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After playing Bayonetta I'm a little mystified as to how it's got such universal acclaim. Although by no means a bad game, it's dated and has plenty of flaws. I also found myself uncomfortable with some of the game's content -- and trust me, that takes a lot.
Bayonetta is being described as one of the best games ever made by a large number of reviewers, some of whom go as far as to suggest it is game of the year 2010, despite the fact that we are only two weeks into this brave new year. I've not seen such hyperbole since Grand Theft Auto IV was released -- in fact, it's hard to find a negative review or a bad word said about it.
"This is as good as action games get". "An almost flawless exhibition of gaming greatness". "A modern-day masterpiece". "A great game, in every possible aspect". This is just some of the praise to have come out of reviews of Bayonetta. It was also awarded the coveted 40/40 by Japan's legendary Famitsu magazine, and got 10/10 from the UK's well-respected Edge.
But by the time I was only fifteen minutes into it, I was beginning to wonder if I was playing the same game that everyone else had. I mentioned this to another female game journalist, and she said, "Yes, you are, but practically every other reviewer has been male!"
When I first heard about Bayonetta, I thought it was all a bit of a joke - oh, those crazy Japanese, what are they going to think up next? A bespectacled witch that looked like a secretary toting guns in her high heels and wearing a dress made from her own hair? I found it almost as amusing as the fact that there are games, actual released games, called Wet and My Little Flufties. With everything else that was going on in the constantly changing world of gaming, Bayonetta was quickly forgotten and I presumed I'd probably never hear anything about it again, except perhaps to find out that the plans to release it outside of Japan had been quietly and unceremoniously dumped.
So, at the start of 2010, I was surprised to see that it had reappeared with a vengeance, and was getting absolutely rave reviews from practically everyone who had managed to get hold of a copy. As a big fan of the Devil May Cry series and Okami (Bayonetta has the same director) I thought perhaps I might have been hasty, and that maybe I should give it a chance. Hey, so what if it's a bit silly, it could still be great fun to play, right?
It's just endless wisecrack after wisecrack, broken up by a sexy pose, or a close-up of Bayonetta sucking on a lollipop.
Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad game, and there is, in fact, plenty of fun to be had. But it's certainly not, as one person raved "simply the greatest action game ever made." It felt really dated to me, the kind of game that I would have played on my PS2 about six years ago. For example, in cut scenes, the characters' lips don't even move. I couldn't stand the music and didn't think it really went with the game. It was bubblegum j-pop, and there seemed to be only one song, although it is very, very possible I am mistaken about that and there were plenty of songs but they just all sounded exactly the same.
Rather than use the dialogue to flesh out the back story and provide some insight into the characters, it's just endless wisecrack after wisecrack, broken up by a sexy pose, or a close-up of Bayonetta sucking on a lollipop. Most of the story doesn't get explained until the very final chapter, far too late for me to actually care about it. Even then, it doesn't make much sense. There's an awful lot of 'oh no, he's dead, oh no, he actually isn't after all!' - a personal pet hate.
As I had expected from the trailers, the game was certainly not short of gratuitous close-up shots of cleavage and bums. Generally these just made me laugh, especially the 'up-skirt' shots - um, guys, she's wearing trousers. Am I missing something here? What's the point?
However, there was one animation sequence which I found genuinely offensive and uncomfortable (quite an achievement, I can tell you) - when Bayonetta unleashes her torture attacks on the female angels called Joys. The unfortunate creatures are chained up and made to sit astride a gym horse covered with metal spikes, whilst the chains around their wobbling bosoms are tightened until they explode. The fact that there are an awful lot of forum posts from people (presumably men, but well, on the Internet, who can know for sure?) that this sequence was actually their very favourite part of the game, or that they 'lol'd' as they watched it, made me die a little inside.
As one person pointed out to me, in another scene, Bayonetta shoots the knob off an unsuspecting cherub statue - did that offend me too? No, it didn't. They asked why not, seeing as this is surely sexual violence against men, on a similar level? But I don't think it is - this time it was an inanimate object at the centre of Bayonetta's attentions. Most of the enemies in the game look very far from being human, and the 'tortures' are over-the-top silly rather than graphic, so watching them isn't really upsetting.
Because she looks quite human - it feels a little too much like I'm watching real sexual violence against a real woman.
I think my problem with the Joy torture is the fact that it is so overtly sexual, and because she looks quite human - it feels a little too much like I'm watching real sexual violence against a real woman. Personally, I just don't want that kind of stuff in my games. Other women might well disagree and wonder what my problem is - I don't pretend to be representative of all womankind.
After finishing this game, I'm wondering, is Bayonetta, like Yorkie bars, just 'not for girls'? If I woke up tomorrow morning with a pair of gonads, and played through it again, would the game's brilliance suddenly become obvious to me? Surely men aren't that easy to please?
Maybe it's a classic case of "hmm, not sure about this soundtrack, was kind of hoping there might be a bigger variety of enemies, what's with this nonsensical story and, BOOBIES! Wait, what was I saying? 10 out of 10!" I can't answer that, but personally, although all in all, I enjoyed it, I just don't think it deserves the hype.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: