In a market dominated by male consumers, it is common to see women used to stroke masculine egos, both of the player and the male protagonist. Every once in a while a game like Bayonetta is released and we don’t really know what to think of it. The titular character definitely throws us for a loop. She’s a tall glass of water with proportions to rival that of any Barbie doll, who sucks on a lollipop to regain health and restore magic. With that description alone one would automatically assume that this game does nothing but feed into male fantasy. Surprisingly, Bayonetta brings much more to the table. Aside from terrific gameplay, Bayonetta herself gives a unique feel to the game. Here is a tough female lead who is not a gritty space marine, or some other form of a man with breasts. Bayonetta is all woman and is not afraid to let you know it.
Bayonetta is a female who revels in her own sexuality. While much of it is over the top, such as her adult rated magical girl transformation parody, Bayonetta doesn’t pander to men. She doesn’t need to be saved by men, nor is she running to the ends of the earth to save some beloved boyfriend. This is a woman’s world, dominated by Bayonetta along with her rival Jean, and Bayonetta has her own objective. Unlike some recent action games (coughGodofWarcough), the women of this game don’t spend all their time decorating the end of someone’s sword or someone’s penis. In fact, Bayonetta doesn’t seem very interested in having sex at all. She isn’t being sassy and sexy for men; she is doing it for herself, and boy does she have fun doing it.
Bayonetta pursues her goals with a style and flair rarely seen from a female character in a video game. She brings a playful, feminine twist to everything she does and the developers do a great job bringing it out in the game. Red lips are used to show your current target and Bayonetta blows kisses to break down barriers to progress to the next stage. Is this a little theatrical? Yes, but so is everything created by Hideki Kamiya. Bayonetta is essentially a female version of Dante from Kamiya’s Devil May Cry series. Both are wild, exaggerated, and ridiculous versions of action heros. And if Dante is a super snarky, and shirtless demon hunter, where does that put Bayonetta? As a sassy, curvaceous angel hunter. But Bayonetta isn’t all about looks.
Much like a Mercedes, Bayonetta resides where form meets function. There is actually a reason why those legs seem to go on forever, and it’s not just to show off the outfit. The character designs for this game were done by Mari Shimazaki who made a special point of exaggerating Bayonetta’s elongated features for several reasons. Firstly, Shimazaki wanted to avoid what she refers to as a traditionally “stubby” look for females in video games and preferred to go with something more elegant. But most importantly, Bayonetta is such a tall glass of water because she has to be. The player spends most of their time in the game doing backflips and cartwheels to dodge or performing long sweeping kicks that end in shooting an enemy in the face, with your feet. In order to pull off these looks with looking odd or stunted, Bayonetta has to have disproportionately long legs, arms, and torso. Aside from contributing to her “hotness,” Shimazaki’s design also adds to Bayonetta’s grace and movement.
Opinions remain split about Bayonetta, with one camp arguing exploitation and the other arguing empowerment. And realistically a middle ground is never going to be reached. Whatever group you fall into, whether you think Bayonetta is symbol of female empowerment or a gross exaggeration for the delight of men, you shouldn’t avoid one of the best action games of this console generation.
Game play breakdown: The mechanics of Bayonetta are well done and intuitive and the combos feel satisfying. Though still plagued by some of the camera problems inherent to actions games, I never found myself fighting unseen enemies around a corner while staring at a wall or any of the other weird situations commonly found in the genre. Some people have called this game “cheap” but I think a more accurate word is unforgiving. Timing is essential and you cannot expect to button mash your way through, especially on harder difficulties.
Do play this game:
If you like tight game play with fun combos
If you frequently skip cut scenes
If you enjoy snazzy jazz soundtracks
If you want rocket tonfas that you can wear on your feet
Don’t play this game:
If you hated Devil May Cry
If you are made uncomfortable by sexy women, religion, or sexy women in religion
If you can’t stand quicktime events
If you play games for the story