Monday, February 1, 2010

Bayonetta Review


A brief history of the female form as used in videogames:

Ms. Pac Man: I cannot believe that I linked to that image. Move along, and I'm sorry.

Lara Croft: Ms. Croft is the one of the first and most recognizable of all female videogame heroines. She also has the honor of becoming more normal looking as her games went along. In Tomb Raider Underworld she is almost proportionally correct, and a better character for it.

The Dead or Alive girls: Dead or Alive brought us breast physics, one button counters, and more breast physics. While they have certainly gotten better looking as the years go by, they have not gotten the reality reduction that Lara thankfully received. Instead they gone not one, but two beach volleyball games.

Alyx Vance: With a soft spot for the strong silent type in industrial armor, Alyx gave hope to millions of PC gaming neckbeards hoping that their 'personality quirks' were actually good for something other than trivia and D&D. In spite of this, Alyx is probably the most realistic female character in all of gaming. We might even find out if she and Gordon have a future if Valve can get over their zombie/making lots of money fetish.

And finally, Bayonetta. While all the previous examples tried, with varying degrees of success, to be sexy, Bayonetta may be the first female heroine to be so out and out sexual. There is a big divide between something looking doable and acting doable, and Bayonetta dances straight down the middle of the uncanny valley right up to the point where I found her appearance and actions difficult to endure. With proportions more in common with Jack Skellington than anything human I have ever seen, Baynetta moves in a robotically lusty way from attack to attack, with crotch shots and butt wiggles highlighting a performance that can be best described as egregious. I am not sure what Sega was going for with the character, but making me cringe was probably not it. It's a shame, too: as a game, minus all the extraneous naughty bits, Bayonetta has the best combat I have had the pleasure of killing things with in a long time. The extra attention grab provided by tight pants and bizarre, nearly naked attacks was completely unnecessary.

To say that Bayonetta is a Devil May Cry clone is selling it incredibly short. Yes, there are guns and swords, juggling attacks, combos, and every level is grading your performance, but Devil May Cry's combat never flowed as well as it does here, and it certainly never took the time out to teach the player how to succeed on higher difficulty levels. There are only three choices when starting Bayonetta, and only Normal forces you to actually play the game with two hands. Enemies are forgiving enough that button mashing will work for a while, but as the difficulty level ramps up the player is forced to learn exactly how to dodge correctly, capatalize on openings, and not die from random attacks that can eat up most of your health in one string of hits. The middle part of the game ends up being the most difficult, as the player will either have an epiphany and begin playing correctly or give up and drop the game down a level. After the 'aha' moment it's smooth sailing until the a new game on Hard, but even then there is not the huge, off putting leap that the Devil May Cry's are notorious for. The equivalent of Dante Must Die mode is still there, but more people are liable to get to it because the transition is much less frustrating.


Even before being mastering the combat it is much closer to a 3D fighter like Soul Caliber than anything else. There are basic punch/kick combos, but each attack can be extended with gun play by holding down the button. If you dodge while holding the button you can offset the combo and continue it from another direction. Dodging at the last moment slows everything down, creating openings and allowing you to hit characters that otherwise damage you when you get too close (they are on fire), but that only lasts through Hard. After that, slow mo mode is taken away; by then you should be an expert anyway, but to honest, I never got that far.

Bayonetta does stray in places from it's strong points, forcing you into a bad racing segment and worse Panzer Dragoon lampoon where Baynoetta rides on the back of a missile trying to be as cool as the Contra guys (it doesn't work). Both of these sections also last entirely too long, but at least the checkpoints are close enough together that dying to blind motorcycle jumps isn't quite as bad as it could be. The story does itself no favors, either; it is convoluted and bizarre way past the usual explanation of 'it's Japanese.' There are angels, but they may be bad guys, demons, but they kind of help, witches, sages, a little girl with an annoying accent, and some douchbag with a Dr. Who scarf and Link's hook shot. Every cut scene can be skipped, and I suggest that you do so, as it will spare you from both the silly narrative and more of Bayonetta than you really want to see. Many of them are like watching a leather clad train wreck: all over the place but strangely tight and firm at the same time.

Even the monster is ashamed of itself.

Bayonetta the character belongs in a game of lesser quality, her attempts at eyeball grabbing are just not necessary here. Put her in last years Ninja Blade, the one game I can think of that is even stranger than this one but it still fun to play, and she would be right at home. I would have played Bayonetta the game with stick figures on a plain background; the combat is just that good. The character does not ruin the game by any means, but she doesn't do it nor the portrayal of women in videogames any service in the least. I am not some women's lib/feminist wierdo, I played the first Dead or Alive and set my age at the maximum to make Hitomi's boobs bounce off of her head when she ducked the same as everyone else, but I don't like what Bayonetta is trying to do. Sex appeal in video games is nothing new, but this new sexual appeal (and yes, this includes my previous mention of Mass Effect 2) I can do without. Just plain old violence is good enough for me, and that is what I will remember the most from Bayonetta, not some chick in glasses with legs that are too long and an attitude straight out of 'Letters to Penthouse.'

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