It used to be when I heard the old standard “Fly me to the Moon,” it would conjure up a flurry of images and thoughts: the bright lights of the New York skyline, nights out on the town in with a young girl on your arm, drinking rye in posh Manhattan nightclubs, penthouse parties, the best suits, champagne, cigars, caviar, you name it—basically the good life, just as Sinatra himself would’ve had it.
Hideki Kamiya changed all that.
Like everyone else, I was wowed when I first laid eyes on Bayonetta—the witch, the game, the innuendo that flowed from both—I took in its full-throttle pace and relative insanity equally impressed, excited and flat-out surprised at just what madness Kamiya and Platinum had managed to create. So when it came time to finally review the game, I knew (more or less) what I was getting into, and had some idea of what to expect.
I didn’t expect the game’s first move to jar me into total attention with a dazzling, upbeat J-pop rendition of “Fly me to the Moon,” though, let alone one introducing Kamiya’s sexy witch in a sassy guns-blazing entrance of burlesque acrobatics and angel viscera. Now when I hear the song I’ve had to make room in my mind’s eye for Bayonetta’s opening number as well, which backs the scene as the titular witch surprises attacks a group of incoming angels flying into graveyard and proceeds to blast the crap out of them. And while “Fly me to the Moon” may be a fairly innocuous love song, sexing it up suggests Bayonetta’s own relationship with sex and death while the scene it accompanies—full of her penchant for sadistic promiscuity—exemplifies how she treats violence with the same level of pleasure as she would sex itself.
I’ve always been a fan of Kamiya for this kind of thing; despite the original ideas he brings to his games he’s typically been the kind of game designer that’s garnered a following-without-having-a-following. In fact, you’ve probably been playing (and likely enjoying) his games for years. Devil May Cry, with Dante’s at-the-time utterly wild upward-slash that propelled enemies into the air, Viewtiful Joe’s innovative, filmic approach to classic beat-em-ups and Okami’s majestic visuals and mastery of the Zelda formula (to name a few) are not easily forgotten. But despite his directorial credit (and the fact that he created the game) most of DMC’s attention went to Shinji Mikami and his Resident Evil crew, whereas press for Viewtiful and Okami was usually devoted to gushing over the innovative wonder that was Capcom’s Clover studios.
Now, much like Bayonetta herself, it’s Kamiya’s time to take the center stage. There’s a shared orgiastic energy between the witch he’s created and the game itself, and that enthusiasm is to spot in both. Bayonetta, for her part, is driven by as much by her bloodlust as she is by her task of taking out the grotesque heads of Kamiya’s heavenly realm, Paradiso. Sure, she has a job to do (not that the story reminds you much of this fact), but it’s one that she takes a great deal of personal enjoyment out of (that the reward for Bayonetta’s deeds are an actual form of currency may be a wry joke on Kamiya’s part). Similarly, the explosive signature Kamiya himself brings to the game is literally all over, from the game’s screen-filling bosses to the Bayonetta’s own sassy, balletic repertoire of moves to the furious clip at which the chaotic action moves. Simply put, it’s a world-class Charlie Foxtrot, running at 60 FPS.
Yet aside from showing some skin when Bayonetta’s hair pulls away from her for a demonic hair-summon, leaving just enough to cover only her body’s most essential real estate, Bayonetta’s sexuality is generally conceived through implication. Much like DMC’s Dante, Bayonetta possesses a wide of flouncy kick and fist combos and of plenty of shooting, acrobatics or acrobatic shooting. But where DMC oozed with early-2000s bad-ass machismo, Bayonetta’s violence is delightfully sadistic and positively dripping with hyper-sexualized energy.
Case in point: Bayonetta’s darkly comic magical torture attacks. Medieval torture devices are the name of the game here, with Bayonetta reveling in her penchant for inflicting pain with guillotines, vices, spiked wheels and other instruments of historical torment. Girls may just want to have fun, but Bayonetta clearly gets off on the complete humiliation and dominance over her angelic adversaries. This is one witch who plays her actions for laughs, though, which is obvious in observing the strut of her slinky body language, or even just the haughty-yet-playful arrogance she carries when, say, aiming a pistol, one hand on her hip. Not even Dante was ever this effortlessly and casually aloof.
But to Bayonetta (and by extension us), everything is framed with a blurring of violence and sexual aesthetics in mind. She like to showboat and performs her duties with flair; you might say the entire game is just one extended, sultry photoshoot for Bayonetta (there’s even a few moves where she’ll stop and pose for the camera upon completion), albeit one where any porn comes from the innumerable buckets of spilled angel blood. Even Bayonetta’s showstopping hair-based finishers are a climactic mixture of the witch’s two favorite pastimes. In any case, the girl clearly has a thing for showy S
But in spite of Bayonetta’s relatively playful approach to bloodletting, she demands a lot to properly please her. The game’s combat system is both technical and multi-layered, something like a hyper-evolution of Kamiya’s DMC formula, only faster, more vicious and requiring a higher degree of precision. To get the most out of any combat session, you’ll need to practice achieving witch time, a prolonging-the-pleasure ability, so to speak, that temporarily stops the flow of time (achieved by waiting until the last possible second to evade an enemy’s advances). Witch time also has its uses outside of combat, such as when various unnatural forces break apart the landscape, forcing the witch to hurdle across large chunks of land in semi-automatic platforming segments. However, these instances are relatively few compared to its use in battle. In fact if there are any problems with Bayonetta, it’s that she can move a little too fast, barely giving you enough chance to catch your breath before the next action, though her enemies aren’t exactly the type to take it slow, either. The breakneck pace might be a little much for some less experienced players. This isn’t a game where you’ll get far by simply mashing buttons—you have to know what you’re doing, and Bayonetta isn’t the type to stick around for those with fumbling fingers.
Finally, Bayonetta’s chapters, split up into a series of several “verses” each, (the extended sexualized metaphor that each of these short musical movements comprise a love song akin to so many laps around Bayonetta’s own sexual racetrack being yet another that instance of pleasure that isn’t so far fetched) generally end in confrontations that are undoubtedly the highest peaks in the game’s, or Bayonetta’s, performance. It’s a notion that Kamiya himself was surely aiming for: when squaring off with angelic monstrosities, Bayonetta’s final assertions of dominance are her appropriately named climax moves. Made from her stripped away costume, Bayonetta summons demonic beasts to unleash their fury in an eruption of hair and entrails on increasingly colossal (and equally as disturbing) cherub-faced monsters. As one might expect, if the rest of the game’s action is a series of ridges of valleys in a gradual build-up, these cataclysmic scenes are Bayonetta’s money shots (I won’t get into the Freudian issues this brings up with one of the game’s final bosses), both for the player and the witch herself.
The pillow talk between sessions takes the form of the game’s convoluted and confounding story, which never makes a hell of a lot of sense (I was still fuzzy on a few details when the credits rolled), but it’s as Bayonetta herself comments a few times during the game, it’s not about the conversation (ironically, Kamiya still insists on giving us a lot of it). The cool down period after a chapter also gives you a chance to upgrade your weapons and abilities and buy accessories and costumes. You can also do this mid-chapter if you see an entrance to the underworld upgrade shop, but do you really want to interrupt the action when you’re in the middle of something? Regardless, drop a few hundred thousand and Bayonetta’ll have enough tricks to make an entire red-light district green with envy.
Sexual overtones or not, there’s never been anything quite like Bayonetta. Her journey may just be one extended metaphor for pleasure, but even outside the realm of fetish or psychosexuality it’s just as gratifying an experience. The best part? With all that firepower, you don’t really need to worry about protection.