kiss

Review – Bayonetta

Developed by:  Platinum Games
Published by:  Sega (Xbox 360, PS3), Nintendo (Wii U)
Released: 2009 (PS3, Xbox 360),  2014 (Wii U)
Platforms:  PS3, Xbox 36, Wii U (Played)

I recall polarizing opinions about Bayonetta when released originally;  mainly on whether or not the portrayal of the titular character was simply male fan service , or a bold display of authentic sexual expression and individuality.  Having never played a game with such as sexualized female protagonist, I was very uncertain as to what to expect.  On completing the game I can say that – though Bayonetta doesn’t fit exactly in either of the aforementioned categories,  she certainly leans towards the latter.

A game is more than its main character however and the colourful visuals, energetic combat, upbeat music and all round silliness provide the game an all round joyful presence.

Gameplay

‘Bayonetta’ is a Beat’em up/Spectacle Fighter.  The basis  of combat involves combining light punches and strong kicks to perform one of many possible combo attacks.  So, 2 punches and 1 kick will result in a different series of attacks then say, 1 punch and 2 kicks.  Combinations can potentially string up to 7 or so individual moves with different effects, each potentially useful depending on the situation – such as fighting flying enemies or facing multiple opponents.

Many combinations end with a powerful knockback blow.  Bayonetta channels her Witch power through her hair, forming an enormous foot or fist to pound the enemy.

shieldcombat

I found that  learning about 3 or 4 of the many different combos adequately covered most situations.  However, if one wishes to use other attack sets then they can be referenced via the in-game skill book.

Bayonetta also employs guns;  two hand wielded and another two inexplicably fired from her feet.  Bullets  do little damage, but can be used to shave off health at a distance while waiting for an enemy to re-engage in close quarters.

‘Witch time’ is a feature that enables bullet time and is activated by successfully dodging an enemy attack at the very last moment.  When activated enemies slow to a crawl, while Bayonetta continues to move at normal speed and beat on the enemy.  Attack power is greatly increased during these periods and is the optimal moment to perform the most damaging attacks.  Considerable satisfaction can be gained from successfully executing powerful combos during these brief slow motion phases, especially when seeing an enormous drop in the enemy’s health.

Combat is not overly complex, yet still manages to reward creative thinking and efficiency.  ‘Bayonetta’ is truly of the ‘spectacle fighter’ mindset and remains energetic and interesting throughout the entire game.

bossarm

Bosses are massive in scale,  some as large as oil tankers.  Encounters are usually multi-phased with some even taking place on the body of the monstrosity you are fighting.  Bayonetta herself appears as an insect in comparison, but the size difference makes victory all the more satisfying when landing the killing blow.

The strategies required for these encounters are never too complex and can be intuited and learned quickly.  Most of the time the goal is to shoot the obvious glowing spot, however  the challenge is in exposing this weak point in the most efficient way without taking damage – so memorization of the boss’s attacks and how to appropriately react is vital.

‘That victory over god was alright…I guess’

You are graded on your combat performance and rewarded with an in game currency to purchase items and new techniques.  Losing health, using items or resuming from a checkpoint will all downgrade your score.

The grading system is considerably harsh.  Reloading from a previous check point is a major strike – and can be all the more frustrating due to some really cheap deaths that are impossible to avoid on the first attempt.  Sudden, life depending quick time events were common, as were prompts to jump from a collapsing platform (with no indication on which direction), usually causing Bayonetta to leap to her death.

boss3

Things happen…of which is all I can be certain

Bayonetta awakens from a 500 year hibernation with no memory of her past and must traverse the dimension of purgatory and battle angelic monsters to find answers.   It is not long before events quickly become very difficult to follow.

The very first scene involves Bayonetta and another character riding a free falling clock tower down an apparently endless cliff,  fighting off waves of monsters and a colossal floating head with dragons for arms.   The camera constantly pans to give the most impressive view while a narrator is describing the events of the world.

I had no idea what any of this meant, and now after completion, I still haven’t the slightest notion. The fast paced camera, multi-coloured projectiles, characters, voice over, subtitles, as well trying to figure out how to dodge and attack – were all packed into this opening scene. It’s a spectacular introduction, but my audio and visual receptors overloaded my brain and the events on screen lost all meaning.   This prologue appears to be in medias res, but it is never referenced or brought up in the game again.

Whatever the reason, it is still a perfect example of my biggest criticism  – ‘Bayonetta’ badly needs to clue in the audience.

bosshead

The first eleven chapters or so consist of all showing and no telling.  This isn’t necessarily a negative approach to narrative (in fact done well it can be amazing -see Half-life 2), but the actions of the characters only serve to stomp on any potential grasp I had on the plot.

Bayonetta’s pursuit of her past is in itself confusing.   At no point are her motivations explained.  Her memory loss doesn’t appear to cause any distress and it is not established how knowledge of her past will offer any benefit.

An antagonist Witch is established to be a sort of nemesis to Bayonetta and is regularly engaging her in combat.  These fights are clearly intended to be to the death, but this rival Witch constantly speaks about Bayonetta ‘being ready’ for future events – which is strange when speaking to a person you are clearly trying to kill.

Frustratingly, Bayonetta makes no attempt to clear the air, at least for the first 3 fights.  This is typical of most of the conversations throughout the game – consisting of layered double talk and witticisms.  Everyone is just too cool to ask questions.

fightpose

…I have many questions

Why, when defeating one of villains, does he emote and die in apparent horrible pain, only to pop up again to say that was the plan all along?  Why is it that, when this ‘plan’ then fails, does he again declare the exact same thing?

I equate this  to walking face first into a wall, publically embarrassing yourself, then declaring that you had fooled everyone by stating it was on purpose.  Saving face, you proudly walk away with blood trickling from your ears, immediately hitting another wall.

Further questions I had involved how other characters knew the whereabouts of Bayonetta when she unintentionally  arrives at locations through uncontrollable events, and questions on how other characters randomly switch sides.

Direct exposition was eventually unloaded from around the eleventh chapter but this just added to the confusion.  The whole heaven, hell and purgatory concept was straight forward, but when the plot introduces implied time travel and inter-dimensional merging,  it became too convoluted for me to care.

oneonone

Tone
The game is not at all serious, mostly.  Encounters are colourful spectacles, with very little dramatic weight.  Almost every fight has an upbeat energetic ambiance.  The combat music would feel at home  playing over a fashion exhibition and the general mood of the game matches the attitude of Bayonnetta herself.

Cut-scenes can be outright silly, with fireworks and confetti exploding around Bayonetta as she strikes a pose, or lands in a victory stance.  At one point she engages in a dance off prior to initiating combat.

Bayonetta

Bayonetta is confident, energetic and sexually authentic.  A free spirit taking joy in every situation without concern about how she appears to others.  This is very much aligned with the tone of the game and adds to the experience in a positive way.

Bayonetta is also very much sexualized however,  the clothes she wears are made up of strands of hair and is effectively body paint.  She wears no draped or loose items of clothing and her figure is very much on display.

nakedfinisherserpent

I would not consider this ‘sexualisation – objectification’ though; as with the rest of the game, Bayonetta is designed physically over the top.  A caricature of sexualisation, her legs are impossibly long – even more so than the rest of her body.  Her default walk is a catwalk stride with her rear-end motioning like an exaggerated pendulum swing.  She quips with sexual innuendos and her clothes disappear during attacks.

To me, this design is beyond the ‘unrealistic expectations of beauty’.  It is an unrealistic expectation of reality  – firmly in the land of make believe and I find it unlikely that there was any malicious intension behind this design.

Admittedly there are some almost juvenile camera angles on Bayonetta as she poses, which I’m certain aren’t accidental, but I believe these will result in eye-rolling more than outrage.  The same can be said for the immature humour and comic secondary characters.

It does get a bit weird during some fight scenes however,  such as action prompts appearing causing Bayonetta to perform a torture technique on a enemy.  This can involve kicking them into an iron maiden, forcing an enemy into a guillotine, or running them over with a spiked wheel.  It has a strange BDSM feel about it, but again is a bit too silly to take as any sort of serious endorsement.

joytorture

Insecurity police!

Having said all that, I would be lying if I said that the male insecurity alarm didn’t sound when starting the game.  I like to think that I own my insecurities so when this warning appears I try to examine and reflect on the experience and re-assure myself that no, not everything outside of my comfort zone is trying to emasculate me.  If you have ever felt the same way then the next paragraphs are for you:

Bayonetta’s sexualisation and comfort with sexuality are never used maliciously.  She never uses her sexualisation to exploit others, degrade men, nor shame the appearance of females.  Had a situation occurred where she outright insulted another person as being unattractive then yes, I feel this would be a cause for concern, but this never happens.

Flawless

Bayonetta’s confidence and strength contribute considerably to her presence, but also interfered with my ability to sympathize.  She is highly confident when engaging even the largest of monstrosities, is always successful and never seems to be afraid.

Very little of her actions result in the degradation of her situation.  There is no flaw that she needs to overcome – which is important to generating audience support.  The developers/writers probably didn’t want to portray her as weak or a woman that needs to be saved, which is understandable , but some sort of flaw would have helped me established a sympathetic connection.

portrait

The few moments where Bayonetta displays distress, surprise or worry, seemed noticeably scripted as a result.  Invoking a feeling of:  ‘this is a surprising moment, so now Bayonetta must look surprised’ which doesn’t fit with her usual disposition.

I’m not saying that Bayonetta can’t be surprised or upset, but it would be more believable if it was Bayonetta’s way of acting surprised or upset.  Instead we have raised eyebrows and a shocked open mouthed awe like the most generic of anime characters.  That is not Bayonetta.

Conclusion

The enjoyment of the engaging fights, grand scale boss encounters, fun atmosphere and spectacle considerably outweigh the annoyances I had with the convoluted story and mostly un-relatable characters, so I would recommend Bayonneta.  Witnessing a protagonist enjoy such unashamed fun is a refreshing experience that isn’t often seen.