Bayonetta Is The Greatest Thing Ever

 

 

If there’s anyone out there who isn’t already familiar with Bayonetta, here’s the high concept: A girl with an English accent who looks like the Baroness fights Angels to the tune of a poppy Japanese cover of Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me To The Moon,” strapping guns on her feet so that she can kick them in the face and shoot them at the same time. She has an arch-rival (and if I’m reading the subtext correctly, love interest) who Tokyo drifts angels to death on a magic motorcycle that can ride on walls, but that doesn’t stop her from doing things like fighting a gigantic four-legged shark monster with wings while surfing. And after you beat the game, you can unlock additional costumes so that she can do all of these things while wearing a cheerleader outfit.

What I’m trying to say here is that I’m pretty sure Bayonetta was made specifically for me, and anyone else getting enjoyment out of it is incidental at best.

I’d been interested in the game since I first heard about the foot-guns last year, but I was initially going to hold off on actually purchasing it until it hit a price drop. Then pal Andrew told me that there was breakdance fighting. I’m not made of stone, and when you combine windmills with footguns, you’ve got yourself a customer.

 

 

It is unquestionably the most over-the-top thing I have ever seen in my life, and considering I’m the guy who wrote the comic about a half-vampire skateboard champion private detective who is also a wizard and has welded magic wands to his guns, that’s probably saying a lot. I could sit here all night listing the gloriously OTT elements of the game and not even get away from Bayonetta herself, who–what with the fact that she poledances enemies to death, appears to subsist entirely on lollipops, and finishes off combos by turning her clothes (which are also her hair) into hell monsters–loops past exploitation and into parody, and keeps going until it hits a level that I’m not even sure I’ve got words for. And that’s all clearly established before you’re surfing the body of an angel down a lava flow. The only thing that even comes close to it is No More Heroes, a game about an aspiring assassin that I once died in because a guy I’d just cut in half with a lightsaber shot out so much blood that I couldn’t see what I was doing, but even that pales in comparison. Although I will say that if there’s one thing Bayonetta lacks, it’s suplexes.

Of course, all the over-the-top exploitation in the world can’t make a bad game good, but as far as gameplay goes, it’s more than solid. The developers, Platinum Studios, were formed out of the team that made Devil May Cry, and there’s an awful lot of similarity there. Mostly this applies to combat, and the fact that there is a giant lava spider involved (because why not, that’s why), but it also comes through in the fact that yes, in the tradition of DMC suddenly losing its mind and becoming Gradius for ten minutes at the end, Bayonetta will occasionally turn into a completely different game.

Specifically, it becomes Afterburner and Space Harrier, complete with remixed music:

 

 

Even so, I liked these parts, although I’ll admit that what with the barrel rolls that roated the entire screen rather than just Bayonetta (who was riding a missile at the time) made me dizzy as all hell. But that might just be because I’m a sucker for the way the developers tied it into old Sega games, which also gave the “Halos” Bayonetta collected from dead angels–which bear a strong resemblance in both appearance and noise to Sonic the Hedgehog’s rings–a whole new connotation.

Another similarity to Devil May Cry comes in the weapons. Like Dante, Bayonetta’s guns are named after a song–her four guns being “Scarborough Fair” (Parsely, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme) in place of his two, Ebony & Ivory–and like Dante, those and a sword are about all she’ll ever really use. Which isn’t to say that I don’t like the other weapons; the whip (of course there’s a whip) has its uses and I’m actually very fond of the demonic ice skates that allow you to perform the deadliest layback spin ever, but there’s just not that much use for them compared to what you start with. You’d think a set of tonfas that were also rocket launchers would be a bigger deal.

 

 

All told, in both concept and execution it’s one of the most entertaining games I’ve ever played, and while I don’t want to spoil the ending, I will say that the final level is essentially Silver Age Superman as written by Slayer, and that’s something that I didn’t know my life was missing until I finally had it. It’s incredibly fun, and it’s one of the rare games that I can see myself playing through again again to get the high-score achievements.

Well, until Mass Effect 2 comes out, anyway.

XBox Heroes: The Best and Worst Video Game Comics

Today at ComicsAlliance, you’re getting all the Dan you can handle!!!

 

 

Well, really it’s just the one picture. But with Dan, that is all you need!

Dan and all of your other video game friends can be found in today’s article, where I celebrate last week’s release of the Mass Effect comic by ranking a handful of the best and worst video game comics!

The list has Mario, Sonic and a few of your favorites, but along with more recent stuff like Devil May Cry and StarCraft that I just haven’t read, there were a few that I opted not to include. First up, the infamous DOOM comic, because what can I say about that that hasn’t been said by the comic itself, which includes the line “YOU ARE HUGE! THAT MEANS YOU HAVE HUGE GUTS!” And secondly, Castlevania: The Belmont Legacy. because I’m honestly not sure if I could take one more discussion of The Game Which Shall Not Be Named.

Enjoy it, folks!

A Brief History of Batman Video Games

 

 

Today was the release date for the Batman: Arkham Asylum video game, and now that you have that information, you can probably guess how I’ll be spending the rest of my night.

But before you jump into Batman’s latest button-mashing adventure, why not take a look back at the highlights (and lowlights) of his previous ventures onto consoles with my latest piece for ComicsAlliance: A Brief History of Batman Video Games. Rather than my usual style of scanned panels, this one takes advantage of that lazy blogger’s best friend, YouTube, to bring you gameplay footage from the early days of the movie tie-ins to the inexplicable Gotham City Racer.

So enjoy, and if you’re like me and you have a cherished memory of staring at the television on a bleary-eyed Friday night trying to master that friggin’ wall jump before you had to take the game back to Sycamore Video, feel free to leave a comment!

Now is The Beginning of a Fantastic Scott Pilgrim Story…

 

 

For this week’s article on the ComicsAlliance, Laura Hudson and I react to the news of the upcoming Scott Pilgrim video game by taking a look at the many awesome video game references Bryan Lee O’Malley packs into the series.

It’s no secret that I love the Scott Pilgrim books with a passion–and really, if you haven’t read them, what are you doing with your life?–and the fact that O’Malley’s able to hit that nostalgia button to take me back to weekends of marathon NES sessions (as opposed to today’s marathon XBox 360 sessions) while doing something I never would’ve expected is a huge part of why they’re so great. So, if you don’t mind me tromping in to explain the jokes, please enjoy the article.

As It Turns Out, Fashion-Based Mechanics Aren’t Just For JRPGs Anymore

So you remember when you were a kid, and you’d head out to the video store on Friday night on your way home from school to pick up a game? And even if the game you ended up with was kind of mediocre–possibly because Nintendo Power had slightly exaggerated the quality of Shatterhand or Power Blade–you played it anyway for the entire weekend, because what else were you going to do, homework? No, you played it, because you’d made your choice for the weekend and you were going to see it through to Sunday night, even if you ended up with that piece of shit Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. Remember that?

Well, that’s pretty much exactly how I felt when a friend of mine loaned me Spider-Man: Web of Shadows.

 

 

My friend described himself as the world’s only Web of Shadows fan, and after playing through it this weekend, I can understand why he might be so lonely. I mean, it’s not so much that it’s bad as it’s a fun game with deep, deep flaws that all sort of average out to something that makes sure to hobble itself every time it starts to rise above mediocrity.

To start with, you’ve got the story, which is essentially 2008’s version of Maximum Carnage for the Super NES, because it is apparently against federal law to make a Spider-Man game that doesn’t involve Venom and the black costume. In this case, Venom hugs Spider-Man a little too hard in the opening cutscene and gets symbiote all over him, which means that you can switch back and forth between costumes, each with slightly different combat styles.

It also means that Mary Jane takes every opportunity to be a hateful bitch of almost Lucy Lane proportions about the whole thing, to the point where the very first piece of dialogue in the game is her yelling at you about your choice in underpants.

Now, it seems like I’m one of the few people who actually likes MJ. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll freely admit that there are a ton of stories out there where she’s just awful–if anyone remembers the “Mary Jane: SMOKER!” subplot from the mid-90s, you know what I’m getting at here–but between that one issue ofUntold Tales, her break from the shallow, party-girl persona in the aftermath of Gwen Stacy’s death, Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane and the fact that she was the Spider-Man love interest I grew up with, I’ve got some genuine affection for her. And yet, when she starts harranguing you for saving her life in a way she does not approve of, even I wanted to respond by chucking her off a bridge with a hearty “When I give a dog a bone, I don’t want to know if it tastes good or not” rather than the henpecked, whiny “But Emmm-Jayyyyyyy…” that the game provides.

Which brings us to another staggering point against the game: The voice acting. It is ROUGH, with occasional jaunts into terrible to keep things interesting, and the worst of it is Spider-Man himself. Oddly enough, he’s not bad at all when he’s not talking to anyone, but the second he starts interacting with another character–especially when he manages to be both groveling and dismissive with Mary Jane–it’s all over. I mean, seriously, was the guy who did Spider-Man’s voice in Ultimate Alliance so busy that they had to get this guy? Yeesh.

And then there’s the generally inconsequential morality system. It’s been noted elsewhere that it’s tempting to take the bad guy route for the sole reason that Spider-Man’s “evil voice” is less likely to rise to the shrill whining of the heroic model, but considering that the five or so actual choices that you make are vague to the point of being “Do Something Good” or “Do Something Bad,” there’s not a lot of incentive to stick to the straight and narrow anyway.

Heck, there’s even one choice that is basically “Shack up with the Black Cat” or “Lecture her on responsibility.” And considering what an adamant harridan the alternative is..

 

 

…there’s not really much of a choice there either.

There are also (allegedly) things you can do in the game itself that nudge your morality to either side, mostly involving the NPC pedestrians. If one gets injured, you can haul them to the hospital to get on the good side, but if you fail to save them–like, say, if you aren’t able to pull them out of the air because the target lock system sucks, or because the B button shoots impact webbing and rescues civilians and the game has no idea which you want to do even when you’re locked onto a civilian, or because they’re bleeding out on the pavement while you’re in an unskippable cutscene, which is frustrating even if you don’t particularly care about getting “Black Points”–you get edged over to the bad side. And none of this, of course, really matters all that much.

As for gameplay, well, that’s a mixed bag. On the one hand, the phrase “repetitive combat” springs to mind around eighty thousand times, as do “pointless hour-long tutorial chapter,” “mini-game mechanics played off as combat,” and “pointless quicktime events that just restart if you fail them, so there’s no reason to not watch Spider-Man do a Jazz-Hands freakout when he boots Black Cat off a building over and over again.”

On the other hand, the actual web-swinging is really fun when you’re not stopping every five seconds to pick up glowing spider-tokens that make you stronger, one of the many indicators that this game is actually from 1992. There’s a nice enough ersatz Manhattan to sling around that’s full of nifty Marvel Universe landmarks like the Baxter Building (with a group of the aforementioned tokens shaped like a 4 on the landing pad), Avengers Tower complete with the Sentry’s Watchtower on top, the Rand corporation HQ, and even the Kronas building from Ed Brubaker’s Captain America run. There’s a really nice sense of freedom to swinging around ignoring the storyline, and it’s just flat-out fun to climb to the top of the Empire State Building, jump off, and shoot out a web at the last second to go swinging around.

And to its credit, the game does get fun once you advance the story far enough and it turns in Dawn of the Dead starring Spider-Man, with an evacuated city full of zombies symbiotes to goof off in. This is, not coincidentally, around the time that the last of the combat options finally open up, which give you the ability to do stuff like webbing up an opponent and then riding him through the air like a skateboard, doing actual kickflips with his body to inflict extra damage. That’s actually pretty awesome, but since you don’t even get access to that sort of thing until well into the game, you’re still stuck having to slog through the first two incredibly boring chapters until the game decides you’ve earned the right to have some damn fun with it.

Also, it’s one of those games where you fight all the bosses in the first half, and then fight them again in the second half, only this time they’ve got slightly different abilities and are marginally tougher.

Yeah. I know.

Previous to Web of Shadows, I hadn’t played a Spider-Man game since the one that was on Dreamcast, which–if memory serves–was the one that started the franchise that eventually led to Web of Shadows. That one was a phenomenal game for its time, but in the eight years since, I was hoping that things would’ve come along a little further than they have.

Even for all its flaws, Web of Shadows isn’t a bad game, but I’d be hard-pressed to call it more than decent. As a weekend diversion, it ranks right in there with Kickmaster or Bad Dudes, but it’s no Rockin’ Kats, that’s for damn sure.

Man. Rockin’ Kats was awesome.