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 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.
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]