[DEMO] Button-mashing through 2010

16 Jan

Demoman is a feature in which I make (incredibly harsh) assumptions about upcoming games based upon their (horrible) demos, while making observations about their purpose and importance.

Today’s victims: Bayonetta and Dante’s Inferno

Whether it’s a “beat ’em up” or a “hack ‘n’ slash” may depend on the player character’s weaponry, but games like Bayonetta and Dante’s Inferno share a similar, defining element that makes them much easier to group together: They’re “button-mashers”.

Bayonetta‘s demo begins with a tutorial illustrating the bare bones of the game’s mechanics and it features short practice sessions highlighting a variety of combos while the game loads. The titular heroine can riddle enemies with light gunfire, but majority of her arsenal consists of punches and kicks. Various combinations of these attacks can result in devastating techniques, but it’s easier to get through the demo’s handful of battles with the incessant mashing of a single attack. The full game may be expertly crafted to ease players into using more and more elaborate combos stylishly and effectively, but the demo gives no indication of that.

The demo’s battles are given no context. The player begins fighting a horde of bird-like angels upon a fragment of a clock tower careening off a mountain top. Bayonetta leaps from fragment to fragment until a big-dragon thing comes in for the kill. Then, she’s suddenly in a train. The player resumes control in a terminal occupied by ghosts. Wandering into a beautiful garden initiates the next battle, which is capped off by a large mini-boss (oxymoron?). Finally, the player wanders onto a bridge and begins fighting an even larger creature before the demo ends. A bit of back story is given early on, but that’s not what the player is there for. They’re trying to glean some semblance of what it’s like to play Bayonetta, but if this is what it’s like, then it’s just a series of random battles won through random button mashing.

Dante’s Inferno‘s demo goes the opposite route of Bayonetta‘s by offering way too much context. The game supposedly takes place in the ultimate set-piece of Hell, featuring all nine circles of sinful abominations, by crapping all over classic literature, but the player doesn’t get to experience any of it. Instead, they’re guided through the game’s prologue, a poorly pieced together afterthought meant to justify the abuse of The Divine Comedy. And like Bayonetta, Dante’s Inferno is a game about pressing a couple buttons in rapid succession.

Dante wins Death’s scythe and later acquires a holy cross, both of which are used as weapons against Hell’s minions. The weapons play on the themes of good and evil present within the game’s skill-building mechanic of absolution and condemnation. The former earns points for the light side of the skill tree while the latter earns points for the dark side. When Dante has earned enough points, he can purchase new skills, which take the form of combos, attacks, and static abilities. The moment the player gains access to the tree, he has enough points to purchase all of the dark abilities offered in the demo. There are two light abilities available that are also easy to earn. It would be safe to assume the rest of the two or three dozen abilities aren’t nearly as easy to unlock in the full game, but the demo does nothing to confirm that. As with Bayonetta, the player isn’t given much of a clue as to what Dante’s Inferno is like outside of its basic mechanics.

It’s obvious that while Bayonetta is going for style and sex appeal, Dante’s Inferno is going for style and controversy through the violent depiction of Christian imagery. Both games do an excellent job of selling themselves as over-the-top, action-packed experiences. The Bayonetta demo’s opening sequence of leaping across the broken fragments of a clock tower hurtling down a cliff is great to watch, and Dante’s Inferno‘s world dissolving into a hellish nightmare is jarring and exciting (though the gameplay’s graphics are relatively bad compared to the great cinematics).

From a visual standpoint, both Bayonetta and Dante’s Inferno demand the player’s attention, but neither are designed in a way that demands the player’s purchase unless they’re perfectly satisfied exploring the myriad ways to mash buttons. Bayonetta has already been released and is enjoying a strong 91 (360) and 86 (PS3) on Metacritic, so reviewers must have found something deeper to experience within the game, and it’s a safe bet they’ll do the same with Dante’s Inferno, but these victories won’t be a result of the respective demos. They’ll be the result of extensive marketing campaigns and months of hype from the major players in the online video game community.


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