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Bayonetta: Everything that is wrong with this type of game

Title Bayonetta
Developer Platinum Games
Type Action/Fighting
Platform(s) XBox360, PS3
Kelly Score ™ 40 / 100

Action games are a genre that I really didn’t understand until I played Bayonetta. I could therefore say that the $60 I spent on this game was educational: I have been taught that I should not buy this kind of game. The kindest things I can really say about Bayonetta from my perspective are that the graphics are impressive, and the main character has one of the finest digital rumps in computer history.

bayonetta_butt.jpg

If you generally agree with everything I say, you have no need to read further.

You are still here, so you must be inclined to doubt my assessment. And that is fine: I know that plenty of reviewers vehemently disagree with me. Even the most negative review I could find (and from which I paraphrased part of my title) ended up giving the game an 8 out of 10 rating.

In fact that’s why I decided to buy the game- I don’t like to assume I’m always right. Some games can truly redefine a genre and, as I said previously, until playing Bayonetta I really didn’t have a good grasp on what the whole “action game” term meant. Now I do and, since Bayonetta is supposedly the absolute best of its kind, I think my definition and associated dislike can be justified.

So what are action games? Well, if you go by the Wikipedia definition, it is pretty much every type of game where stuff happens quickly. But I’ll give a more specific definition: an action game is a game which takes the concepts found in games like Street Fighter, tacks on a weak plot to tie the fights together, and desperately tries to grind your button mashing fingers into submission. There are some specific factors that immediately identify the action genre for me from this point forward:

  1. Button combos for combat: Remember in Street Fighter on consoles how you would hit various sequences of buttons and, if you did it right, you’d perform a special combat move? That’s what I’m talking about here. So in Bayonetta you might hit Y-Y-Y<pause>B to get one attack, and Y-Y-Y-B (without the pause) to get a completely different attack
  2. Frenetic action: That’s why they call this an action game, I guess. Stuff is flying at you non-stop, and bigger, noisier, splashier stuff all the time. If you have time to think, the game must have crashed. You can only learn the game by playing it over and over and over and over and over and over again
  3. Non-sensical plot: the plot must not only be meaningless, it must be viciously, cruelly silly.
  4. Stylized, over-the-top visuals: nothing in an action game needs or cares to be reasonable or realistic. The more extreme it is, the better. If the sword is the size of a diesel locomotive, and the foe the size of an oil rig, it is getting close to extreme enough
  5. Punishing save game system: Checkpoint saves aren’t unpleasant enough for action games. The save game must place you at the very beginning of a chapter or level. Pausing may be acceptable, but if you need/want to shut your console off for a while, you should be required to re-play all the crap that drove you crazy the first time. It is in this way that one learns the combos and strategies, after all (see item #2)
  6. Japanese: An action game isn’t an action game unless it is developed according the the styles and sensibilities of a small cadre of Japanese masters. They like big boobs, small waists, uber-violence, and totally non-sensical plots (see item 3). Amazingly they like these things even more so than their American counterparts. Note that the developer doesn’t actually have to *be* Japanese, although that helps. They just have to have adopted the stylistic cues and preferences of their Masters

The above list describes Bayonetta, but also (from what I can see) describes the God of War series, the Devil May Cry series, and recent/upcoming releases like Dante’s Inferno and Darksiders. The fact that I am frustrated and irritated by Bayonetta means I now have an entire genre and dozens of games I can avoid wasting my money and more importantly my time on. This is a good thing, since I don’t have an excess of either.

Thus far I have primarily described Bayonetta through generalizations and links to similar games. And what I’ve said might seem unremittingly negative.  I’d like to address both concerns by providing my own descriptions, and giving some credit where credit is due.

Bayonetta is the name of the main character in the game, a witch awakened after 500 years locked in a coffin at the bottom of a lake. She has little memory of her past, so she begins following leads on the few things she does remember. One of them is that she is required to kill Angels which pop up with alarming frequency as she tries to put the pieces together.

Bayonetta has four guns: one in each hand and one attached to each excruciatingly high-heeled foot. She gradually builds up magical power as she kills and taunts Angels, until she can do some incredibly strange magic using her hair, which conveniently also forms her clothing. So, depending on the magic, she varies into alternate states of undress. Some of the Angels she has to fight are only effectively damaged via certain combinations of attacks. And when a greater Angel is slain, Bayonetta will often find a collectable item that can be turned in to her demonic friend for different weapons.

If you like action games (see above), I can see how Bayonetta might appeal. The combat is amazing, and crazy, and nearly non-stop. If you master the combos, it can be varied and, I suppose, interesting. However, for me at least, the combat rapidly starts to become highly repetitive. I can only effectively master a handful of combos, and use them all the time: each of them ends in the same predictable way, with Bayonetta performing the same move and yelling the same catch-phrase. Pretty rapidly it starts to seem rather… stupid.

Graphically, Bayonetta is amazing. And I don’t just mean Bayonetta’s lovingly crafted buttocks (for which I am duly appreciative, Mr. Yoshimura), but the entire world . It is visually stunning at every turn, both in action and when looked at as a static image. The images kept me playing far after I would have normally given up in frustration.

If I had to pick a single frustrating aspect of the game that probably had the most negative impact (and dropped my score by the largest amount) on my enjoyment of the game, it would be the save system. Throughout the game you reach checkpoints. These are points to which you return if you die, and they are generally conveniently placed to minimize the worst aspects of the “action game” combat system. Unfortunately, for reasons which I utterly fail to comprehend, these checkpoints are *not* where you return when you save and quit the game. Instead, saves place you back at the ultimate beginning of the chapter or “verse”, usually a half dozen or more difficult combat encounters prior to where you were when you quit.

Obviously, this is just fine if you truly want to practice fighting the same monsters repeatedly to increase your skill and chase that perfect score. There is an entire sub-game which involves trying to kill the baddies in the minimum time while taking the absolute minimum of damage, and the only practical way to get good at this is through repetition. But frankly, I hate that style of game play. I want to progress, to see the next monster, to get the next doodad- not play the same section through dozens or hundreds of times in pursuit of the “perfect score”. And the save game system was obviously designed to encourage or, more accurately, force this kind of repetitive game play.

For me, these “punishing save games” totally ruined the game. I would have likely given Bayonetta a 60 or so out of 100 if it possessed a more forgiving save game system. This is despite it being a style of game that I have resolved I don’t like much at all. In the end, it is a game that I would have liked to have finished, as the graphics and “scenes” are often truly amazing. But because of the gameplay itself, and most importantly the fact that I’m forced to repeat the parts of it that are least enjoyable for me, I will likely not be spending any more of my time on it.

2 comments to Bayonetta: Everything that is wrong with this type of game

  • Those type of games have always seemed rather odd to me, but then I’m a brain over body sort of guy as well. It seems to me that the people that love these sorts of games, love the repetition and the mastery of strange button sequences, all to simulate physical mastery … would be better off going to a martial arts class, practicing real moves and real sequences of moves and experiencing real action.

    Of course, no matter how much you practice you will still be a mere mortal.

    So games like the Wii, and the new interfaces for Xbox and PS should change everything, right? You can learn and use real moves, get real exercise and movement, yet do superhuman things on screen.

    You’d think.

    But there has been little move in this direction, and from what I can tell, little desire, if not outright opposition from “action game” fans.

    Go figure *shrug*

  • I’m not sure where more “physical” gaming like the Wii and XBox’s upcoming “Natal” will go. It won’t be very attractive to me: I play my XBox games at a dedicated display rather than the TV. And that dedicated display is in my home office, where jumping around like a lunatic won’t really work very well.

    But you raise a good point about different play styles and the motivations behind them. For years I’ve heard people differentiate between “real” gamers and the unwashed masses, where “real” gamers are always somehow the ones who play the way the commentator does. There is a definite form of elitism involved, and if you don’t play the “right” games the “right” way, you are some sort of second class.

    I tend to prefer playing a game as an experience: a sort of story that unfolds via the computer, that challenges me a bit but where the challenge is somewhat secondary to the story or feelings the game evokes. I usually play on “normal” or “easy” mode, and make liberal use of save games. Many of the games I play are best as solitary endeavours. Getting the high score is less important to me than completing the game.

    This all leads to differences in the styles of the games themselves. A game like Bayonetta is catering towards someone who wants to measure their solo skills against other players. A game like Oblivion is more oriented towards someone like myself who wants to experience a story. And something like Mario Cart or Rock Band is for people who really want an electronic “party game”: something that really works best when shared with several others face to face in real time.

    It bugs me that some people need to think that their particular play style is the “right” one. But I guess that is typical human behaviour…

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