Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Review // Bayonetta

In a lot of ways, Bayonetta is one of the worst games I've played in a long, long time, which is why it's a shame that its combat is good enough that it's hard to write it off completely. But out of all the things I hate about Bayonetta — the bad level design, the incomprehensible story, the terrible acting — I think I hate Bayonetta herself the most.

I Hate You, Bayonetta.

I don't care about the gender politics behind Bayonetta's strut or her ridiculous outfit. I don't care whether she represents a misogynistic or feminist outlook. I don't even care if her disproportionate body and hypersexual mannerisms are comparable to ultramacho characters like Marcus Fenix. I just think she's really, really fucking annoying.

My problems with Bayonetta don't stem with whether I can deal with her overt sexuality; my problems stem from her overt sexuality adversely affecting my gameplay experience. For instance, dodging four times in a row will cause Bayonetta to exaggerate the fourth and pose for the camera, which you can do nothing to skip. Liberal dodging in Bayonetta isn't just encouraged, it's the foundation of the game's combat. So when Bayonetta decides it's more prudent to stop and wink at the camera than respond to my commands, she's leaving herself open to attack and pissing me off at the same time.

Even worse are her awful taunts, the most embarrassing of which is one where Bayonetta sits on the ground, spreads her legs wide and says, "Come on!" This taunt perfectly encapsulates everything that is wrong with Bayonetta. The idea of a seductive, strong female character that literally uses her sexuality as a weapon doesn't bother me in the slightest, but the execution here couldn't be worse. Bayonetta doesn't come off as sexy or seductive in the least. She's disgusting. She's repulsive. She's downright abhorrent.

When Bayonetta is tearing off her clothes in the heat of battle or spreading her legs in front of a five-year old girl (yes, you can do this), all she accomplishes is making me wholly embarrassed to be playing her game. When Bayonetta gets attacked by tentacles or poses in awkward crotch shot after awkward crotch shot, all she accomplishes is making me want to turn off her game and never return to it.

I Hate You, Bayonetta.

Even if Bayonetta wasn't the vile, nauseating character she is, the rest of the game is still bad enough that it ultimately wouldn't matter. Level design in Bayonetta alone was enough to leave me in a constant state of simultaneous boredom and frustration: Clumsy, patronizing puzzles usually amount to jarring halts in pacing and are never intellectually satisfying. Precision platforming sections rely on character control that simply wasn't built for such precision and are more irritating than fun. Attempts to break up the pace with driving and shoot 'em up sections are repetitive throwaways that last far too long to justify their existence.

The story that connects these levels together is, somehow, even more painful than the lacking level design. It's not bad enough that every single cut scene is dreadfully boring, seemingly endless, and features an overly complex, nonsensical plot driven by an abysmal script. No, what makes it that much harder to stomach is that it's quickly apparent that the game is actually proud of just how bad it is. The only consistent tone in the game is a sickening theme that the developers were impressed with themselves. With every uncomfortable, voyeuristic shot of Bayonetta's body, every gratuitous, excessive action scene, every drawn-out, poorly written exchange of dialogue comes an undeserved air of "man, we're awesome!"

The only aspect for which the game deserves even the slightest trace of a pat on the back is its combat. It's a fairly intuitive system that ditches the emphasis on rote memorization of combos that games like Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden thrive on, and it's definitely better for it. Like God of War, stringing almost any combination of button presses together will yield something pretty cool, which I definitely prefer to being forced to memorize combos to have a chance of success. The depth is there if you want it, but it's not required. As long as you've got good reflexes and can dodge at the right time to activate the slow-motion mode, you should be okay. That said, the fights where you can't activate that mode don't feel nearly as satisfying, and almost every boss fight in Bayonetta is pretty lackluster. Yeah, they're intricate, huge spectacles, but only a couple of them managed to be more fun than taking out grunt enemies.

No one would tolerate this game if the combat wasn't this good, but even Bayonetta's combat can't make up for how awful the rest of it is. I'm shocked and disappointed that it's been getting a free pass from gamers and critics alike. We deserve better.

Bayonetta / $59.99 / PS3, 360 [reviewed]

30 comments:

  1. Whoa, that second-to-last sentence is quite the claim. I must say, you've hit a lot of points, and I can't discredit you for your opinion, but a "free pass" just isn't something this game is receiving. Bayonetta is actually quite a special game in my mind. For a gamer such as myself, who doesn't delve too deep into the action genre, this game felt like it did respectable justice for action games as a whole.

    I understood Bayonetta not to be a portrayal of ridiculous male protagonists, more-so just a statement on the stupidity of sexualizing, too greatly, main characters who are females in games. Even with that in mind, I found Bayonetta to actually be quite sexy. Not once was I disgusted by her constant posing, or her desire to wink at the camera (That forth dodge is to prevent the player from constant, skill-less dodging).

    For me, Bayonetta had some of the greatest moment-to-moment gameplay I've experienced. Not once did I feel the developers were arrogant in their creation; they just knew the game had to be ridiculous to support a protagonist like Bayonetta. Platinum games kept it fun, crazy, sexy, hilarious, and brutal throughout; for that I commend them.

    You make some great points, ones I can side with easily, but I have to disagree as a whole. While, yes there is definitely some cringe-worthy dialogue to be found, I still felt as though Bayonetta was one of the best games I've played in quite a long time.

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  2. To me, the idea of a free pass is that people like one aspect of the game, so they gloss over other parts of it that are simply bad. I could understand why people glossed over the faults of Uncharted 2's endgame, for instance, because the rest of it was just so damn good.

    But with Bayonetta, while I can honestly say that the combat is good, nothing else about it appealed to me in the slightest, and reading other reviews and seeing gamers' opinions on it... It just feels like people like the combat so much that they're either blindly accepting the other parts of the game or reluctant to mention them.

    And it also feels like people are reading too far into Bayonetta's sexuality as a statement. I don't think the developers designed her as a commentary on objectified videogame women. I think they simply wanted to make a character that would appeal to horny guys. Read the developer blogs, for instance. They compare boob and butt sizes of Bayonetta and Jeanne, discuss how they wanted Bayonetta's backside "perfect," etc.

    I can totally understand that you or someone else could like this game. The action is quite good. I just wish it was in a different, better game.

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  3. Well, I actually don't focus too heavily on the combat when I say Bayonetta is great. I love the large majority of it, and feel it's a great game despite some faults.

    But as for the interpreting of what Bayonetta symbolizes, if anything, I just feel as though, if it were to be a statement on one thing, it would be the sexualizing of female protagonists. Either way, it's not too meaningful an idea, but very humorous. I just see the game as rather satirical in some senses, and that's part of the hilarity for me.

    I don't, however think that the idea for Bayonetta came just to attract horny guys. Though I'm sure they've found themselves playing it, because it most certainly does support those people, I think there has to be some sort of deeper thinking on the subject, and some sort of meaning the game possesses that transcends the simplicity of sex for the sake of sex.

    By most reviews, too, I've noticed a trend that they actually mention more than the combat as a positive quality of the game. Gameplay usually outweighs a lot of things, and so that would easily boost a score, but I saw that most people had various other nice things to say besides the combat. Perhaps it has received a couple unfair reviews by people too blinded with the action, though.

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  4. You should just recognize that you hate Japanese style design and are over-emasculated rather than trying to pass off the entire style as trash. Clearly a clueless neophyte who can only enjoy desolate gray wastelands loaded with hordes of heavily armored, veins bulging bald white guys with gruff voices.

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  5. I guess what it comes down to is that I like the idea of Bayonetta more than the execution. A sexy woman that makes no apologies for being sexy is great. Chloe from Uncharted 2 totally did that. A silly atmosphere that recognizes how silly it is sounds awesome. 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand did that. But those games did it better.

    I'd like to think that the developers had more in mind than just make a sexy protagonist, but everything in the game and on their blog and what they've said contradicts that. It seems more like they were tired of serious male protagonists like Kratos and wanted someone sexy they could ogle while they play. Which isn't a terrible idea, but again, the execution feels off to me.

    Two things good about Bayonetta: 1) The combat. 2) It spurs interesting discussion.

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  6. @cheez: I don't get why not liking Bayonetta somehow signals to people that either a) I don't like strong, sexy women unafraid of expressing their sexuality, or b) I don't like Japanese design.

    Bayonetta just strikes the wrong chord with me. Her taunts were some of the least sexy displays I've ever seen, for instance. And as an American, I probably favor American-style games, but that doesn't mean my opinion of Bayonetta is invalidated. The cut scenes are long, nonsensical, and poorly written. That doesn't mean ALL Japanese games have long, nonsensical, and poorly written stories. Persona 3, for example, I recently played, and loved. Great story, excellent characters.

    As for "bald white guys with gruff voices," let's put it this way... I VASTLY prefer Nathan Drake or Wander (from Shadow of the Colossus) to Marcus Fenix or Master Chief. Personally, I tend to gravitate more toward weak characters than power fantasy characters. They're just more interesting.

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  7. I have to agree with Thomas. I haven't played the game, but videos and footage I've seen have just put me off. There's something about this game that feels...alienating, and not-quite-right. I really don't get how people are saying this game is supposed to be a parody or commentary on sexy characters in video games. I'm sorry, folks, but Japan really isn't that subtle or deep. Even when they think they're being "deep" (i.e. Xenogears) it's a bunch of pretentious, overwrought babble that makes no sense and accomplishes far less than a more straightforward plot. This is to say nothing of Japanese dialogue writing, which is HORRIBLE. You play as many RPGs as I have, and you'll wonder why these characters, who are often in their 20s, still talk like whiny emo teens. The banter in Bayonetta seems pretty stupid in that "so-stupid-your-brain-cells-will-deteriorate-at-the-speed-of-light" way.

    Bayonetta herself doesn't strike me as sexy, but annoying. And what genius thought using hair as a weapon wouldn't be embarrassing or silly? Give him a gold star.

    The music sounds like complete garbage from what I've heard, the character designs are rather poor...I could go on. I'll stick with Uncharted 2 for right now, thanks.

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  8. Thanks for the comment! The parody/commentary stuff you got spot on. It's the same thing I remember hearing about with No More Heroes, how the open world city was so empty as a commentary on other video games. Though I never played it myself, it just felt like people were making excuses for bad game design. When your "statement" is this vague and hurts the game this much, you're better off not making one.

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  9. Well, okay, No More Heroes had an awful presentation for whatever their message was with the ridiculous open world, if any. However, Bayonetta is so obviously aware of it's ridiculous main character that it's difficult to actually accept she was placed in the game for purely a sexual focus. If she was, however, they executed it perfectly, because, to be honest, that's the only way a protagonist like Bayonetta could really be done in games.

    If you look at Laura Croft you see a sexualized female main character, and for whatever reason the narrative is taken very seriously. It's almost an insult to the player that they try and mask the reasons for placing her in the game. Now, if Bayonetta is there for purely the sex factor, the reasons are not hidden. They acknowledge those reasons and embrace them. So, either way, intentional meaning or not, she serves her purpose flawlessly.

    I'm not going to make excuses to back up my opinion of the games quality, because I enjoy it for far more than it's subtle statements on games, or lack thereof.

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  10. I think this just boils down to me again liking the idea of Bayonetta more than the execution, which in turn would then boil down AGAIN to that I don't find her sexy. You say you do, so she as a character works for you.

    And you don't need to make excuses for your opinion. I think no less of someone that likes Bayonetta and I would hope that most people out there would think no less of me for NOT liking Bayonetta.

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  11. Some people will like it, some won't. This is the same Anon as above, BTW. While I'm certain some game directors are capable of a deeper sort of social commentary of some kind (the closest, I guess, is Kojima with MGS), I...honestly don't care if there is a deeper meaning. I play games to be entertained, not discover the meaning of life. If I wanted preachy, deeper meaning bullcrap shoved down my throat, I have liberal Hollywood and the liberal news media for that.

    I honestly do feel that the goal of this game was nothing more than giving lonely 13- and 40-year-olds something to spank it to. This is typical Japanese par for the course, because if you don't know about their culture, women are still very repressed and objectified, and it is an incredibly sexist nation. I'm not going to sugarcoat it, there it is.

    Having played NMH, I can safely say the "parody" of open exploration games failed, because it didn't do anything to truly mock the style.

    As someone who enjoyed the DMC series, it's a shame this game doesn't appeal to me because of the ludicrous elements that come together in a cacophony of disaster. It sounds like they really amped up the combat, and as Thomas said, it seems the Metacritic reviews are giving this game a free ride because of the battle system.

    In the old days, if gameplay was the only thing your game had, it could be excused and forgiven. These days, we expect elaborate stories, characters with believable motivations, etc. If the reviews of the story and characters of Bayonetta I've read are any indication, it fails miserably in terms of story and character. I'm sorry, I know most action games half-ass the story because OMG THE COMBAT, but that's not going to appease everyone.

    I know Japan is used to things like muddled plots and borrowing elements and names without caring for their actual meaning (see: all the guns you can get in the game, as I'm sure the developers thought more along the lines of "That sounds cool" than understanding that her starting guns are actually four common spices), but we have to keep in mind that the majority of gamers come from the Western world.

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  12. Okay, we can agree to disagree on many points. However, the free ride thing just doesn't seem to exist in the manner you're stating. People LOVE Bayonetta as a character, and many people appreciate the weird sense of humor that the game flaunts, so there is definitely a lot more to this title than you're giving it credit for (As far as not playing it goes.) The reviews I've read, the positive ones, applaud the game for many points, and especially the combat of course, but there's a variety of reasons that many reviewers focus on.

    The story is presented in a way that makes it less interesting than it could be, and some cut-scenes are quite lengthy, but it's nothing that I feel, along with many reviewers, hampers the overall quality of the game.

    It all comes back to preference. While I adore Bayonetta for her craziness, it's just not your cup of tea. There are many people like me however, and that's the basis for it's nice Metacritic score.

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  13. .@cheez: I don't get the whole "you're not comfortable in your masculinity if you dislike the game or character" argument. It feels flimsy to me, because I don't mind a strong female character__ in fact' I would like to see more of them in games. But Bayonetta is so ridiculously exagerrated in her supposedly sexy attitude that some just find it revolting or think she's trying too hard. If she were genuinely pushing standard cliches about heroines in games, fine. But in realikty, she's little better than the awkward bimbos seen in so many of these games.

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  14. @Codename V: I only call it a free ride because most games get crucified for some of the flaws Bayonetta has, yet Bayonetta remains more or less unscathed.

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  15. @Anonymous: I'd argue Bayonetta is superior to the Lara Croft's, if only because the game acknowledges how sexualized and absurd it actually is.

    @Thomas: I completely understand that. But most reviews I've read seem to disagree with a lot of what you don't like about Bayonetta. I'm only saying that it's more so a difference of opinion than a free ride, which doesn't make your opinion less OK.

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  16. I'd call it a "free ride" when most reviews for the game literally spend all of a sentence or two saying "The plot isn't that great, but it doesn't matter". It's a bit hypocritical when, back when Halo 2 was released, and it was found out that the single-player story left a lot to be desired, people called it out on that. At least Halo's story makes some sense, but Bayonetta's is the typical jumbled pseudo-intellectual stuff and no one seems too upset that it was poorly crafted.

    I'm only harping so much on this because one of the driving motivations in pressing onward through a game, for a lot of players, is to see the story and how it unfolds, and to get answers to any nagging questions presented in the beginning. It just feels like the devs in this case didn't put much effort into the story. I imagine most of the time was spent on fine-tuning the fighting.

    To the other Anon: grow up, dude. It's possible to have a disagreement over something while being civil. Personal attacks are pretty low.

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  17. Yeah, I'll admit that I was surprised that so many reviewers said they actually like the Bayonetta character, but I've seen a lot of "the plot sucks, the cut scenes go on too long, etc." comments in reviews. Just feels like Brutal Legend, where a lot of reviewers gave that game a total free pass for a lot of its flaws, and now you hear on podcasts and stuff when they discuss Brutal Legend, it's in a much more negative light.

    Like Anonymous said, story is a driving motivator. I personally can't just go on by action alone. That's why I inevitably stop playing most multiplayer games after awhile. And Bayonetta gave me, story-wise at least, no reason to continue. In fact, that game is much better when you just skip every cut scene.

    Also, I deleted the other Anonymous comment. I'm all for keeping comments I don't agree with on here, freedom of speech and all that, but I won't tolerate personal attacks like that.

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  18. Hey, this is the poster formerly known as Anon. =)

    I also wanted to comment on another thing that bugs me about this game: the visual style. I really dislike the designs, for one. Bayonetta has one of the most atrocious and poorly-planned designs for a protagonist in recent times. The enemies don't fare much better, with a ridiculous over-reliance on cherub faces that look plain goofy instead of intimidating.

    That's not even touching on the color palette, which, if videos of levels I've seen are any indication, suffers from the usual next-gen problem of monochromatic and dull colors. If developers would realize that the world is not that colorless, it'd be a miracle. That's why I think the Next-Gen Filter in Uncharted is so brilliant. But all I see in this game is desaturated blacks and whites and golds...blech.

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  19. Playing Bayonetta, and loving it, I couldn't help but feel as though many reviewers had a very similar experience. The story just wasn't enough of an obstacle to warrant a true thrashing. To me, everything excluding the delivery for the narrative was really quite excellent.

    I just don't want to discredit the opinions of numerous reviewers, because I feel there is definitely more than one reason to fall in love with Bayonetta.

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  20. Maybe that's the case, but a poor story is definitely an irritant. If your character and their motives aren't interesting or plausible, do you really feel much towards them or anyone else in their world? It makes it harder to care about what's going on or why it's going on. People enjoy great stories because they entertain them, but when you throw together a half-assed plot and expect the gameplay to carry your game and excuse the poor story, that's bad design.

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  21. Well, I'm speaking specifically about the plot. Character development was top notch, and I had a love for almost every character, especially Bayonetta. Too, the plot is of enough quality to give reason as to why things are happening, why you're being assaulted, and what you're working towards; it's just not delivered in a manner I feel is best.

    The story is more than serviceable, but I can't deny it could have been executed in a more interesting manner.

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  22. I will say about the enemy design that it occasionally reminded me of the Persona games, and that redeemed them in my eyes, at least a bit.

    As for the story, I can barely tell you what happened during that game, and I watched all the cut scenes AND read the Wikipedia summary afterward. My roommate is playing it now, and he has less patience for this kind of stuff. He's been skipping all the cut scenes recently and I can't really fault him for it. He just got past the "Route 666" chapter, which he did not like, to put it mildly.

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  23. Okay, after reading ALL of these comments I've come to a conclusion of why you don't like the game Thomas. You are doing it wrong.

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  24. Apparently the story has something to do with corruption with demons and angels and the lines between good and evil being blurred? Of course, we all know how well the Japanese understand the tenets of Western belief systems, so all I can say is they probably used the imagery and themes because it "seemed cool" rather than because they wanted to give it meaning. Again, a lot of Japanese entertainment is very superficial and borrows things from other cultures because it's interesting, not because there's a deeper understanding to be had. Of course, some people will try to tell you the opposite...

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  25. I don't think anyone would argue Bayonetta is "deep" when it comes to plot, or that the narrative is trying to give off any sort of meaning. Which isn't a bad thing, necessarily.

    I would enjoy it more if the plot were as engaging as we all agree it could/should be, but it's very obviously not the focus, and something that seems almost tangential when playing the game, that it's not too large an issue. Bayonetta still, for most people, dishes out great characters, and will frequently give you very well choreographed cut scenes that are both hilarious and badass.

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  26. I don't know... Some of the choreography struck me as gratuitous in a very masturbatory way. It's where I based my comment about the developers thinking "man, we're awesome!" None of it really did anything for me.

    And for what it's worth, and I suppose it could totally be "just my opinion" or whatever, but I both a) thought all the characters were pretty badly written, and b) hated all the characters. The merchant was an idiot with lines that bash you over the head. The informant is an annoying stereotype. The villain just droned on and on. The journalist was a schizophrenic whose every appearance signaled a boring cut scene to me. The kid was typical kid material (read: bland). And Bayonetta... Well, by now you know my feelings for Bayonetta.

    I guess these could simply be my opinions, but I'd like to trust my ability to recognize bad writing well enough to assume that people are simply finding ways to connect with poor characters, which, mind you, is totally possible.

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  27. Having gotten a chance to play it...I still share a lot of Thomas' sentiments. While it's obvious the focus was the fighting, which is immensely fun...everything else is frustratingly mediocre. The story is a bit boring and I could not care less about the characters, and some of the ridiculous cutscene stunts do scream of patting one's self on the back. When you have to TRY to be cool, then you need to just give it up.

    It's a wonder, though, that people haven't commented more on the characters and story -- I really loathed the Joe Pesci-sounding rotund mobster at the beginning. What the hell was the point of that? Something tells me some of the other characters are even worse...

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  28. I just bought the latest issue of GamePro, and their review was really good in expressing most of my complaints even though they were very clearly on the side of "the combat makes up for it."

    But yeah, PowerAardvark, if you're playing Bayonetta to genuinely have fun, I'd say you're better off just skipping the cut scenes. They only get worse as the story gets more complex and you realize that you have no idea what's going on. It takes so many words to express so little.

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  29. I loved Bayonetta. I thought she was very sexy, and very unique. I found the dialog to be charming, witty, and humorous.

    What I find disgusting is that anumber of people are making disparaging remarks about Japanese people. You need look no further than American culture to realize how hypocritical some of these remarks are. When it comes to objectifying women, any American high school will show just how far we have not come, whereas the younger generations in Japan actually are working to change things.

    But this topic is way too huge for this forum and does not belong here, so to those taking jabs at other cultures, bite your fucking tongues!

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