Games I like in theory more than in practice

Bayonetta went on sale today, and logic dictates that I should be excited. It’s received one of those legendary 40/40 Famitsu scores, Edge has given it a 10 and, most entertainingly, Simon Parkin on Eurogamer summed it up as, “you press a button and your television explodes.”

It’s hard not to be sucked in by that kind of critical reception. Everything I’ve read about Bayonetta has made me think, yes, this is definitely the sort of game that I need in my collection. And yet here I am, back home with a Bayonetta-shaped gap at the top of my games pile, and I’m honestly not sure that it’s likely to be filled at any point.

The problem is that I played the demo and realised something critical: that while Bayonetta is clearly made of awesome, it’s a kind of awesome that I simply don’t get along with. It’s a kind of awesome that requires me to do c0mplex button combos, and that’s the point at which my brain switches off and refuses to play. I’m sure that if I put the time in and educated myself in the ways of a genre that branched off and started doing its own thing something like 20 years ago then I’d be fully able to appreciate Bayonetta’s sexy explodey brilliance, but it’s not going to happen. I can appreciate breathless point-by-point descriptions of the sheer balletic mayhem available in it, but I know that it’d never be like that for me. It’d just end up in the box in my office with the other games that I love the idea of but simply can’t get on with when it comes down to it.

King of all these is Ikaruga. As I mentioned the other day, I bought it on XBLA even though I have a perfectly decent Gamecube version and I know that I probably won’t play it. Clearly it’s lovely. But it’s a kind of lovely that my brain simply doesn’t want to know about. On the easy level I can just about cope with it, but anything more and I’m a mess. Perfectly happy to watch other people play it, people who’ve memorised the whole game and are capable of racking up the most audacious chains on the hardest difficulty level without breaking a sweat, and I’m delighted that it works for them. My take, though, is that it’s a memory test. A memory test that you’re supposed to take while someone lobs grenades at you.

That ain’t me, man. I have the greatest respect for Ikaruga. I reviewed the Gamecube version for Gamesmaster and recommended it very highly indeed while making it clear that it would in all likelihood kick your fucking head in. Excellent game, but it’s not for me.

Same with Viewtiful Joe. Mental and beautiful but cut from the same cloth as Bayonetta, forcing you into mad combo territory,  a place I just don’t go to. See also: Ninja Gaiden. And then there’s the entire Bomberman series, which I’ve honestly tried to love to no avail. Keep blowing myself up. Something fails to click every single time I try to play it and I eventually have to give up, disgusted at my inability to get my head round it.

And then there’s F-Zero GX. By rights it should be one of my favourite games of all time. I used to be frighteningly good at F-Zero X. X tracks, hardest difficulty and I’d win every time. I duelled Andy Lowe at it for the right to review GX for Gamesmaster and gave him a rare complete and utter thrashing. And while GX did pretty much everything right, something about it felt wrong to me and I couldn’t throw myself into it the way I did its predecessor. I keep coming back to it every now and then and it just won’t gel; probably something to do with the full-on visuals. Too much detail, too much clutter; I preferred the way X stripped away everything in the name of maintaining 60fps.

Great games, all of them, but… It’s not even that they’re not to my taste. I’d love to be great at any or all of them, but I know that the effort involved would just be too much expenditure with, let’s face it, not enough gain. There’s still plenty out there that I can get along with just fine. I just won’t be getting Bayonetta, at least not at full price, because I know where it’ll end up.



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5 responses to “Games I like in theory more than in practice

  1. AK

    Totally with you on this. I can’t stomach those fixed camera combo games, regardless of the high scores they always seem to fetch.

    To me, they’re all identical. Barrier appears blocking doorway, enemies spawn. Kill enemies, barrier disappears. Repeat.

    All that seems to change is the spectacle surrounding them. I might be fighting on the wing of a dragon, or on a bit of rubble falling down the side of a cliff, but I’m still just mashing buttons until a fucking barrier fades.

  2. jedburgh

    Aye. It probably started with Street Fighter II for me; my head flat refuses to file all those combinations. It’ll maybe humour me by remembering a couple, but that’s it.

    It’s annoying when the game in question is clearly and objectively excellent and beautiful and perhaps even innovative.

  3. Jimaroid

    Hang on though, you loved PN03 and isn’t that just Bayonetta with lasers?

  4. jedburgh

    My immediate thought when I first heard of Bayonetta was that it might be in a similar vein to PN03, but they’re really different beasts. PN03’s this bizarre graceful hybrid shooter that plays a 2D game extruded into a third person view. Bayonetta’s fightier and, er, comboier.

  5. It’s a lesson i’ve learnt in the past few years – just because something’s a AAA Edge 10 etc, it doesn’t mean I’ll enjoy it. I tend to just pick up stuff I think i’ll enjoy – Bayonetta for me fits into this perfectly.

    I’d agree though, there’s nothing revolutionary about Bayonetta – it’s just beautifully crafted. For me though, that’s enough.

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