McMillan’s Codex #27 By C.T. McMillan
When judging female representation in video games, too often the issue is defined by how female characters are dressed, and what the color of their skin is. The question of who they are in terms of story is never considered, especially in regards to overly sexualized characters. Bayonetta is often cited as an example of poor representation of women when in fact its titular character is, I argue, the most feminist figure in action videogames.
Bayo transcends gender. She treats everyone the same, regardless of who they are. If you are not her, your value is dirt. She is sadistic.
She sees the act of killing enemies as punishment, and takes pleasure in torturing them in creative and painful ways. Her general attitude is devoid of any seriousness. As all hell breaks loose, she will find the time casually stroll through a maelstrom of debris, and insult giant bosses sent by heaven itself. Bayo embodies what it means to be a strong woman.
Not long ago I reviewed Metal Gear Rising, a character action game. The progenitor of the genre was Devil May Cry, a title defined by its style and combo-oriented combat. Bayonetta is best described as its spiritual successor and female equivalent. It uses the same Judeo-Christian iconography for its aesthetic, enemy designs, and its story. What sets the two apart is that Bayonetta is faster, the combat depth-full, and it is arguably more stylized.
One thing people remember about Bayo is that she is disproportional, with long legs and arms and a very small head. The reason her limbs are elongated is because her attacks and animations are oriented around her arms and legs. She moves like an acrobat and a burlesque dancer, flipping, kicking, and jumping as she fights. A key feature of her style is that she has guns attached to her heels while holding two in her hands. As she does these elaborate moves, she is shooting or using whatever weapons you have equipped her with. Bayo will also perform a short dance when initiating a Torture Attack, a special move where she summons a torture device to finish off an enemy in gory fashion. In cut-scenes she moves in much the same way, swinging her hips, arms, and throwing her legs in an exaggerated motion.
Combat is based on a system of combos. Performing them is a challenge because the game gets harder as you progress, even on its lowest difficulty setting. You are always up against multiple enemies with varying degrees of strength who swarm you the moment there is an opening. I was barely halfway through when I encountered some of the more powerful enemies that started out as mini-bosses. Thankfully you have the ability to dodge on-coming attacks if you time your moves correctly. Pulling off a successful dodge will slow down time and give you the opportunity to inflict more damage before enemies can counterattack. Boss battles and special attacks rely heavily on quick-time events that must be completed in order to progress. The button prompts come up quick and they are not forgiving.
Style and a sense of the ridiculous is key to good character action and Bayonetta epitomizes the genre. The boss battles are fought against giant monsters on floating and falling platforms or on the wings of huge planes that would not logically fly in the real world. Levels range from nondescript towns and cities usually in ruin, to otherworldly dimensions inspired by the Divine Comedy.
Enemy designs in general are something else. Angels are these grotesque bird creatures and some of the larger monsters wear Greco-Roman masks with bodies that are so strange and diverse I find it hard to describe.
Bayo’s type of magic adds to the ridiculous factor as spells are based on her hair. Her main attacks are called Wicked Weaves, where a phantom fist or heeled-foot of hair will strike enemies. Her skin-tight outfit is made of hair and when performing a Torture Attack, she will become partially naked. She can also transform into a bird or cat to run faster and traverse wide-open spaces. While performing a double-jump, butterfly wings will sprout from her back to giver her a boost. When stationary, even her shadow has wings.
Bayonetta is a great title that just happens to have one of the better, most recent female protagonists. If you are looking for a true character action experience, look no further.