Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Bayonetta: It's just so embarrassing
Later this week I'll be posting my review of Bayonetta. Sneak preview: it's positive. The action is terrific. But Bayonetta is an absolutely silly game, and I'm not using silly as a compliment. I've been surprised to see only Gus Mastrapa truly slam the game for its ridiculous style. Many reviews I've read mention that maybe the aesthetics aren't for everyone, but those same reviewers seem to suggest that it is for them.
Like Gus, I had a hard time with Bayonetta's style. Unlike him, it didn't prevent me from enjoying the game. But there were long stretches where I couldn't resist the urge to turn away. It's not just that the dialogue, the acting, and the storyline are awful, though they are. The actors in this game seem to be reading the script for the first time. They can't agree on how to pronounce some of its made-up words. They have appallingly awful accents. During the story segments, it's as though you've taken a time machine back to the 32-bit era, when voice acting and "cinematic" stories were a newfound possibility, only nobody had the slightest idea how to do them well, so you got the kinds of audio atrocities we're still making fun of today.
The cutscenes are at least skippable. (Though I never did skip them, even as I found myself checking email and Twitter rather than paying attention to them. Why that seemed like the better option, I'm not sure.) But you can't skip several of the other terrible presentational choices. You've got the merchant who says one of the same three things every time you go to visit him (the nod to the much worse merchant in Resident Evil 4 was nice, though). You've got enemies that look like penises and flying boats with bearded faces and other things I lack the vocabulary to describe. You've got a truly cheesy soundtrack that I think we're supposed to enjoy for camp value, which is probably the case with the whole game.
Games are hard to enjoy for camp value, much more so than movies. A game that succeeds at doing so, like No More Heroes, does so because it comments on the things it's presenting. I didn't feel the same way about the lunacy in Bayonetta because I never could quite tell what the intention was. It seems to be humorous, but what's the target? It's not enough to make cheeky references to other games in the dialogue, while also trying to tell an apparently straight mother-daughter story, while also letting you play as a sexy librarian witch with gun boots.
I almost wonder if the smooth and intricate gameplay is part of the problem, thematically. I still haven't been able to adequately explain, even to myself, why I was so enamored of the awful overworld and mundane side quests in No More Heroes, except to say that everything in that game felt of a piece. That's not the case here. The combat engine is an example of game design at the very highest level. It is so good that to surround it with such silliness makes it look like a three-story mansion in a neighborhood of one-story ranch houses. This game does not go together.
With all that said, I still like Bayonetta a lot, and when the review goes up, I'll explain why in a little more detail.