Sunday, February 14, 2010

BAYONETTA (Video Game Review)


By Doug Norris
In order for games in an overdeveloped genre to stand out, they need to carry either some unique twist on gameplay or a gripping story coupled with flashy cinematic sequences. BAYONETTA (Sega, for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3) tries both, and after the opening sequence, all I could say was, “What the hell was that?” Little did I know how often I would repeat that phrase throughout the game.

BAYONETTA puts players in the shoes of the title character, a witch who spends her days warding off a sentence in hell by killing angels as they descend to Earth from heaven, all the while trying to recover her lost memory—and all of that makes perfect sense. The storyline plays out as a family-vs.-family, gangland-style war between the different inhabitants of the afterlife, using Dante’s DIVINE COMEDY settings for the backdrop: Paradiso, Purgatorio and Inferno, as well as the midpoint for all three, Earth. All four settings are aptly painted and styled to represent their namesakes, and beautifully draped over European architecture.

The game itself plays as a beat-’em-up that hides under an action/adventure theme. Bayonetta mixes gunplay, martial arts and demon-summoning magic to vanquish her foes. The moves range from impressive (wushu kung-fu combos and 360-degree deadeye gunslinging) to ridiculous (pole-dancing with enemy weapons, spanking minions, shedding clothing to summon giant demons). Fans of the DEVIL MAY CRY series will enjoy the pace, as BAYONETTA borrows heavily from the those games’ combat stylings.

One drawback of BAYONETTA lies in its excessively long cinematic sequences. It seems to be the type of game that had a long script and story that couldn’t be entirely told during the actual course of the play itself, so the its divided between action and cinematics. The length of these sequences borders on unbearable, and most players will find themselves frequently wanting less yap/more slap and choosing to Skip and get back to the action.

The overall ridiculousness does not overshadow the fun gameplay and well-produced combat sequences and characterization, however. BAYONETTA pays a significant service to anime and manga fans by relying heavily on sexual overtones and unnecessarily adding suggestive language, movement and all-out nudity. Throughout each fight sequence, our heroine repeatedly displays some bizarrely contrasting mix of strong, dominant femininity and sexual exploitation. For example, the character herself is depicted as an impossibly built, statuesque woman sporting a dominatrix outfit, Crystal Gale-length hair and librarian glasses. She can stomp with a giant boot or punch with a giant hand, and when she suffers any physical damage, she releases butterflies and flower petals instead of blood. Her major attacks reveal that her clothing is made entirely of her own hair, and those tresses are often used as a weapon, leaving her bare body exposed with the “camera” resting in an extremely convenient position. Fans of those genres (read: most guys) will appreciate and enjoy the blend of action and sexual overtones, while casual viewers (read: their wives, girlfriends, and in some cases mothers) may find the seemingly unnecessary lasciviousness and over-the-top violence offensive or discomforting.

Regardless of how potentially damaging BAYONETTA could become for parental-activist or women’s-liberation groups, it provides players a smoothly polished product packed with hours of button-mashing-mayhem fun. Though it severely exploits the stereotypes of “anime heroine,” the title character herself offers a refreshing change from the buxom, giggly, panties-showing teenagers that wear furry animal ears and demonstrate emotional ranges starting at sad (waaaah!) and ending with surprised (huhhhh?). If the creators decide to shed the excessive cinematics and yawn-inducing story for more scantily clad, bouncy butt-kicking action in follow-ups, this installment will serve as an excellent franchise-building foundation—albeit one made primarily of hair, guns and boobs.

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