Noted, and I didn't say that it shouldn't be mentioned in a review, just that it shouldn't be the dominant portion of the review. For an example, look at Polygon's review of Dragon's Crown. The review talks about what the game is mostly about - the gameplay and mechanics. However, it still has a box calling out the game for having quite a few sexist tropes and character designs, which put the writer off. Essentially, it lets the reader get a good view of what the game is like, and then puts the things that are likely controversial and very subjective - moreso than a normal review, at least - in a place where it's not constantly in the reader's face, but the reader can take a look and see if it's something that would put them off of the game because it's something they care about, or something that they can ignore if it's not relevant to their interests. Contrast that to the site's Bayonetta 2 review, which has so many references to the character's sexual nature that there's no way to avoid or ignore it while reading the review, and the constant negative tone towards one aspect of the game makes the review as a whole hard to read without getting a negative impression of the game, even though the rest of the review and the score itself are rather positive.
I made a decision to compare the two reviews you linked and post my results here, whatever I found. Here's what I got. I tried my hardest to keep this fair and impartial.
16% of the wordcount of the bayonetta review is a criticism of the allegedly sexist content. (440 out of 2639 words)
16% of the wordcount of the Dragon's crown review is likewise critical of allegedly sexist content (161 out of 1005 words)
It's also the kind of game that left me asking how many times and how many different ways developer Platinum could run a camera up the main character's spread legs and cleavage.
On the other, the deliberate sexualization and objectification on display serves as a jarring distraction from the creativity and design smarts elsewhere.
Less positive is the same exaggerated sexualization that hung heavy around the last game's neck. I'll forgive the high heels and the exaggerated proportions, if only because there's so many other things to criticize. Bayonetta's new outfit delivers bold new developments in revealing clothing with the introduction of diamond cutouts on the ass of her jumpsuit, creating what I can only refer to as "under-butt" cleavage. When standing in place her shoulders are bent back to point her chest at ... whatever.
But even this is minor compared to the game's camera, which zooms in on Bayonetta's parts like they're products being sold in a commercial. There are enough gratuitous ass-shots, cleavage jokes and spread legs to fill an hours long super cut. The camera doesn't look at Bayonetta it leers at her.
This is frequently provided as an implicit reward for doing well. For anyone who didn't play the first game, here's a bit of premise: Much of Bayonetta's supernatural power is tied into her hair. Her clothing is actually composed of this hair magic, and as she performs more powerful attacks, more of this hair magic is diverted from covering her to compensate. Put simply, Bayonetta's strongest attacks result in her clothes flying off. For more intense quicktime sequences, she'll even do a sexy pose as it flies off, with the absolute barest minimum covered.
Bayonetta 2's prurient 'rewards' are totally unnecessary
It's sexist, gross pandering, and it's totally unnecessary. Bayonetta 2 needs prurient rewards even less than the original Bayonetta did, because the on-screen chaos you can wreak through skilled play is infinitely more satisfying.
Bayonetta 2's blatant over-sexualization puts a big dent in an otherwise great game
But every time I'd feel on a roll, enjoying my time with Bayonetta 2 immensely, I'd be broken out of it by another cheap shot of T&A. I would be wrecking a flock of angelic or demonic enemies, sliding in and out of witch time almost at will, and then the special weapon I had picked up became a literal stripper pole for Bayonetta to dance on, because ... well, because, I guess.
I won't guess why the blatant over-sexualization is still there, often more intensely than before. But it causes an otherwise great game to require a much bigger mental compromise to enjoy.
Bayonetta 2 is unapologetically, even defiantly old-school.
This is a knife that cuts both ways. Developer Platinum Games has once again gone for broke, creating an action game of spectacle so big that it's occasionally incomprehensible. Bayonetta 2 is the kind of game where you might ask, seriously, why you're not allowed to strap a massive multi-bladed scythe to your high heels. It's extravagant, like the golden age of Japanese action games never ended, like that arms race just escalated on and on.
On one side of the knife is a character action game that refines the incredible combat foundations of the original Bayonetta and avoids the lack of variety that dragged it down in the last third.
Strange things are afoot in Bayonetta 2
Set an indeterminate though presumably short time after Bayonetta, Bayonetta 2 opens in what looks like New York City during Christmas, though, honestly, this doesn't matter all that much. Within minutes, Bayonetta is back to her old tricks, fighting off monstrous angelic enemies atop a fighter jet.
This is not even remotely the strangest thing that happens in Bayonetta 2.
There's a plot driving Bayonetta 2, theoretically, though you might be hard-pressed to explain it until most of the way through. How much you get from that narrative will likely hinge on how much you like anime staples like overwrought, over-dramatic dialogue and nonsensical non-sequiturs. There is some stuff to like, though. Bayonetta gets some much-needed development as a human being who cares about things other than herself; her motivations go beyond the agonizingly trope-y amnesia setup of the first game. It's a good look for the character.
Bayonetta 2 has the same basic mechanics of the original. It's a character action game meaning that it's you against enemies who can kill you quickly if you're not mindful of what's happening. Proper timing and combo use are important, but Bayonetta 2, like Bayonetta, adds a very specific, very cool wrinkle to the genre: witch time.
Bayonetta 2 introduces online multiplayer to the series, but it's a limited implementation. Matches are limited to trials, which blur the lines between cooperative play and competitive design, as each player has their own score and their own in-game currency on the line. Everything works, but at times the mode's design seems at odds with itself. It's hard to force yourself to revive a downed partner when it provides an opportunity for you to get your score up even more.
Witch time is invoked by dodging with the right trigger just before an enemy's attack would connect. When done properly, this turns the world purple and temporarily slows down time around Bayonetta, allowing her free reign to manhandle enemies. Witch time is a luxury early, on, but it's an absolute necessity later; it forces the kinds of considerations that other action games just don't. If you want to have a maximum advantage in Bayonetta 2, you have to put yourself in a position to get hit by an enemy, which can be extremely detrimental to your health.
To do well, you have to take bigger and bigger chances. The risk makes the reward even more appealing. There's also an unforgiving but nonetheless motivating rating system in place that assesses your performance and rewards you with currency to use at an in-game shop. It creates a feedback loop: I wanted to do better to get more stuff to do better and get more stuff. And though Bayonetta 2's levels are full of secrets and items to pick up and use in battle, even Platinum knows that the excellent combat is the draw fights are hidden around each level along with pickups, and when you finish a level, you can see whether or not you found them all.
There are also golden LPs hidden around Bayonetta 2, frequently in pieces. Redeeming them at the in-game shop The Gates of Hell rewards you with new weapons, each of which can radically change the way Bayonetta fights. She also has weapon slots on her legs and arms, and many weapons can be used on either (or both, if you're willing to cough up the cash to buy duplicates), with very different, often surprising results hence my complaints about not being able to put a scythe on my feet.
Still, you can accessorize your heels with a pair of chainsaw weapons, which turns them into murderous rocket skates. I'd classify that as a reasonable consolation prize.
These systems aren't new to Bayonetta 2, but the whole package feels a lot more considered. The weapon systems in particular feel more relevant than before combat trials encourage experimentation with different weapon combinations, which in turn lends itself to more variety in the main game than I experienced in the first Bayonetta.
Bayonetta 2's difficulty curve is also much less harsh, and I imagine it will feel more accessible to players with less experience in this genre. There's less time spent fighting the same massive boss monster over the course of half an hour, more time spent moving forward, which eases off on the grind that Bayonetta often became. There are even more collectibles this time around, many of which unlock challenges to be played in the new cooperative mode though, sadly, this is limited to challenges alone. The sequel is also shorter, though it feels that way in part because of the reduction in retreading and overextended boss battles. Both of these are, to me, net positives.
When Platinum Games is on, it's really, really on, and Bayonetta 2 is in almost any respect that counts a better game than the first, whose mechanics were already exemplary.
Dragon's Crown is a fantasy-obsessed teenaged boy's dream: crazy, violent and full of impossibly large breasts.
Dragon's Crown's serious liberties with female anatomy are distracting. Two player characters the Amazon and the Sorceress are explicitly sexualized, with breasts literally bigger than their heads with rear ends to match, and plenty of the screen real estate is dedicated to their respective jiggles and sashays. But at least these characters are powerful women, with agency and a penchant for destroying rooms full of bad guys.
The same can't be said for the female NPCs that fill Dragon's Crown's dungeons and other environments. Most of the women in the game are barely clothed, with heaving chests, backs twisted into suggestive positions, some with their legs spread almost as wide as the screen. They're presented as helpless objects, usually in need of rescue. It's obvious, one-sided and gross.
But I found its over-exaggerated art style alienating and gross in its depiction of women
Edit: I discovered that I accidentally included 15 words from the ethics statement of dragon's crown in the non-critical content count. It should actually be 987 words since I didn't do the same for Bayonetta. However this does not alter the percentage.Second Edit: Aaargh, I meant to say 18 words, just can't get this post right.
Recalling developer Vanillaware's previous work on Odin's Sphere, Dragon's Crown is a 2D brawler/RPG hybrid starring a cast of over-the-top adventurers in a land of generic fantasy tropes.
The combat and wide variety of enemies play to Vanillaware's strengths. But the game's repetitive structure and a troublesome presentation of women prevent Dragon's Crown from transcending its juvenile influences.
Dragon's Crown rests on a paper-thin premise: You are a roving man or woman of the world, out to seek adventure in Hydeland. Before long, you're embroiled in royal politics, and battling hordes of fantastical creatures while investigating the awakening of an ancient evil.
Before long, you're battling hordes of fantastical creatures
At the adventure's outset, you pick from six available characters: the Amazon, Fighter, Sorceress, Elf, Dwarf or Wizard. The selection is well balanced for a variety of playstyles, with a nice mix of slower, heavier melee fighters, ranged attackers and magic specialists. Dragon's Crown is at its best when running with a party of different classes that can support each other via drop-in co-op, though you have the option to go solo or with AI partners as well.
Levels are set on a 2D plane, often filled with enough enemies to completely cover the screen. The pace is relentless. I sometimes lost track of my own character amid the chaos, but this isn't really a problem. Dragon's Crown rewards bombastic moves and has little patience for subtlety. While you can block and parry, it's more effective to mash the attack button and dodge only as needed.
Dragon's Crown's combat system is bolstered by its enemy variety. There are dozens of different beasts, mythological creatures and medieval jerks to beat up, all in their own themed stages. Some levels have you facing off against hordes of undead, while others feature demons, orcs or, you know, possessed tiger-dog
things. It's not just a game of numbers either; every enemy type requires a unique approach. Flying demons call for well-timed jump attacks, for example, while lumbering undead need to be beaten into a pulp at close range then avoided as they explode into green goo. The monster diversity helped to counteract the combat's mechanical simplicity, which is especially well realized in Dragon's Crown's boss fights.
In my pocket
Dragon's Crown is being released simultaneously on the Vita and PS3. It's precisely the same game, with the nice touch of cross-platform saves that allow you to easily move between the console and handheld versions. Some things work better on Sony's handheld the touch controls are seamless (whereas using the right stick to "point" to objects can be awkward in the PS3 version), and the feel of the game is subsequently smoother. But reading stat screens can be a chore on the smaller screen, and there is occasional slowdown when too many characters flood the screen.
Boss fights were routinely my favorite part of the game
Each stage has a resident big bad, eventually offering two to choose from. These are the most strategic and interesting parts of the game. Facing off against the Minotaur, for instance, requires perfect timing around his charge attack, while the epic battle with the red dragon is part platforming challenge, part beatdown. These fights were routinely my favorite part of the game, adding welcome challenge and more variety to the mix.
In between battles, you can choose to continue on to the next stage, or hang out in town, where you can buy and sell new gear, "resurrect" bones of the dead that you collect in combat and subsequently select them as your AI buddies and learn rune magic. The resurrection mechanic is a godsend for players going it alone, and the game makes it easy to select characters that complement the skills of your own chosen fighter. As an Amazon, I was always selecting magical and ranged companions, sometimes adding one more heavy melee character to round out my damage-dealing capabilities.
I had to diligently explore and open treasure chests during adventures to guarantee that I was well stocked with a steady supply of stuff, and I enjoyed outfitting my Amazon with the best gear for my kamikaze playstyle. This, along with a simple skill points system, add a welcome bit of customization in a game that otherwise levels your stats uniformly.
At the adventurer's guild, side quests are selected and turned in for rewards including XP, skill points, in-game gold and even concept art. Quests are often predictable, but the best required me to explore secret rooms or look for bizarre details in the background scenery.
The change of pace offered by the side content was appreciated given how repetitive Dragon's Crown's core structure often is. The game forces repeat visits through many of the same stages. As there are only around nine levels (with one branching path each by mid-game) stretched over 25+ hours, I was stuck replaying the same areas dozens of times. The game incentivizes continued play with a hard mode that unlocks after beating the final boss on normal difficulty, and a whole new quest to kill another ancient evil opens up. But again, the contents of the stages and the bosses themselves are the same, just more difficult. But as frustrating as the grind became, Vanillaware's aesthetic decisions were much more alienating.
Dragon's Crown is presented in a lush, hand-drawn style, with gorgeous environments and detailed animation. Each beast, unholy creature and player character has been lovingly rendered. But that attention to detail is a double-edged sword.
Dragon's Crown is an unapologetic adolescent fantasy
Dragon's Crown makes a strong first impression. It's a fun mix of RPG tropes and dynamic brawler action. even as it shines in building a world of fantastic monsters and environments, and the forced grind through the same stages dulled my excitement. Dragon's Crown is a wild place to visit, but it doesn't quite hold up in the light of day.
Dragon's Crown was reviewed using code provided by Atlus. You can read more about Polygon's ethics policy here.