Bayonetta

It’s rare for a game to overcome the kind of horrible first impression a bad demo can bring. After I tried the Bayonetta demo, I spit venom on the podcast and said it was the most inane, over-sexualized crap I’d ever seen. That would normally have sealed it for me, but when resoundingly positive reviews started pouring in, I was thrown for a loop. I hedged and rented it, wondering if reviewers with Japanese fetishes were about to lead me astray.

At first I was sure they had. Bayonetta opens with the sort of overwrought, nearly-impossible-to-understand cutscene that became popular when game developers began to exploit the processing power of the PS2. The story's opening is mainly about establishing a stylish main character with as much subtlety as a sledgehammer to the face. Bayonetta standing at a grave, disguised as a nun with bell-bottom dress pants and pearly white vestments. When the angels descend from heaven she launches herself into the sky and becomes a gun-firing whirlwind of destruction. Blood and feathers everywhere. Eventually her costume is ripped, revealing the leather-clad bombshell that has proved to be so controversial since the game came out.

I was both flummoxed and intrigued, I decided to give it a few hours and see where it took me. I’m glad I did.

It’s not because she’s a sexy witch with impossibly long legs and a costume that reveals flashes of bikini-level nudity when you attack. That all plays into the identity of the character of Bayonetta, but it’s not something she seems to identify strongly with. She moves with confidence, but she’s never trying to use her sexual wiles to get anything done. Her response to nearly every situation would actually be considered typical of a male action hero.

When a boss enemy launches into a monologue, Bayonetta will often say something along the lines of “Shut up and get to fighting already, you boorish prick.” But because it’s a woman wrapped up in skin tight leather which is not altogether that different from how Dante is portrayed in Devil May Cry, the rules are different. I’m not really equipped to talk about gender roles -- I've got only one, and I'm just getting by with it as it is --but I’m not too surprised that a female with a similar ethos garners such attention. We all have our own backgrounds and beliefs when it comes to portrayals of lead characters.

For example: A local gay friend of mine described this pizza deep throat scene in Devil May Cry 3 as "incredibly gay." Can't say it occurred to me at the time, but perspectives vary so much, who am I to judge? It IS kind of suggestive, now that you mention it.

If you’re lucky enough to get past the so-called hurdle the in the game’s presentation, what you’re left with is one of the most inventive action games in this generation. My wife pointed out that the combat reminded her of SoulCalibur because it’s easy to pick up a controller and quickly do a lot of cool moves without needing to get super technical with the combos. Because Bayonetta's attacks work primarily with two buttons, you can do all kinds of fun stuff just changing your timing a little. Throw in multiple melee weapons and some pretty ridiculous guns and it’s quite the achievement that they’ve managed to balance in so much complexity while still making the combat fun and approachable.

That's not to say the game is without nuance. Dodging is actually critical later in the game as it’s your primary form of defense, but it also sets you up for your best chance at pulling off longer attacks when you dodge at the right moment. A near miss from your enemy means you enter a brief spot of slow motion where you move at normal speeds and your enemies slow down. Turning defense into a launching point for more offence is a subtle, but important tweak to the formula. You’re never sitting in a corner with your defenses up while a crowd of bad guys wail on you.

Surprisingly, as much as I enjoyed the combat, the stuff in between the battles was what kept me intrigued. The different ways Platinum Games managed to top themselves on level design all the way up to the final credits was astonishing. Every time I thought I’d reached the height of what they were doing and expected them to rinse, wash, repeat, they threw something new at me. A motorcycle sequence, riding a giant bomb as it skims the ocean waters and running along ribbons of light in animal form are just a few examples. I’m delighted by the imagination on display with each successive level.

Bayonetta was just a joy to play. It was wonderfully inventive and somehow managed to maintain a strong design consistency through some incredibly daring and off the wall directions. Most importantly, I grew to like the Bayonetta character. There’s a lot we still don’t know about her, but she’s no one-dimensional sexpot. She has a Loki-like quality about her actions that amuses me and it’s clear the people behind the curtain are fond of their creation too. With any luck, we’ll continue to see more from her in the future, she has a style that cannot be denied.

Comments

You forgot to mention how awesome it is when she adjusts her glasses with her gun.

Apart from that, yeah. What you said. Awesome game.

I’m not really equipped to talk about gender roles -- I've got only one, and I'm just getting by with it as it is --but I’m not too surprised that a female with a similar ethos garners such attention. We all have our own backgrounds and beliefs when it comes to portrayals of lead characters.

I think this is a fairly interesting point, I played Bayonetta for 3 hours or so and was fairly bored and returned it to the rental store. This is because I basically found it to be Devil May Cry with a female protagonist instead of a male one (and I really hate Devil May Cry's gameplay).

Dante has always been sexualized, just because you don't swing that way does not mean it's not blatantly obvious. One of the things I took away from Bayonetta was that she was basically an action-movie themed stripper. Do female gamers feel the same way about Dante?

That said Bayonetta is indeed a well done Devil May Cry-type game. If you like it, go for it. I think the only interest I have in it is watching the reaction to a sexualized non-submissive female protagonist.

Why is this different than Lara Croft, for instance? Because Bayonetta's sexuality actually is apparent in the character? It's used as power instead of just window dressing?

I have no idea, but it's interesting to me.

Certis wrote:

...Japanese fetishes were about to lead me astray.

I have a certain chat log buried somewhere that seems interestingly prescient.

I actually enjoyed the demo quite a bit. I was surprised since I could relate to your critique of the game and really thought I'd dislike it. But I thought it was a hoot!

I finally realize what Bayonetta reminds me of: Barbarella! Go watch that old Jane Fonda flick and tell me if it's not similar. Barbarella was much more sexualized though, but the kitcsh and cheese are the same.

The game is not as offensively sexual as, say, x-blade, or DOA Beach Volleyball. It's not "oh here's another piece of sexist tripe aimed at 14 year olds" It's tongue in cheek and fantastic. Glad you came around on it and enjoyed it. It's trippy!

ruinate wrote:

I finally realize what Bayonetta reminds me of: Barbarella! Go watch that old Jane Fonda flick and tell me if it's not similar. Barbarella was much more sexualized though, but the kitcsh and cheese are the same.

Christian Nutt did an excellent article over on Gamasutra on Bayonetta as camp. To me, Barbarella (one of my fave movies) über campy definitely shares some aesthetics with Bayonetta.

On Dante being over-sexualized in a cheesy way:

So... yeah. There's that.

For me, Bayonetta engrossed me just as much as any Devil May Cry game. That may sound like faint praise if you're like Pyroman, but if you only knew how many hours I sunk into playing and replaying the DMC series you would realize that this is a pretty big accomplishment on Platinum Games' part.

(derail) Thank you for sharing that video on DMC - it confirmed for me that it belongs to a type of game that does not appeal to me in the slightest.(/derail)

I wonder if it's possible to like the game but still agree with the general sentiment that you and I believe Rob expressed that hyper-sexualization in games helps box gaming into a particular, ugly stereotype?

I wonder if it's possible to like the game but still agree with the general sentiment that you and I believe Rob expressed that hyper-sexualization in games helps box gaming into a particular, ugly stereotype?

That would be Rob, primarily. I think that concept of a single game boxing gaming into a damaging stereotype is flawed.

So. Anyone looking to sell their X360 copy?

Certis wrote:
I wonder if it's possible to like the game but still agree with the general sentiment that you and I believe Rob expressed that hyper-sexualization in games helps box gaming into a particular, ugly stereotype?

That would be Rob, primarily. I think that concept of a single game boxing gaming into a damaging stereotype is flawed.

Grand Theft Auto? Though I guess that's a series, and even though it usually refers to a specific one, damned if the people who use it as a cudgel can tell you which.

[quote=Anderkoo]

I wonder if it's possible to like the game but still agree with the general sentiment that you and I believe Rob expressed that hyper-sexualization in games helps box gaming into a particular, ugly stereotype?

I think the key word here is "helps."

[quote=Certis]

That would be Rob, primarily. I think that concept of a single game boxing gaming into a damaging stereotype is flawed.

Given that Anderkoo wasn't saying this game, in and of itself, boxed gaming into the ugly stereotype it now has, the concept that it helps isn't flawed. I think the vision of a strong, female protagonist is a good one, but let's be honest - Bayonetta ain't no Ripley.

Regarding the "single game" not doing any harm suggestion, it reminds me of a recent Onion article with the following headline:

'How Bad For The Environment Can Throwing Away One Plastic Bottle Be?' 30 Million People Wonder

Maybe I'll give it another chance. I have dismissed the game the same way you did initially, and I found the intro to be too "busy" for my tastes.

I'll reluctantly fire it up again, though.

Best Game of 2010. So far...

Mere Anarchy wrote:

Maybe I'll give it another chance. I have dismissed the game the same way you did initially, and I found the intro to be too "busy" for my tastes.

I'll reluctantly fire it up again, though.

I wouldn't bother. If you found the earlier stuff too busy, you are going to hate the later stuff.

PyromanFO wrote:

Dante has always been sexualized, just because you don't swing that way does not mean it's not blatantly obvious. One of the things I took away from Bayonetta was that she was basically an action-movie themed stripper. Do female gamers feel the same way about Dante?

Females don't like hot male protagonists? I guess you guys didn't notice that Dante was shirtless.

I guess I don't view the human body the way others do. Tight clothing in this context doesn't make me think "stripper." Many famous heroes, both male and female, wear tight clothing. Loose fitting clothes aren't ideal to fight in.

This is one of the very few games in the last couple of years that makes me regret selling my 360. Maybe I should pick up an Arcade some time, but my SO will probably murder me in my sleep.

I've had a pretty similar experience with Bayonetta. I absolutely loathed it in the first hour. The overwrought cutscenes and over-the-top sexuality had me spewing some venomous hate about it to my friends.

After that first hour, though, it all starts to come together. Once I started digging into the action and figuring out how it all worked, I was hooked. I was furiously skipping cut scenes at the beginning of game, groaning at the ridiculousness of it, but now I find myself actually interested in them. The story is still batsh*t insane, but the over-the-top narrative has become pretty intriguing.

I really don't even care about the bantering going back and forth about how Bayonetta is portrayed as a female character. At this point, it's moot to me; the mechanics and style of the game have far overshadowed it.

It's definitely been an eye-opening experience. It's rare that a game I hate initially hate grows on me so quickly.

Shaq Fu Thug wrote:

I really don't even care about the bantering going back and forth about how Bayonetta is portrayed as a female character. At this point, it's moot to me; the mechanics and style of the game have far overshadowed it.

That's sort of the problem though isn't it. According to most everyone who has played the game, the mechanics of it all and the crazy story make it all worth it. They could have made her look like just about anything and people would have probably still loved the game. Instead they chose the most immature and sexist route. It's lazy and stupid, and it drives me nuts.

Any chance of this coming to PC?
Usually I wouldn't ask, but the release of DMC4 makes me hopeful.

Gaald wrote:
Shaq Fu Thug wrote:

I really don't even care about the bantering going back and forth about how Bayonetta is portrayed as a female character. At this point, it's moot to me; the mechanics and style of the game have far overshadowed it.

That's sort of the problem though isn't it. According to most everyone who has played the game, the mechanics of it all and the crazy story make it all worth it. They could have made her look like just about anything and people would have probably still loved the game. Instead they chose the most immature and sexist route. It's lazy and stupid, and it drives me nuts.

I doubt it, the kiss she blows at the end of a verse is one of the cooler parts of the game

Slacker1913 wrote:

Any chance of this coming to PC?
Usually I wouldn't ask, but the release of DMC4 makes me hopeful.

That would be nice, but a quick Google just brings up a bunch of forum threads of people whining about the lack of a port. As a person who is currently limited to playing on the PC a port would be great, but I would be concerned about a sloppy job.

What is the DMC 4 port like? I actually check it out periodically, it's a genre I've never touched.

Certis wrote:
I wonder if it's possible to like the game but still agree with the general sentiment that you and I believe Rob expressed that hyper-sexualization in games helps box gaming into a particular, ugly stereotype?

That would be Rob, primarily. I think that concept of a single game boxing gaming into a damaging stereotype is flawed.

If I could add my $0.02, the problem that I (and I suspect Rob) have is that it's NOT just this game.

It feels like just about every game does what Bayonetta does to some extent, Bayonetta just does it more. It's not a new phenomenon.

Like the threesome-minigame that have become iconic of the God of War series. There's no call for that, no reason for it to be there other than the obvious "tee hee, boobies!" titillation. I refused to buy the game for that reason, because I'm a father trying to lead by example and I think it matters how I live my life even when my kids aren't watching.

Then there's the Saboteur, with the whole "Your home base is a brothel filled with naked women all the time" motif. Who knew whores didn't even wear clothes when they were off duty? Must save a fortune in laundry bills.

Even Batman Arkham Asylum (which I did play and love) turned Harley Quinn into a busty naughty nurse with lots of panty-shot potential; which, I'm happy to say, they mostly eschew, even when she's doing backflips. Compared to Bayonetta or God of War it's mild, and it works within the context of the game (Harley's old red and black tights would have looked out of place in this particular rendition of the Batman universe), but it's still there. (I won't mention Poison Ivy, because she's pretty much always been the half-nude nature chick and Batman AA wasn't going to change that)

The problem is not Bayonetta, she's just become the poster-girl for a more widespread "women are only interesting if they're half naked" attitude within the gaming industry. Like Rob said in the podcast, I'm tired of it.

It's possible to do a game with a female protagonist who is confident and capable but isn't a teenager's idea of the ideal sexpot. Mirror's Edge, for example, is an IP I'd like to see continue with sequels that improve (aka eliminate) the combat sequences and give the player more options to use the environment.

Gaald wrote:

...According to most everyone who has played the game, the mechanics of it all and the crazy story make it all worth it. They could have made her look like just about anything and people would have probably still loved the game. Instead they chose the most immature and sexist route. It's lazy and stupid, and it drives me nuts.

Seconded. I won't be playing it, in part because I don't want it in my house and also because I don't want to reward the developers for this kind of thinking.

Also, adjusting your glasses with a loaded pistol is just freaking irresponsible.

MrDeVil909 wrote:

What is the DMC 4 port like? I actually check it out periodically, it's a genre I've never touched.

One of the best ports I've seen. There should be a demo floating somewhere on the net if you want to try it out.

As far as sexual objectification goes, I think there's a certain (very high) point on the ridiculousness scale after which it can only be viewed as sophisticated irony. Bayonetta drives past that point on a motorcycle and never looks back.

To put it another way, calling out Bayonetta as sexist is like calling out Blacula as racist.

Mystic Violet wrote:
PyromanFO wrote:

Dante has always been sexualized, just because you don't swing that way does not mean it's not blatantly obvious. One of the things I took away from Bayonetta was that she was basically an action-movie themed stripper. Do female gamers feel the same way about Dante?

Females don't like hot male protagonists? I guess you guys didn't notice that Dante was shirtless.

I guess I don't view the human body the way others do. Tight clothing in this context doesn't make me think "stripper." Many famous heroes, both male and female, wear tight clothing. Loose fitting clothes aren't ideal to fight in. :D

Oh it's not the tight clothing, I played several hours before coming to that conclusion. I mean every other video game character is dressed in tight leather. No it's the winking, the posing for the camera, the lollipop and hyper-sexual fighting. Bayonetta is putting on a show about her sexiness where she strips naked as the climax. I'm not sure how that's not a stripper. I'm not saying it's necessarily a bad thing either.

Over the top sexuality? What are you all, Quakers? Poor repressed brothers.

/snicker

doubtingthomas396 wrote:

It's possible to do a game with a female protagonist who is confident and capable but isn't a teenager's idea of the ideal sexpot. Mirror's Edge, for example, is an IP I'd like to see continue with sequels that improve (aka eliminate) the combat sequences and give the player more options to use the environment.

Agreed, I would like to see more of Mirror's Edge. Another of my favorite female characters who didn't receive the total harlot treatment was Jade from Beyond Good and Evil. While possibly difficult to sell in the mind of a marketing executive, not all femal protagonists need be half naked caricatures of a Playboy centerfold.

I rented the game, it was pretty cool but by the 12th stage I had enough and just put it down. The same thing happens to me with the DMC games. I'm not sure why but Ninja Gaiden is the only game of this type that i will actually sit down, finish, and actually replay from time to time.

28 comments and no-one mentioned how off-putting is the heroine's deliberately crafted likeness to Sarah Palin. /brr

Hah! Never saw that before. That comment is going to color my entire playthrough.