Almost a decade after it was first released, this weekend I finally played Bayonetta. It's a 'third-person character action game,' which is video game review parlance for "a video game played from the third person perspective where you fight a bunch of enemies by chaining elaborate attacks together."
After about five hours with it over a long weekend, my review is that Bayonetta is fun to play but that its presentation makes me as uncomfortable as I expected.
I always suspected that I would like it, but I've been too embarrassed to play it until it was released on the Nintendo Switch on February 16. People are clamoring for Nintendo to publish as many games as possible on the portable Switch so they can play them on the go, but another unspoken benefit of the console is that when a video game gets unbearably stupid—and many of them do—you can simply pull it out of its dock, plug in some headphones, and prevent anyone you're sharing a living room with from witnessing your depravity.
Bayonetta is a great example not just because it's an incredibly horny game, but because of how silly it seems in every frame. The main character the game is named after is a witch who looks like an 11-feet-tall Tina Fey. She wears boots with high heels that are also guns, so when she kicks monsters in the face she also shoots at them with her feet. Her body suit is made of her hair, which is still attached to her head, and if you chain her attacks together really well, Bayonetta gets increasingly naked as her hair leaves her body to form into a giant demon bird that eats enemies alive.
This video of an early part of the game will give you an idea of its general vibe:
Both in the way she moves on screen when you play and during choreographed movies in the game the player can't control, Bayonetta often moves like she's dancing, and the camera consistently focuses on her ass and boobs. There are multiple instances where Bayonetta jumps at the camera crotch first.
In this Feminist Frequency video, critic Anita Sarkeesian explains how Bayonetta is an overly sexualized male fantasy used to sell video games to men, specifically with a subway billboard in Japan that invited passers by to undress the character. In this Gamasutra opinion piece, the critic Katherine Cross argues that Bayonetta's overt sexuality actually "expresses her character in a way that separates her from the crowd of interchangeable, uninteresting portrayals of heterosexual women that clutter gaming."
Two compelling arguments, but neither makes me feel like less of an idiot when my wife walks into the room as Bayonetta buys a new pair of shoe guns, turns to the camera, and says "bust a cap in yo' ass" in a posh British accent.
Ultimately, I don't know how sexist Bayonetta is, but I know that it is stupid as hell. Which is fine. I love stupid things, that's probably why I like so many video games.
When it was first released in 2009, I would have had to clear my house before playing Bayonetta on an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 connected to a TV I shared with other people. Otherwise, I'd have to explain what Bayonetta is, and why I'm definitely not a weirdo for playing it. Technically, I could have done the same when Bayonetta came to the Wii U in 2014, but like most people who play video games, by that time I already forgot the Wii U existed.
The Switch, however, is the fastest selling console in US history, according to Nintendo. The more units it sells, the more likely it is to continue getting games from third-party publishers. Like many Switch owners, I hope this trend continue and that everything is published on the Switch so I can indulge in the dumbest delights video games have to offer, on a tiny private screen, without having to explain myself.