Chungking Espresso

300 Word Review – Bayonetta (Normal, Durga/Kilgore & Shuruba/Onyx Rose)

Posted in Game Analysis by Simon Ferrari on January 19, 2010

Bayonetta is a Cent mille milliards de poèmes game. Its innovation is singular: providing a combat system that is not only fluid, which is to be expected, but also combinatory. The titular heroine holds two weapons at a time, one in her hands and one on her feet. There are eight weapons in total, many of which can be wielded on either hand or foot. The peak of her witchy powers is that she can instantly swap between two loadouts in the middle of a combo, moving from one matching of weapons to another. The potential number of combinations is boggling, but I’m innumerate.

Bayonetta is a game that wants to be played repeatedly. Your first playthrough will be rife with thrilling victories swiftly followed by disappointing defeat in the face of a poorly-designed QTE. The backtracking of the first third of the game reminds one of a less obnoxious Devil May Cry 4. Although the enemy variety leaves much to be desired, it follows the same basic principle of the game’s combat: it’s not about how many different kinds of enemies there are, but how they can be arranged within a unique set piece.

Bayonetta is a Cutie Honey game. When Bayonetta summons a demon, her clothes retract into her skin to be replaced by a one-piece bathing-suit of hair. Like the Moon Prism Power Makeup and Honey Flash before it, this transformation reflects a changing cultural role for women in Japan. As in the best anime, the male gaze finds itself embodied in a buffoonish foil. His profession as a journalist chasing folk tales adds to the game’s critique of scopophilia. His lifelong, hopeless pursuit reflects exactly the age-old questions we the players ask: “Does ‘feminine sexual power’ exist? What is it?”

Dedicated to the analytic style of Charles Pratt, who specializes in 300-word reviews on mastery.


5 Responses

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  1. L.B. Jeffries said, on January 19, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    Laura Mulvey would be proud.

  2. Charles said, on January 19, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    I’m flattered Simon!

    At some point I’m going to have to get my hands on a copy of this game because it seems like all the smart kids are enjoying it.

    The one thing I did notice from the demo that no one has commented on is that when you’re executing a combo her clothes begin to disappear. I thought this was really clever because at the exact point where you want to pay attention to it the least your avatar is the MOST distracting (whether you find it appealing or repulsive). What I like about this is that, to some extent, in order to do well you have learn to ignore what your avatar looks like and simply treat it as a game piece.

    Is there anything else that clever in the rest of the game?

    • Simon Ferrari said, on January 19, 2010 at 5:48 pm

      Great point. That actually might have made a better third paragraph, because it relates to the actual play a bit more. I like it because you really feel stupid when you miss a combo once her clothes have begun to recede. It’s a perfect extension of the sexual frustration metaphor. It really can’t get any more clever than that, can it?

  3. Yu-Chung Chen said, on February 17, 2010 at 5:41 am

    Nice writing!

    I can’t say the mid-combo nudity distracted me much. I only gawk when the gameplay fades back: when triggering Climax. So, the “perfect extension of the sexual frustration metaphor” is a very clever interpretation of yours, but I’m not sure that makes Platinum Games especially clever to me.

    The weapon pairs and switching are nice in principle, but I find the logic and effects not predictable enough (maybe I’m just too stupid) which takes away the on-the-fly combinatorics and shifts back to memorization.

    I do see a missed opportunity for cleverness:
    the design for repeated play would have been perfect for a less conventional telling of a story that involves time paradox. Doing away with pretentious flashbacks, repeated plays showing different threads of the plot would actually offer more on each revisit that goes beyond the mechanical (which is fun but we’re talking cleverness here, right?).

    • Simon Ferrari said, on February 17, 2010 at 6:05 pm

      Thanks for stopping by! I think you’re touching on an idea that’s widely applicable to the possible future of the episodic game. I haven’t played too many of these… there’s all the adventure games by Telltale, then the new Siren series from one or two years ago. I only encountered the idea through the newest Alone in the Dark, which lets you play all but the final mission completely out of order. It’s set up to play like an interactive television season. But in order for that kind of idea to fully make this kind of thing ludic, it’d be cool for players to be able to find out new information with each playthrough.

      I mean I guess that’s kind of the cliched thing to say, that each time you rewatch a show you see more. And even if a game doesn’t change, you learn more about it each time… but it seems like a lost opportunity if replay of this nature doesn’t reveal new encounters, information, etc. One thing Bayonetta does do toward this is that some of the golden discs can only be unlocked on higher difficulties. That’s kind of cool, but they’re not exactly game-changing.

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