In a stroke of massive good fortune, since I’ve been wanting to do this as an exercise for a while, Polygon have published a heavily politicised review of Bayonetta 2.
We played Bayonetta and loved it despite of (because of?) the bizarre and meaningless plot, the hyper-stylisation and how ridiculously over the top it is. We even got the edition with the little gun in the wire stand.
So, anyway, here’s an exercise in de-politicising a review. Red text is me altering/adding/removing material.
BAYONETTA 2 REVIEW: HEAVEN AND HELL
Bayonetta 2 is unapologetically, even defiantly old-school.
This is a knife that cuts both ways.
Developer Platinum Games has once again gone for broke, creating an action game of spectacle so big that it’s occasionally incomprehensible. Bayonetta 2 is the kind of game where you might ask, seriously, why you’re not allowed to strap a massive multi-bladed scythe to your high heels. It’s extravagant, like the golden age of Japanese action games never ended, like that arms race just escalated on and on.
It’s also the kind of game that left me asking how many times and how many different ways developer Platinum could run a camera up the main character’s spread legs and cleavage.
On one side of the knife
Bayonetta 2 is a character action game that refines the incredible combat foundations of the original Bayonetta and avoids the lack of variety that dragged it down in the last third.
On the other, the deliberate sexualization and objectification on display serves as a jarring distraction from the creativity and design smarts elsewhere.
STRANGE THINGS ARE AFOOT IN BAYONETTA 2
Set an indeterminate though presumably short time after Bayonetta, Bayonetta 2 opens in what looks like New York City during Christmas, though, honestly, this doesn’t matter all that much. Within minutes, Bayonetta is back to her old tricks, fighting off monstrous angelic enemies atop a fighter jet.
This is not even remotely the strangest thing that happens in Bayonetta 2.
There’s a plot driving Bayonetta 2, theoretically, though you might be hard-pressed to explain it until most of the way through. How much you get from that narrative will likely hinge on how much you like anime staples like overwrought, over-dramatic dialogue and nonsensical non-sequiturs. There is some stuff to like, though. Bayonetta gets some much-needed development as a human being who cares about things other than herself; her motivations go beyond the agonizingly trope-y amnesia setup of the first game. It’s a good look for the character.
Less positive is the same exaggerated sexualization that hung heavy around the last game’s neck. I’ll forgive the high heels and the exaggerated proportions, if only because there’s so many other things to criticize. Bayonetta’s new outfit delivers bold new developments in revealing clothing with the introduction of diamond cutouts on the ass of her jumpsuit, creating what I can only refer to as “under-butt” cleavage. When standing in place her shoulders are bent back to point her chest at … whatever.
But even this is minor compared to the game’s camera, which zooms in on Bayonetta’s parts like they’re products being sold in a commercial. There are enough gratuitous ass-shots, cleavage jokes and spread legs to fill an hours long super cut. The camera doesn’t look at Bayonetta — it leers at her.
This is frequently provided as an implicit reward for doing well. For anyone who didn’t play the first game, here’s a bit of premise: Much of Bayonetta’s supernatural power is tied into her hair. Her clothing is actually composed of this hair magic, and as she performs more powerful attacks, more of this hair magic is diverted from covering her to compensate. Put simply, Bayonetta’s strongest attacks result in her clothes flying off. For more intense quicktime sequences, she’ll even do a sexy pose as it flies off, with the absolute barest minimum covered.
It’s sexist, gross pandering, and it’s totally unnecessary.
Bayonetta 2 needs
prurient rewards less than the original Bayonetta did, because the on-screen chaos you can wreak through skilled play is infinitely more satisfying.
Bayonetta 2 has the same basic mechanics of the original. It’s a character action game — meaning that it’s you against enemies who can kill you quickly if you’re not mindful of what’s happening. Proper timing and combo use are important, but Bayonetta 2, like Bayonetta, adds a very specific, very cool wrinkle to the genre: witch time.
Bayonetta 2 introduces online multiplayer to the series, but it’s a limited implementation. Matches are limited to trials, which blur the lines between cooperative play and competitive design, as each player has their own score and their own in-game currency on the line. Everything works, but at times the mode’s design seems at odds with itself. It’s hard to force yourself to revive a downed partner when it provides an opportunity for you to get your score up even more.
Witch time is invoked by dodging with the right trigger just before an enemy’s attack would connect. When done properly, this turns the world purple and temporarily slows down time around Bayonetta, allowing her free reign to manhandle enemies. Witch time is a luxury early, on, but it’s an absolute necessity later; it forces the kinds of considerations that other action games just don’t. If you want to have a maximum advantage in Bayonetta 2, you have to put yourself in a position to get hit by an enemy, which can be extremely detrimental to your health.
To do well, you have to take bigger and bigger chances. The risk makes the reward even more appealing. There’s also an unforgiving but nonetheless motivating rating system in place that assesses your performance and rewards you with currency to use at an in-game shop. It creates a feedback loop: I wanted to do better to get more stuff to do better and get more stuff. And though Bayonetta 2’s levels are full of secrets and items to pick up and use in battle, even Platinum knows that the excellent combat is the draw — fights are hidden around each level along with pickups, and when you finish a level, you can see whether or not you found them all.
There are also golden LPs hidden around Bayonetta 2, frequently in pieces. Redeeming them at the in-game shop The Gates of Hell rewards you with new weapons, each of which can radically change the way Bayonetta fights. She also has weapon slots on her legs and arms, and many weapons can be used on either (or both, if you’re willing to cough up the cash to buy duplicates), with very different, often surprising results — hence my complaints about not being able to put a scythe on my feet.
Still, you can accessorize your heels with a pair of chainsaw weapons, which turns them into murderous rocket skates. I’d classify that as a reasonable consolation prize.
These systems aren’t new to Bayonetta 2, but the whole package feels a lot more considered. The weapon systems in particular feel more relevant than before — combat trials encourage experimentation with different weapon combinations, which in turn lends itself to more variety in the main game than I experienced in the first Bayonetta.
Bayonetta 2’s difficulty curve is also much less harsh, and I imagine it will feel more accessible to players with less experience in this genre. There’s less time spent fighting the same massive boss monster over the course of half an hour, more time spent moving forward, which eases off on the grind that Bayonetta often became. There are even more collectibles this time around, many of which unlock challenges to be played in the new cooperative mode — though, sadly, this is limited to challenges alone. The sequel is also shorter, though it feels that way in part because of the reduction in retreading and overextended boss battles. Both of these are, to me, net positives.
BAYONETTA 2 IS A GREAT GAME
When Platinum Games is on, it’s really, really on, and Bayonetta 2 is in almost any respect that counts a better game than the first, whose mechanics were already exemplary.
But every time I’d feel on a roll, enjoying my time with Bayonetta 2 immensely, I’d be broken out of it by another cheap shot of T&A. I would be wrecking a flock of angelic or demonic enemies, sliding in and out of witch time almost at will, and then the special weapon I had picked up became a literal stripper pole for Bayonetta to dance on, because … well, because, I guess.
I won’t guess why the blatant over-sexualization is still there, often more intensely than before. But it causes an otherwise great game to require a much bigger mental compromise to enjoy.
Bayonetta 2 was reviewed using a “retail” download code provided by Nintendo. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.
OK, back to just me talking now.
Looking at this review the only significant negatives are really the writers politicised reaction to the sexual elements. These are, however, utterly irrelevant to the gameplay, the graphics and for fans of the series they already know what they’re getting. Similarly the ridiculous and over-the-top elements are a selling point, not a detraction. The complaints about the style of presentation are political, not aesthetic and utterly irrelevant to the review of the game. Buzzwords like ‘sexualisation’, ‘objectification’ etc pepper the text, the PoV comments stop just short of mentioning ‘male gaze’ and alienating 50%+ of your audience by demonising them.
There’s a couple of solutions to this if the author feels so strongly about the issue.
- Write an editorial about it and publish it separately.
- Include a box-out opinion section in reviews that cover this kind of thing but don’t reflect in the score.
A more general problem seems to be that people are reviewing games of the style/genre they don’t particularly like, which means they can’t give informed and contextual opinions on the games that they’re reviewing. This was hugely obvious previously when it came to Dragon’s Crown when many reviewers spent so long being judgmental they didn’t mention side-scrolling beat-em-up heritage at all, let alone the hugely appropriate referencing of Tower of Doom and Shadows over Mystara.
I think you can do better.
On the plus side, there’s a link to the ethics policy at the bottom.
Given that the main thrust of complaint in the review is a) irrelevant and b) misses the point entirely the 7.5 seems utterly unjustified. Otherwise the complaints seem somewhat niggly, limited to multiplayer and customisation issues. Given that a score of 9 to 9.5 seems more appropriate and the reviewer seems to have allowed pointless, irrelevant and extreme minority gender politics to fuck up an otherwise fairly glowing review.
See me after class.