Personal Favorites of the Generation

Whereas our last list was 6 games that we are equally united in loving, we found that getting ten we both agreed that enthusiastically on was basically impossible– the idiosyncrasies in our tastes became pretty apparent, and there’s just not enough room to boil it down to two or three choices each. Rather than even trying, we’ve expanded our choices to twelve. Each of your beloved bloggers will give you his four favorites. These might honestly be more interesting; this bottom eight is where we fully expect some dark horses to come through and some interesting picks to get revealed.

#7

Jasper’s Pick: Mass Effect 2

NOT EVEN THIS WILL RUIN ME2 FOR ME.

NOT EVEN THIS WILL RUIN ME2 FOR ME.

The Mass Effect trilogy stands as one of this generation’s biggest monuments. There are a huge number of achievements we can place at the series’ feet: successfully telling a cohesive 3-game long story, having some of the most memorable characters in gaming, and, most importantly, arguably being the best mainstream mass-media science-fiction story of the 21st century. Honestly, the best endorsement I can give the series is that if I had to pick one video game to pitch to my dad (a guy who’s never played a video game besides Oregon Trail, but is way into Star Trek and has a signed photo of Peter Jurasik from Babylon 5) it would be Mass Effect— it doesn’t simply compete with the science fiction that inspired it, but stands among the best. The series has always been plagued with problems though: the first game’s clunky combat and cluttered inventory and stat systems, the second’s planet-scanning minigames, the third’s occasionally-questionable writing (although I have no problem with the ending, I can’t take the evil cyborg space-ninja seriously as an antagonist).

The second one, though, is close to perfect. There are complaints, sure: the combat’s too cover-heavy, the planet-scanning is boring, Miranda exists. But those are small compared to complex, interesting characters like Jack and Mordin Solus, fantastic voice-acting, intensely satisfying and strategic combat, and some of the most well-written and fun missions of the past several years. The combat is simple but has a surprising depth (playing it on Insanity is up there with Brass Balls in Bioshock as some of the most satisfying hard-mode I’ve ever played), and it’s the richest and deepest look at Mass Effect‘s world and culture. It also made the bold decision to go in a different story direction from the other 2 games: relying on a less epic, more mysterious main conflict and focusing the majority of the game’s plot on exploring its world and getting to know its characters– only to spend the entire incredible final mission testing you on how well you knew and trusted those characters, with their lives hanging in the balance (the fact that Bioware is much better at world-building and characters than at narrative definitely helps). Also, it had Martin Sheen, something no other game on this list can claim.

(Runner-up: Dragon Age: Origins which is even more ambitious from a game design perspective and does some incredible things with player agency, but which has a story that never really clicked for me and some clunky, wooden gameplay and visuals)

Best Moment: “Bad Blood,” Mordin’s loyalty mission that pushes you into dark moral territory and essentially feels like the best episode of Star Trek that never got made.

Joe’s Pick: Super Mario Galaxy

How epic can you get?

How epic can you get?

It’s amazing that Miyamoto still has it after all these years. Super Mario Bros. created the platforming genre as we know it today and in 2007, Super Mario Galaxy completely revitalized the genre in the age of the FPS. In short, Galaxy reminded me why I originally liked Mario so much after many years of nothing but Sunshine (and the underrated Luigi’s Mansion) to tide me over. And playing it on Christmas morning back in 2007 made me feel like a child again. Structurally, the levels feel a lot more akin to the classic games in the series than the previous 3D entries, which had a more exploratory feel. The paths to each of the stars are mostly linear with finely crafted challenges along the way that all build on the motifs of the level. Classic items like the mushroom, fire flower, and invincibility star (which were absent in 64) all make reappearances, as well as some new items, like the bee suit, which feel right at home in the franchise. But not only did Galaxy  bring back that classic Mario feeling, it’s arguably the best title in the series, no small feat considering how stiff the competition is. It improved the aging gameplay of Super Mario 64 immeasurably, added in some innovative new gravity mechanics, and had an epic scale to it that the Mario series had never attempted before.

The game also manages to be incredibly imaginative with its settings, in ways that no other Super Mario title has ever been. There are, of course, the classic lava, desert, water, etc, levels that appear in almost every game of the franchise, but then there are the stages where you infiltrate massive space battle-stations, avoid dangerous dark matter in gravity shifting environments, and even traverse a floating obstacle course made of cakes and other pastries. If I have to point to flaws, some of the boss fights are a little lackluster, and maybe the underwater controls are a little too loose, but these issues do virtually nothing to diminish the luster of this nearly perfect game. Super Mario Galaxy manages to feel nostalgic while being incredibly new and I’m more than happy to call it my favorite game in the series.

Best Moment: The “Gusty Garden Galaxy.” It perfectly encapsulates the epic scale and the inventive gameplay that make the game amazing.

#8

Jasper’s Pick: Bayonetta

Japan: The Picture

Japan: The Picture

Bayonetta is a really smart game, and we’ve talked about this. It’s got gorgeous art design, maybe-feminist credentials, a surprising amount of serious theological scholarship, and pretty clever writing (plus a story that is one of the most ludicrously complex I’ve ever seen). The game’s treatment of religion is a big part of why I love it– I’m a huge fan of Blake, Miltion, and Donne, and the ways that the game interacts with and draws on some of the same ideas, Biblical weirdness, and Judeo-Christian apocrypha, combined with its weird quasi-feminist retelling of myth and history, makes for a strange and heady experience that I just love. But all of this artistic and narrative stuff is a distant second to the main reason I adore Bayonetta: it’s got some of the fastest, most fun combat I’ve ever played in my life.

Playing Bayonetta is like getting drunk and ramping a sports car up a dragon. It’s a fairly natural outgrowth of two of Hideki Kamiya’s previous awesome games: combining the varied, outlandish action spectacles of Viewtiful Joe with the acrobatic combat and semi-realism of Devil May Cry. And it works incredibly well. The way in which combat seamlessly integrates dodging, the completely natural flow to all the combos, the way that it keeps you constantly moving and weaving like a damn Sonic game– I’m hard pressed to name another game in which combat feels this fluid and cool. And the sheer spectacle on display– the giant boots made of demon-hair, the high-heel mounted bazookas (named the Col. Kilgore, which is great game design because Apocalypse Now is the greatest film ever made), the ability to spank enemies to death –means that I spent the first hour of the game with my jaw hanging open at the over-the-top cartoonish awesome of everything. Combine that with what are easily some of the best boss fights of this generation and this may well be the most purely fun entry in the entire article. Most of my love for Bayonetta is focused on how fun the fighting is, yes, and the game has some problems– its two minigame levels go on way too long, and the plot is so complex I’m still not sure what actually happens –but the core gameplay is basically perfect.

Best Moment: A boss fight against God. A boss fight. Against God.

Joe’s Pick: Red Dead Redemption

Cougars, the real scourge of the west.

Cougars, the real scourge of the west.

Despite the popularity of the genre in both books and film, there are almost no video game westerns to speak of. There was Sunset Riders, an arcade-style shooter that I was practically addicted to as a kid. But other than that, I can’t remember playing any other westerns, that is until Red Dead Redemption (which is technically the sequel to a Capcom game that I and most others didn’t play), and it was everything I had always wanted to see in a western video game. Redemption succeeds as a sandbox game more than almost any other title I’ve played. There’s just so much to see and explore within the world, and it reproduces most of the different kinds of environments that you’ll find in the American West. While the world in this game does contain some of that amazing Rockstar satire (like a hilarious early cartoon about the “dangers” of women gaining the vote or a terribly incompetent social Darwinist professor), it doesn’t have quite the same level of personality that GTA IV’s Liberty City does, but the greater potential for exploration makes up for that. I could spend hours just hunting bears in the mountains or riding through the wilderness busting gang hideouts, and that’s one of the main reasons this game shines.

Another area where Red Dead Redemption stands above the rest is its writing. As stated above, it doesn’t contain as much of a satiric edge as the Grand Theft Auto games, but it takes many of the darker themes about America that GTA IV introduced and adapts them to the wild west. As the plot progresses, the game deals with issues like the costs of maintaining civilization and the hypocrisies of the American government. It also does an amazing job of showing how brutal and amoral the wild west actually was. The game even covers a good deal of the spectrum that western movies do, starting out with missions similar to the old John Wayne westerns, transitioning into the grandeur and mythic qualities of the spaghetti westerns in Nuevo Paraiso (Mexico), while finally settling into the darker tones of films like Dead Man, and somehow it all feels seamless. Saying that Red Dead Redemption is only the best video game western does it a disservice– it really is one of the best westerns of any medium.

Best Moment: The mission, “And The Truth Will Set You Free”, where protagonist John Marston finally confronts his old mentor and gang leader. It contains some of the best written dialogue I’ve ever heard in a game.

#9

Jasper’s Pick: Borderlands 2

The Borderlands series went from having no conflict to one of my favorite villains ever.

The Borderlands series went from having no conflict to one of my favorite villains ever.

I really didn’t expect to be taken in by Borderlands 2 as much as I was. There were various reasons: the first game was a really fun diversion but had a really bungled finale and was pretty sparse in terms of narrative. The core mechanics of “tons of random crap and sifting through loot” seemed too MMO-ish to grab me. The people who made have a history of being kind of awful. But it really, really worked for me. (Mind you, I might be biased– I played through the entire game with my girlfriend as Player 2, which I think might be a little more fun than doing it with random strangers online).

What’s really impressive about Borderlands 2 is the way in which it successfully married mechanics and art. It uses the skinner-box-driven luck and reward mechanics of an MMO and the team-based co-op of games like Left 4 Dead, but was actually able to craft a compelling narrative out of them. I went in expecting a fun way to shoot bandits and hunt for guns with my girlfriend, but found a level of consistently clever writing and interesting characters more befitting a classic Lucasarts adventure game than anything else. And there’s the visuals: the lush and cartoony cel-shading that makes it one of the best-looking games ever.

The game's art design and graphics make even minor events look beautiful.

The game’s art design and graphics make even minor events look beautiful.

And then it got serious. And it got big. The game started throwing out really fun characters, more and more unique and quirky weaponry, and some legitimately great storytelling. It actually made me tear up at one scene. It delivered one of my favorite video game villains of the past several years. By the end of the game the combat was still fast-paced and fun, the loot was still random, and there was grinding and scavenging galore, but I had a really deep emotional connection to the game that took me completely by surprise. It’s everything a sequel should be: so much bigger and deeper that it makes the original game obsolete. And it’s the rare game that you can pick up for an hour of mindless diversion, or sink an evening into just getting absorbed in the story.

Best Moment: “Where Angels Fear to Tread,” the end of the second act. Things have been getting progressively more serious, but the sudden turn towards a much darker story– and the amount to which the previously-cartoonish villain Handsome Jack  becomes sadder, more complex, and legitimately menacing –highlights this game’s ambition and everything it does right.

Joe’s Pick: Mega Man 9

A return to that classic Mega Man style.

A return to that classic Mega Man difficulty.

After roughly a decade of silence in the classic Mega Man series (and let’s be honest, Mega Man 8 was no prize), it was great to hear that another entry was finally coming out. I thought it would at most be an interesting little diversion but it turned out to be one of the best games in the series, second only to Mega Man 2. And considering how Mega Man 2 is virtually the gold standard of level design, 9 taking second place is perfectly understandable, and it even added a survival mode (called endless mode in the game) and a pretty great time trial mode. It’s just too bad that Capcom couldn’t have released something like this for Mega Man’s recent 25th anniversary (good thing a fan stepped up to the plate for them.)

It’s true that Mega Man 9 didn’t really add anything to the core gameplay of the series, much like most of the other Mega Man titles, but there’s something to be said for a game that does an exemplary job of polishing up an old formula. The level design is some of the strongest in the series, introducing new twists on the core mechanics in each level, but never straying too far from them. The level design is also helped along by possibly the best arsenal of weapons in the entire series. While in most Mega Man titles (even in the second one) you can coast through almost the entire game using only three or four of the more useful weapons, here all eight of the weapons feel relatively balanced and equal. And playing the stages in time trial mode will encourage you to find new uses for your powers too. Finally, and this might seem like odd praise to heap on a Mega Man game , the story is handled really well. The NES style cutscenes (still images with text) capture the old charm that storytelling in retro video games has, and the ending is amazing (again second only to Mega Man 2). Overall, it’s just a fun game that takes a great old song and makes it catchy again. And speaking of songs the soundtrack’s great too but c’mon, for a Mega Man game that goes without saying.

Best Moment: Tornado Man’s stage. The level introduces a slew of interesting gameplay twists. Also the music and changing weather patterns (which not only look great but affect the gameplay) make it one of the most immersive stages in the whole series.

#10: Rayman Origins

The game looks and feels like a wonderful cartoon.

The game looks and feels like a wonderful cartoon.

This was a tough choice, because it’s ultimately one of representation. I could have put another Western RPG here (Fallout: New Vegas was definitely on my short list), repped another great indie game (until Hotline Miami came out, Bastion was going to be the indie representative here), or said Sonic Generations because Sonic is the coolest hog alive and nothing you will say is going to change my mind (also, Sonic Generations really is a fantastic game and it made me feel like a kid again). Ultimately, I decided to go for Rayman Origins, a beautiful throwback that proves that there’s still room in this generation for some really classic ideas.

This has been an interesting generation for platformers. There have been a few mainstream ones that took the genre in new directions (Super Mario Galaxy being the most notable example, while newer Sonic games have been taking a more ignoble path), but 2D platformers have been mostly delegated to the indie market while the mascot-driven 3D collect-a-thons of the last two generations basically died out. But Rayman Origins avoided either of those directions: it’s a perfectly-done, completely classic 2D platformer, and one that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Sonic 2 or Prince of Persia. And the fact that it got a full-price release and full support from Ubisoft (and an upcoming, amazing-looking sequel on the Wii U) is one of this generation’s most surprising success stories.

It deserves the success though. The game feels like a master class in how to design a platformer. Gorgeous art design, wonderful music, a perfectly-designed sense of difficulty and escalation, and a wide variety of levels built around a ton of different challenges and play styles. Like the best Mario games, many of the levels have their own unique challenges, are built around quirky mechanics, and incorporate familiar obstacles in new styles and combinations. The game has 66 levels and almost every one of them feels distinct. It’s not just a return to the classic Rayman formula, it’s the best game of the entire series. If this game had come out in 1994 we’d be talking about it as one of the great 2D platformers. I hope that we still can.

Best Moment: When you get the ability to run up walls, suddenly transforming the game’s fundamental mechanics halfway through.

Joe’s Pick: VVVVVV

This would be impossible in any other platformed.

This would be impossible in any other platformer.

This is another game that really inspired me as an fledgling indie developer. It’s amazing that essentially one guy was able to create a game that’s as well made as this one. VVVVVV manages to impress me so much because it takes a simple gameplay mechanic– the ability to flip (basically reversing your own gravity instead of jumping)– and wrings everything it can out of it. The game also follows the Mega Man approach to level design, introducing unique twists on the gameplay in each new stage and gradually evolve said twists through the duration of the level. The stages are actually linked together by an overworld and can be accessed in any order (except for the final stage), making it a bit like a metroidvania game on top of all this. The graphics are really well done too. Using this simple, yet unique and attractive graphical style no doubt gave creator Terry Cavanagh the time he needed to make the gameplay nearly flawless.

So yeah…that’s about it. I’m sorry for the shorter entry here but really no amount of discription can do this game justice, it’s the kind of game you just need to play to really understand, which you can do now that you’re almost done reading this blog post. The difficulty may be pretty high but don’t worry, the frequent checkpoints stop the game from getting overly frustrating.

Best Moment: “The Tower”, where you have to flip quickly to escape a steadily rising floor of spikes. It’s a great segment that really gets your adrenaline pumping.

The Importance of Enemy Design

A perfectly functional game.

When you think about it, artwork in games is completely optional. Most games would still be perfectly functional if you replaced all the character models and intricate level geometry with untextured cubes. So, why then do we insist on spending so much time designing such detailed level environments and character models? Are highly detailed 3D character models really better than Atari 2600 sprites if the gameplay’s still top notch? The short answer, yes. The long answer, heeeeeeell yes. Despite what some (mostly indie) gamers say, graphics do matter. Or, more to the point, art matters. Now there were certainly some great Atari 2600 games back in the day (Enduro, River Raid), but now that game developers have the technology to render great art in games, appealing graphics have become an essential component, on par with functionality. River Raid is fun to play but because of the graphical limitations, there’s not much to get attached to. A good art style makes the game world look interesting and feel worth investing in. And this week, we’re going to be talking about the importance of interesting looking enemies and what they add to the gameplay experience. These games combine technical competence with appealing art, and especially stellar looking foes.

Pikmin (2001)

Emperor Bulblax is like a mutant frog combined with late-period  Marlon Brando.

This series has been getting mentioned a lot on CardinalVirtual, probably because we’re both excited for the long awaited Pikmin 3 later this year (did you see the bit at the announcement where Miyamoto made the Pikmin bow? So cute!). Anyway, like the rest of the game, the monsters on the “Distant Planet” in Pikmin are incredibly original looking. No generic dragons or trolls to be found here. Many of them resemble real creatures but usually with an alien twist (eyestalks, etc), or they’re a combination of two or more real animals (like the half bird, half snake Snagret). Using real animals as a base works incredibly well to help make the game more immersive, since a lot of the appeal comes from exploring and trying to survive in a strange and harsh wilderness, and the very animalistic aliens (at least from Captain Olimar’s perspective) really hammers home this feeling. Their designs also fit in perfectly with Olimar and his pikmin as well as the vegetation and plant life (all of which also look both alien and familiar at the same time). One of the game’s crowning achievements for us is how successfully it creates an environment that feels both natural and alien, and the enemy creatures do a lot to achieve this unique feeling.

Throw pikmin high onto the body and watch out for those feet.

Even though the monsters of Pikmin look very original, they’re also simple looking enough so that their potential danger and weaknesses are apparent to the player right away. These enemies straddle the divide between a unique artistic design and a practical utilitarian design well. The iconic Bulborb’s gaping mouth that takes up nearly half the creature’s body lets players know right away that this guy will eat a lot of pikmin if he gets the chance, so attack his unguarded back instead. Our personal favorite, the Emperor Bulblax (pictured above) has a long adhesive tongue that your pikmin will stick to, rendering them helpless. But once the player sees this attack in action a few times, he might think that perhaps something less savory might also stick to that tongue (the bomb rocks nearby also provide a hint). Visual touches like this make the already intriguing creatures all the more fun to fight. Whereas other games would give you cutscenes or dialogue to hint at enemy strategies, Pikmin’s design is good enough to do the heavy lifting on its own.

Bayonetta (2010)

Not the kind of angel old ladies collect porcelain statues of.

This game has become so well known for its sexually provocative protagonist (who we already talked about in this article), that people tend to forget about the incredible enemy design. It seems like sometime in the Victorian Age, we all forgot that angels are supposed to be powerful and terrifying. There’s a reason they always said “Be not afraid” in the Bible, a reason the developers of Bayonetta certainly understood. Now admittedly, if you had a gaggle of adorable cherubs as your basic enemies, you wouldn’t have very threatening battles (hilarious maybe, but not threatening). But this really isn’t some half assed attempt to put a “badass spin” on something unconventional. The dev team really did their homework when designing these angels. All of the different enemies are placed in one of the nine orders of angels present in Catholicism and often ascribes appearances (wheels within wheels, masses of wings and eyeballs) and roles that are fairly consistent with medieval end renaissance theology. The angels even speak a bizarre language actually created by an 18th-century French mystic who thought he could communicate with angels (in the Bayonetta universe he probably did).

Iustitia perfectly combines the beauty and the horror of Catholic artwork.

In spite of the overall menacing look that most of the angels have, there’s also a certain beauty to them. Many have these stone or marble faces, often resembling sculptures in Catholic Churches, that look serene and almost childlike, emphasizing the innocence that is such an important part of Christianity. These more beautiful features contrast nicely with the more monstrous body parts, creating enemies unlike anything seen before in a game. Sometimes, this stone or marble coating will crumble away as the angel is battered, revealing a more hideous form underneath. So while the angels do seem appropriately menacing, you still get the feeling that you are fighting something magnificent, which is definitely a quality all depictions of angels should have.

Mike Tyson’s Punch Out (1987)

He’s just so punchable.

Both of the above mentioned games are part of the past two generations, but Mike Tyson’s Punch Out shows you can have great enemy design on the NES. The sprites are detailed enough to convey real personality, a rarity for 8-bit graphics, and one of the reasons this game still stands today as such a classic. Granted, Punch Out’s gameplay style helps make this possible: since most of the time Little Mac and his opponent are the only characters onscreen, the developers could afford to make the sprites larger and more detailed than those in other games. The animations all feel very unique to the characters too– there’s a level of detail and complexity in the sprite work here that most other games of the generation couldn’t manage. You can pretty much see Glass Joe’s skittishness when he tries to throw a punch, or Bald Bull’s fury when he’s charging up for his bull charge attack. Each fighter has his own tells, and watching for them and knowing what they mean helps make each fight much easier. The animations also give you enough time to predict what kind of attack your enemy will use, incorporating the personalities of your enemies into the mechanics for fighting them.

Gaming’s Rare Feminist Heroes

Video games have not had an easy time portraying women. Part of this is, of course, gamer culture (researching this post proved it was much easier to find articles on the hottest women in gaming than on the best female characters). But even without the issues of their customer base, it’s hard to find examples of female protagonists in games that aren’t offensive. Even the ones who legitimately kick ass do so in a way that feels almost apologetic– most female action heroes in games who aren’t BloodRayne-level pinups are de-feminized, hyper-aggressive, and usually terribly written and intensely unlikeable. Even Samus Aran– one of gaming’s first and most famous female heroes –still rewards the player by taking off more of her armor depending on how quickly players got through the game.

When critics talk about Aliens’  Ripley as a great feminist action hero (and given that Aliens gets quoted, referenced, or ripped-off in about half the games released, you’d think developers might remember this), they point out that she can be feminine and kick ass without treating it as a paradox, still grapples with maternal pangs, and that the issue of her gender is an important one to the character and story without the story becoming dominated by it. So today, we’re going to look at two video game heroines that both live up to this standard in very different ways.

A. Terra Branford from Final Fantasy VI

This outfit is actually pretty subdued for a Yoshitaka Amano character.

Even though Terra has the distinction of being the first female main character in a Final Fantasy game (and the only one until Final Fantasy XIII happened), she has the misfortune of starring in a game where the main villain, the demented and outlandish Kefka Palazzo, overshadows everyone else. So why not give her some time to shine?

Like many video game characters (including the one we’ll be discussing next), Terra suffers from amnesia at the start of her story (well– technically she’s under mind control but this is soon undone). Her story arc involves her gradually recovering fragments of her lost memories along with learning and coming to terms with the source of her unusual abilities. While this character type may be fairly common in video games, Terra stands apart from the rest because these developments are well executed, give or take a few poorly translated and written lines. Some flashbacks show excerpts of her past which effectively raise interest in the story. The fact that she was an unwilling pawn of steampunk nazis explains why she’s hesitant to accept her unique abilities and heritage throughout the story, though aside from a few key scenes, these hesitations usually don’t carry over into battles.

Like many JRPG heroes, Terra can have a bit of a mopey side.

So the above shows why Terra is a good character (and by extension a good female character), but why exactly did we choose her for this entry? Because her feminine qualities are emphasized just enough to make her character unique without completely dominating the tone of the game. Throughout the first half of the game, Terra struggles with her inability to experience human emotions, especially love, most likely due to her half-Human half-Esper status and her prolonged imprisonment before the game begins. This character arc is completed in the second half of the game, which happens a year after the first half once the world has completely gone to hell and all the party members have been scattered.  Terra is encountered again while attempting act as a mother to a village of children who’s parent’s were all killed during the mid-game apocalypse. Ultimately, through this act she realizes that she can experience human love and learns to fully control her powers and accept who she is. Terra grows and develops through characteristics that are typically thought of as feminine (maternal instinct, etc), whereas many female game heroes have to “overcome” their femininity by becoming violent asskickers. Whereas for Lara Croft, Samus, and other iconic women in games, femininity is a weakness, for Terra it’s a strength. She also serves as a great contrast to arch villain Kefka, who’s insane and completely selfish quest for godhood can be seen as a distortion of male ambition and power. The game has Terra grow into a powerful figure while acknowledging that she’s a woman, but not going so far as to constantly scream in your ear “Look, she’s a woman but she also tough! Isn’t that great!? Aren’t we so progressive!?”

B. Bayonetta from …Bayonetta

If you haven’t played it, imagine a super-Japanese Kill Bill as written by William Blake.

To get the most obvious hurdle out of the way: yes, Bayonetta is insanely sexual. Yes, the game’s director (Hideki Kamiya, who designed the similarly-oversexed Devil May Cry) readily admits that Bayonetta is his “perfect woman.” But like with Terra, Bayonetta is a powerful character through predominantly feminine traits, although these traits come from the opposite end of the spectrum.

Firstly, Bayonetta may just be the most intimidating woman to ever star in a game, both sexually and in terms of her skill and danger. On the sexual front, she’s six-and-a-half feet of legs, coolly dismissive of every character in the game, and wearing teetering heels that are also guns. But she’s also by far the most competent and important figure in her game: there’s no man to ever rescue her, she’s consistently the smartest, coolest, and most prepared person around, and, oh yes, the final boss fight of the game involves her punching God into the sun. She’s also well-written, clever, and genuinely kind to the people she cares about (game designers think that making a female character an asshole counts as making her strong). Unlike many other game heroines (Samus in Metroid: Other M or even Terra), Bayonetta is cool and in control the entire time.

All Hail the Glam Pope.

More importantly, Bayonetta’s sexuality serves a serious narrative and thematic purpose. Make no mistake: despite its ludicrous stupidity, Bayonetta is a very smart game. Its core storyline is the war between the oppressed Umbra Witches (associated with the moon, cats, and other symbols of female sexuality) and the Lumen Sages, a thinly-disguised version of the Catholic Church. The grand plot of the game’s flamboyant Pope (the literal Patriarch) is to enslave Bayonetta and control her feminine magic in order to call God to earth, essentially an attempt to constrain female sexuality. The game’s female angels– Joy –are sexually submissive: offering themselves to the player and inviting the camera to ogle them. Female sexuality from the side of the villains is in the service of male lust or power, whereas Bayonetta is sexual solely for her own sake. This is woven into combat, as well: Bayonetta can perform over-the-top sexual taunts which will enrage nearby angels beyond the point of reason, and many of her more powerful attacks (like summoning a giant demonic high heel to stomp her enemies) are weaponized sexual humiliation. Bayonetta owning and reveling in her sexuality isn’t just a character element: it’s her embracing the very thing that her enemies hate her for. For all its cheesy sexiness, the game’s core story is that of a third-wave feminist using her sexuality as a weapon against the patriarch.

Like Terra, Bayonetta is also extremely feminine. Whereas most game heroes aren’t allowed to be feminine– think of Samus, who spends all of her time as a hero in genderless power armor –Bayonetta struts about in heels, is represented by cats and butterflies, eats lollipops, and becomes a mother figure (to a younger version of herself from the past). Bayonetta is Princess Peach levels of girly, and the game never plays it for irony: she’s an extremely womanly woman who happens to be an amazing hero.