Congratulations Bayonetta, you are officially the videogame character that most men would like to be hand-cuffed by. Also, Hyper thought that your game was pretty good.
Actually, scrap that. Hyper thought that your game was really good. So good, in fact, that after eight pages of squabbling and Dylan threatening to test his new anal-probing technology on those who held different opinions (I jest â this bit was edited out), your absurdly long legs were able to stride tall over other big hitters such as Halo: Reach, Red Dead Redemption, and God of War 3 to be declared Hyper’s official game of the year for 2010.
To many, this may seem a tad bizarre (RIP) and not just because it feels like a return to the days when we got everything a year after Japan (where Bayonetta was released in time for Christmas ‘09). No, this will seem bizarre because Bayonetta isn’t exactly swimming in a pool of Game of the Year awards. More to the point, she’s not even swimming in a pool of shortlist nominations. In fact, with the exception of Edge and IGN UK (both, interestingly, British publications), I’m struggling to come up with a noteworthy website or magazine that gave out any noteworthy retrospective props to the game.
Although you could perhaps argue as such, it’s unlikely that this omission is the result of the game’s 2009 heritage â Hyper’s hardly alone in working with local release dates when dolling out such frivolous trophies. More than likely, this represents a rift in tastes between media personnel and, very likely, cultures. If you were to follow the major US websites as 2010 wound towards its end, then you’d very likely be thrust into a headspace where Red Dead Redemption, Mass Effect 2, StarCraft 2, Halo: Reach, and maybe Call of Duty: Black Ops or God of War 3 were almost unquestioned as the front runners for a properly vindicated Game of the Year Edition re-release. Maybe someone would try and throw a Heavy Rain curveball, but the lists remained largely predictable.
By comparison, with the exception of Mass Effect, Hyper’s own GotY discussion scarcely touched upon most of these. Rather, Bayonetta’s key competition was Super Mario Galaxy 2 â a game that was bafflingly overlooked in far too many award line-ups. Other serious contenders included Limbo and Bioshock 2. Boy, Australians are crazy!
Two things of interest happened recently. The first is that Two Worlds 2 was released to rave reviews in the European circuit (according to numerical scores at least â I’m not terribly multilingual), but received a much less enthusiastic response from most western critics. The second is that David Braben, head of Frontier Software and creator of Elite, suggested that critics be monitored for consistency with each other’s scoring. Apparently, the most meta-consistent critic could be given a giant teddy-bear and a big hug at the end of the year.
Although I am simplifying things a tad, it seems that example one does a fairly good job of suggesting that example two is really rather stupid â in method, if not concept. In fact, it brings the fickle nature of how we measure quality into a disturbingly clear light. This is hardly the most common example â the rift between Japanese and western tastes has become increasingly pronounced since, perhaps, the release of the original XBox. Personal preferences result in people making fun of spiky-haired balls of angst, or bald space-marines with mental-processes thicker then their ridiculous biceps.
While there has to be some kind of measure of what makes for a good game and a bad one, we seem to have reached a point where that abstract notion of gameplay, as well as its overall implied importance, has become fragmented into multiple different perspectives. This has existed in other media for a long time: anyone who has paid attention to the long-established film critics David Stratton and Margaret Pomeranz will be aware of the rift that films be Lars Von Trier can cause: Dancer in the Dark received a score of no stars from one, and a full five from the other. Both made arguments that could be perfectly sensible or utter rubbish depending on your own mental state and personal feelings towards the film (or even the critic).
So, what do those nutty Europeans see in Two Worlds 2? Is it something we’re missing completely, or do they just have different priorities in regard to what they appreciate in game design? Is it just a sense of localised pride? Maybe they just love s**t? It’s hard to say â who’s opinion is more valid: the one who grew up with Vegemite, or the one who could never understand how a person could possibly eat that crap?
Why did Hyper roll with Bayonetta? Aside from the obvious answer of that game being the one that most of the people involved in the discussion were content with, there remains the question of why not the games that kept on winning elsewhere? Or, to flip the coin, why was Bayonetta largely ignored on the world (or, at least, American) scale? It certainly does what it does better than any other game out there â in terms of a deep combo-based combat system, and generally crazy things happening, it’s really quite hard to beat. Why was it so frequently shafted in the name of Red Dead Redemption, Mass Effect, and a series of first-person shooters?
The easiest answer is that each game best represents what the respective panels look for and pay attention to in each specific case. They did the right things right, and perhaps they also did the right things wrong. This is important. Take Mass Effect 2 for example. I personally feel that, while not a bad game, it is heinously over-rated. My reasons come from personal peeves and priorities: I really detest the game’s inability to communicate information through its (competent, but unbearably orthodox) landscapes or other visual nuances, and how it instead relies on shoving bucketloads of text and dialogue down the player’s throat. Many people see a triumph of writing and a vastly fleshed out world; I see an embarrassing failure to even remotely make use of its proposed cinematic flair.
It may just be that what is fun or worthwhile for one person is different for another. But it’s also possible that it’s not â it may just be a matter of perspective and lifestyle influences such as peers, work hours and so forth. There are numerous factors as to why the Japanese have connected with Monster Hunter in a way that most Australians simply haven’t. There’s a whole social multiplayer network built around that game over there, and this in turn leads to peer discussions and a greater understanding of its specific mechanics. The argument might also be made that being overworked makes grinding more pleasurable, as it places less stress on an already-fried brain.
But mostly, the game is probably being looked at differently. What the Japanese player values is likely, in many cases, very different to what most western gamers associate with good design. The same may well be true of Two Worlds 2 â it’s not just a case of the market understanding the game, but of the game understanding its market. The local success stories may well be born from an inherit understanding of what a local populace is looking for, what they’re paying special attention to. It’s a simple equation on some levels: Madden sells in the US, Fifa in the UK, and an AFL game, no matter how scratchy, will likely do well in Australia, because it’s presenting rules and concepts that we understand and (in the case of the target market, at least) already enjoy. Does it really matter if a guy with a Sydney Swans season pass is unable to get his head around NBA2K11? Of course not.
The concept that true objectivity is impossible is hardly news, but that may not detract from the stubborn way in which we perceive our games. There’s a very good chance that we â critics and consumers alike â are blinded by one way of looking at things; that a mix of personal taste, surrounding culture, hype and familiarity can subliminally feed our judgement. We live in comfort zones. This is pretty much a fact of life. Whatever new experiences we crave must, we demand, still conform with this. It doesn’t matter how delightfully playful Little Big Planet 2 is if you’re fundamentally wired to equate floaty jumping physics with terrible gameplay. Likewise, is it really so important that playing a first-person shooter with a control pad is less swift and precise than a keyboard and mouse combo? In terms of anal accuracy, yes, but this desire for precision is very likely derived from pent-up familiarity rather than any real-life experiences of being able to efficiently aim a grenade launcher as you spin around and fire in the space of half a second.
So much of the time, our reasoning for what is good and bad in a game boils down to stubborn thinking in relation to that’s just how it’s supposed to be, dammit! Would Brutal Legend have been granted a different fate if we didn’t have a bias over how an RTS should function wired to our synapse?
Is this how it has to be? I’m afraid to suggest that it is â we live in a world where multiple major religions command hundreds of thousands of devoted, absolute believers (who are utterly convinced that they’re right), where people can be outraged that Arcade Fire can win an award that Eminem didn’t, where I have to put up with my sister watching Glee, and where Hyper is in a special PAL territory club in relation to giving Bayonetta top honours.
See? I’m doing it already.