on easy and watch the game do most everything for you. Unlike DMC auto modes it also dodges mid attacks and enables Witch Time quite frequently. Eventually you get to a skill level that’s comparable to the automatic device, though you’ll never see everything coming.

Apart from the prospect of four or five different playthroughs the game offers a very difficult survival mode, a hidden mega boss of doom that will massacre you over and over (kind of like Old King Doran) and 2 absurdly hard to unlock characters (giving incentive to the typically meaningless DMC rating system!). Additionally there are 63 “Secret Missions,” though you’ll only get health/”mana” items from 21 of them. That leads me into the next section.

The Bad

Secret Missions in this game are called Alfheim Portals and are almost entirely combat based. This is all well and good and a huge improvement over the DMC system. Along with a particular condition such as Witch Time Disabled you are given a limited number of hits instead of a life bar for these fights (hence you can’t die in these missions, only fail). This makes the harder bunch of these missions insanely hard the first time you try them. Essentially the game wants you to perfect the combat system, but doing so right off the bat is absurdly difficult. I’m now immensely better at the game so I can do even the trickier missions on normal in a couple of tries. However the first time I tried a few of them it took hours to clear them (it’s only a few super hard missions on normal but that still took up a shitload of time). In fact my first run of the game took about 17 hours of gametime, I’d wager 8 or so of those hours were in Alfheim Portals.

Not content with murdering the player on normal Platinum also added different Alfheims on Hard and Nonstop. This mirrors the old DMC2 system and these later Alfheims are pretty handily the hardest part of the game aside from the aforementioned super boss. While there’s no reason to do them I’m oddly compelled to try and fail miserably hundreds of times. I’ve played this game for about 60 hours and have both extra characters unlocked the difficult way alongside a Platinum trophy. I’m confident that I, as a decent player of the game, could be substantially better than I already am and some of these Alfheims would still take a hundred tries to complete.

The Ugly

Aside from the gratuitous fanservice that I don’t really wish to discuss here this game has about 25 straight up bullshit QTEs in it. These will pop up and give you half a second or less to respond to the button prompt and you’ll die. You’ll die a lot. Combat deaths are fairly uncommon if you use items in the main game but those QTEs don’t give a shit about your lifebar and murder you instead. It’s kind of a shame that these are in the game in the first place, as they can easily ruin otherwise perfect level clears and will kill you a few dozen times on you first play through. Having seen them all plenty of times at this point I’ve mostly avoided death after about 5 playthroughs, but that doesn’t stop me from getting pissed every time I do die to them. One can only thank God that they don’t actually increase in difficulty on harder settings.

The other thing that will cause you to die is the utter lack of health drops in this game. Health drops are fairly uncommon in DMC and very reliable in Ninja Gaiden (though you basically have to run a gauntlet between health chests), in this game they are all but non existent. In the first real level of the game you are tossed a few solid healing drops and enemies seem to drop a bit more, but after that you’ll get 1-2 drops that restore a tenth or twentieth of your life bar. Once again the game wants you to be perfect throughout levels, but your first time through you’ll eventually either die horribly or realize you need to use items in lieu of continuing repeatedly. Afterward the game will shit on you and award you Bronze and Stone Awards (Oh…Oh… what a day!) when you clear the level. Naturally this makes getting Platinum medals for full levels pretty damn difficult.

On harder difficulties unless you are essentially perfect you will have to use items or continues no matter what, and while it’s not too hard to perfect some of the lesser enemies a single Grace and Glory pair can massacre you in a few seconds (even if you do approach them in an effective manner). Fortunately the last boss is actually fairly skill based so there is at least some potential to perfect there, albeit the combo point requirement is insanely high. As you go through the game you tend to realize that specific weapon combos are substantially better than others. Shuraba is pretty much always the hand weapon you want to use and the legs will vary between Kilgore and Durga (Pillow Talk and Bazillions are interesting but ultimately inferior). There’s a well known bug which causes Kilgore to launch a shitload of rockets instead of just 4 with these combinations, but even if you don’t abuse that (I didn’t for the most part) there’s no reason to not use Durga charge attacks (with trips and juggles) against the harder enemies in the game (Jeanne, Joys, and Grace and Glory) and spam certain wicked Weaves with Shuraba on moderately difficult foes. Even the non bugged Kilgore leg attack does an obscene amount of damage relative to every alternative.

Final Score: 9/10

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