I had mostly wrapped up Red Dead Redemption and was eagerly awaiting Crackdown 2 and found myself in a very brief void between the two over a weekend. With Blockbuster coupon in hand I was on the lookout for something I remembered hearing was short and not worth buying. I still haven’t played Halo 3 so ODST was out and I don’t think I’ll ever care about Modern Warfare enough to actually play it, so Bayonetta it was.
I enjoyed the demo back in December of ’09 but with the complete context of the full game I quickly felt confused and uninformed by both the story and the gameplay. The plot is as incomprehensible as anything you may have seen in an anime or manga that’s been translated to English. Something about a 500 year-old rivalry between Witches and Sages, an illegitimate child of the two, ancient jewels, amnesia, duality, giant stone Gods rambling about grace, demons looking like smoke monsters, a holy trinity, and a plot to resurrect the great Creator. Somewhere in there is Bayonetta who looks, walks and acts like a stripper and somehow is invincibly flawless in her stylish moves but still manages to mess up at a hair’s width from victory time and time again. Oh, and every day she has to fight angels so she’s really good at it in cutscenes until they give the controls to a schlub like me.
Now, I’m proud to say I know my way around the brutal, skill-driven combat of Itagaki’s Ninja Gaiden. I’ve played every version of the original and the sequel numerous times so I think that gives me some say to put Bayonetta into perspective. Admittedly, I haven’t played a single Devil May Cry which is where director Hideki Kamiya’s experience comes from but I think I can talk to third-person action. Bayonetta throws you right into combat without explaining a thing. Loading screens let you practice combos but nowhere does the game adequately explain the concepts of counters, Witch Time, Wicked Weaves, scoring, or the obscure item creation system. The in-game shop is so unintelligibly designed that a character’s face with a thumbs up had to be added to items that you should probably buy first.
It wasn’t until I was practically done with the game that I finally started to feel like I ‘got it’ but beginning a New Game+ on Hard mode quickly put me in check. Maybe with an easier lock-on system and a camera that didn’t insist on situating itself right behind the orgy of enemies I could do better. Maybe, you say, I should stick to the one-button Easy Mode Automatic but then I would’ve been playing for the exposition of it an experience that I can only explain in crass terms as a gang bang of the last 20 years of otaku culture. Bayonetta does stripper dances while reciting ancient incantations, her default stance is a painful caricature of what someone thought a ‘hot babe’ should look like. Elaborate stone giants spout on about philosophy and humanity. Mexican Standoffs by moonlight. The heroic human, Luka, fawns over Bayonetta’s body. There’s even a scene with infamous tentacles and the whole game is loaded with referential Capcom jabs and drawn-out stages based on Sega staples like Outrun and Fantasy Zone.
It wasn’t a total wash for me — the world itself is fascinating and the character details are impressive — but I just couldn’t get behind the inexplicably ultra-sexualized heroine (maybe her parents were strippers?) and the same infantile anime schlock that I enjoyed fifteen years ago. We can argue Bayonetta’s merits if you’d like but I was right about one thing. After completing the story in just 9 hours I can say Bayonetta was a perfect rental to kill some time between more appealing games.