Dante Alighieri must be chuckling in his grave now that two new computer games have been developed based on his celebrated Divine Comedy poem. Next month sees the arrival of EA’s Dante’s Inferno where you’ll be battling through the nine levels of Hell, while Sega’s Bayonetta is a full-on war between Paradiso and Inferno, with a brief nod to Purgatorio in passing.
Developed by the same team that brought you Devil May Cry, Bayonetta is quite simply the most dazzling, extreme, breakneck, hardcore and outlandish combat game you’re likely to play this year. When the lengthy introduction shows two sassy demonic witches fighting scores of bizarre angelic beings while balanced on a ruined clock tower that is tumbling off a cliff, you know you’re in for a wild ride.
The underlying story is the eternal battle for supremacy between the Lumen Sages who fight for Paradiso and the Umbran Witches who are linked to the Inferno. Bayonetta is an Umbran Witch who wakes after a 500-year sleep in a coffin at the bottom of a lake and who’s bound by a curse to kill angels every day or she must return to Hell forever.
Far from being daunted by the thought, our heroine greets each day’s combat with sadistic relish, laced with a healthy dose of witty humour. Bayonetta speaks in a smart, sexy and ironic British accent that sounds like a combo of Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft and Elizabeth Hurley’s Devil in “Bedazzled”. But this is no stereotypical babe: she’s the hardest bitch on the block who has guns fixed to her boots alongside the weapons in her hands and an array of moves that would leave a Bolshoi ballerina bewildered.
At the heart of the game is a mixture of fight skills and timing. The three main combat buttons cover punch, kick and leap, with the fourth used mostly for actions like pick-ups and enabling powers. The range of button-mashing combos increases as the game progresses and although these are often spectacular in their own right, the key fight control is the right trigger that lets you dodge attacks. Timed perfectly, dodging unlocks Witch Time which gives you a few seconds of slo-mo to hammer your opponents with all you’ve got.
Also, if you avoid too much damage during a fight, you’ll be able to dish out special Torture finishes to a foe, such as guillotining or being forced into an Iron Maiden. Periodically you can call into the bar at the Gates of Hell where the laconic arms dealer Rodin will furnish you with new weapons, skills and defences before you return to the fray. Haloes captured from defeated angels can be used as currency here: just one of the many comic touches that riddle the gameplay and help make it fun to be so evil.
In addition, Bayonetta can perform the Witch Walk during moonlight, which enables her to scale walls and ceilings and adds a completely different dimension to each fight. At the same time certain powers must be accessed through special gates and there are a few puzzle-solving moments which serve as pauses between the frantic combat.
The graphics are like a comic inventor’s nightmare on speed, with bosses coming at you in ever larger and tougher variations and the locations increasingly surreal. The divine forces are paradoxically ugly and deformed (such as a being with two dragon heads and an upside down baby’s head) and they are usually defeated by Bayonetta summoning an even greater monstrosity from Hell via her hair!
Replayability is huge as there are three main difficulty settings and two super-hard versions if you complete the game, plus an online leaderboard where you can perfect your scores on each of the 16 game levels.