In the early 2000s, Capcom’s in-house risk taker was a little offspring of its more deviant designers called Clover Studios. They’ve since become famous for blowing open cel-shading with cinema superhero rumbler Viewtiful Joe, the calligraphic masterpiece that was Okami, and the most insatiably weird post-punk Western 3D brawler that no one played, called Godhand.
But at the time, they were pretty niche. When Clover failed to perform as expected, Capcom tried to swallow it back into its womb. Its personnel resisted and scattered to the gaming winds, Shinji Mikami among them, whose major credit at Capcom you may recognize as Resident Evil 4 (or, the good one). Most of the artists ended up forming a PlatinumGames and entered into a limited publishing partnership with Sega. They continue to this day to heckle the AAA industry from within its own walls by slapping their bare bums from the windows of a design department that in at least 25 states is probably considered pornographic.
Perhaps it’s this breaking away and this shameless freedom that gives PlatinumGames its edge. They see norms as an opportunity for exploitation, to corner and abuse our expectations whenever they can. The result is just plain awkward. And infrequently wonderful.
Video game journalism is straining to find bold female protagonists. So in answer, PlatinumGames gives them Bayonetta, whose protagonist is too bold to praise. Who could heap progressive press headlines on a wicken hottie lashing off her clothes to split open the orifice of hell? To conjure demons from her naked body to munch the boss down to a bloody pulp, while she munches her signature cherry lollie between pursed lips? She even cosplays in Bayonetta 2 as famous Nintendo mascots, just to show the industry what Platinum thinks of all its serious art. Calling her a bold leap for feminine representation would be like citing Duke Nukem as a male role model.
Then as Bayonetta splatters onto adult consoles, Platinum punches into their highest gear for MadWorld, probably just because it was commissioned for Nintendo’s childlike Wii. They took it as a chance to blow the little white box’s virgin mind.
If you ever desired to give someone an enema on a railroad spike protruding from a giant neon stripper’s bare breast before lobotomizing him with a road sign and splitting his bowels with your chainsaw hand, MadWorld is your dream. You’ll have your desire met a dozen times per level (more, if you’re competing for a high score). I won’t even mention the really gross stuff.
When they’re given a license to work with, PlatinumGames plays it pretty safe. They had lukewarm and unsurprising turns with Legend of Korra, Transformers: Devastation, and StarFox Zero to pad out their roster with games a “normal” company might have made. But the few entries that have come purely from the mind vaults of their own rebels have been subversive and endlessly entertaining. Mikami even came back to make Vanquish, a cover-shooter that’s like a Formula 1 Ferrari if Gears of War is a tractor. Konami couldn’t do anything with Metal Gear Rising, so they gave it to PlatinumGames, who took their storied and most expository franchise and made an inglorious, adrenal LSD trip through sword and sex-play.
Just by coming to the AAA FPS party in hack n’ slash drag, Platinum is one of the industry’s outliers. But there are weird games in the mainstream, right? There’s psychedelic skateboard shooter Sunset Overdrive. There’s Saints Row, a character creator crossdressing as a sandbox. What makes PlatinumGames different enough to be the subject of this article?
The key is in its utter joy in making you squirm. Platinum seems to think video games never should have left the exploitative arcade early days of Smash TV and Final Fight. It rations out two-thirds of a fetish outfit for each of its characters and has them, sometimes figuratively, pole-dance otherworldly enemies to death, death, death. Infinity Ward makes you kill, but Platinum loves it.
Judging by some of the ways they force your hand, there’s a kind of kinky intelligentsia to it. In Godhand you don’t just pummel your enemies – you spank them to death. In Bayonetta you get your choice of a half-dozen fetishistic torture chamber finishing moves. They’ll have you straddling a guillotine, butt waggling as heads roll. All to a stylish quick-time event and a re-orchestration of a Sinatra tune.
This kind of subversion of the industry’s taste represents an expressive freedom that’s worth mentioning every so often. Upping gaming’s weirdness coefficient is one of the only ways the super-serious AAA norm gets a little motivation to stay fresh and fun-savvy. The Indie market certainly gives a nudge in that direction, but Platinum is doing it from within the fortress itself. They’re heckling the gods in their own temples.
Seeing the industry through Platinum’s kinky kaleidoscope makes it seem like the yearly re-releases of a numbered entry in some shooter or sports franchise will eventually wither next to Platinum’s rock-hard determination to subvert and invert and please.
But the sales still never really impress. As at Capcom years ago when they were still called Clover, Platinum is the weird kid at the back of the class, drawing giantess dartboards with corpses hanging off the nipples and women that look like Sarah Palin sent through a taffy puller.
Their Scalebound was cancelled earlier this year and we should really think about that. This was a game from the company willing to put you on the back of a dragon just because that’s what they’d want to do. Player-centric design is too rare nowadays and even though the next Call of Duty game will go on and get released because it’s a sure bet and takes no risks, Platinum has problems with development and funding.
The games industry needs its weird kids and daydreamers and deviants. Even its perverts. Platinum is one of the companies that remembers when games used to be fearless. They used to dress protagonists in nothing but three pieces of scotch tape and eyeliner. They used to knife guys to death on the broken city streets and roundhouse kick dinosaurs with thighs like cinderblocks. Buy dystopic punk-noir hack n’ slash Nier: Automata and skewer robot dragons with a sword longer than you are. We’ve got to keep realism in check.
It’s nice and all but really – is that why we play video games?