Bayonetta made the rounds of the blogs when it came out, largely because of it’s hyper-sexuality, and the fact it’s from the same creative mind that made the Devil May Cry franchise. Most of what I read was focused around the design of the titular character, Bayonetta. Some of what I read cast her in a mode of empowerment, others criticized her for being designed for the male gaze.
I played the game for about 6-8 hours total, and got through three chapters. I’m not very good at these sorts of games, with huge combo lists. My favorite combo is usually press the attack button three times, then press it three times again. I was doing a bit more with Bayonetta, including dodging (which I do only slightly more rarely than blocking). In fact, it’s possible that with time I could come to be good at Bayonetta, instead of being passable at it. It’s actually kind of fun.
She moves with a bit of ease and grace, and except for some times where there are invisible walls (you can’t jump on or over awnings, for instance) she moves well and quickly. Death largely affects scores and trophies, and as I already knew I was bad at the game, I accepted that I was going to get bad trophies. Yet, there were some sections that I did very well on, so I think there’s a chance for competence here for me. In fact, if the other game I got from the GBox last week hadn’t captured me so completely, I’d have kept playing Bayonetta.
No discussion of the game can really ignore the sexuality of it, however. While I think the game would be generally fun if you were playing stick figures, it’s been dressed in extreme sexuality, from the main two female characters’ body and motion designs, to even the bartender of “The Gates of Hell” (who is of a male sexual type that I find pleasing, something that rarely occurs in games.)
She’s certainly built like a runway model, and the game constantly accentuates her sexuality. The cut scenes show her spread-legged flying into the camera. Sometimes she seems very aware of the camera, looking into it, and winking. Health potions (and a constant prop) are lollipops, which she sensual licks while shooting guns from her super-high-heeled boots and so on.
In combat against larger foes, she can do special “climax” moves which essentially remove her clothing (which was only her hair in the first place). The hair turns into a giant dragon and gobbles them up, but the camera pans in such a way that you can usually see a naked Bayonetta (stratgically covered by spinning hair) while her dragon-hair devours the angel in question.
These bits of tease are only part of Bayonetta’s sexual display, however. These are the parts that feel typical for a video game. They are the cleavage and ass-shots that poor games inundate us with. If this were all to Bayonetta, then it’d just be a derivative game, like Bullet Witch. Instead, the character is way more sexual than just her design.
In the opening movie (which comes just after a basic tutorial section), Bayonetta takes on several angels before you get a chance to control her again. It’s a fairly long movie, and I sat watching it, kind of entranced by it. At one point there’s a long sequence of her, legs spread wide, guns at her hips, blazing, as she lands on the face of one of the angels, basically smothering him with her sex (after all it is only hair between her lips and his.)
The angels at this point (and as far as I’ve gotten) are all male, or monstrous. A few have cherubic faces, but are still grotesque with the remainder of their bodies being masculine or monster. The other male characters in the game are a fat comic relief character, a buff good-looking demon, and a womanizing man who saw Bayonetta arrive and (I think) kill his father.
The only other female character is built on almost the same model as Bayonetta, except she wears actual clothes, and is a blonde. She has the same exact equipment, down to shoe-mounted guns, and has the same basic powers. They seem to be dark/light reflections of each other but it’s questionable which is dark and which light.
In fact, the moves that Bayonetta takes, and the camera angles she has been given are ones that are more likely to occur in pornography or, perhaps, sexploitation movies. She’s not unconcerned with being seen as sexual, she embraces it as part of her power. I want to say that this was intentional and idealistic choice, but I suspect it’s there to make the typical 18-35 male gamer a bit uncomfortable.
Bayonetta doesn’t read to me as a sexy woman, but rather a sexual one, and that’s a bit different. That she is, also, physically sexy (by some definitions), occludes this a bit. She is as sexually confident as she is in her fighting skills, without feeling sexually predatory (which is what we usually get with a sexual woman in videogames).
I don’t know what this means in terms of art or sexism. I feel pretty unqualified to say one way or the other. It’s a game that exudes sex, and we like that here at the Cult. Also, unlike most sexy games, it’s actually fun to play. That it also includes witches and sexy-librarian glasses is just a bonus.
Edit, update 2/17 1:40
For a different look, The Border House also wrote an impressions post on Bayonetta today. They are probably more qualified than I am to talk about sexism, and I can’t say I completely disagree with anything they said. I think our interpretations of it’s purpose are different (I’m not convinced that straight males are going to be comfortable with her aggressive sexuality, although I do think the game is aimed at them. But I’m not one of those, either, so I’m not sure about that..)