Bayonetta is an action game, the first in what can only be assumed to be a new franchise. Published by Sega, it is developed by Platinum Games - a company made up primarily of ex-Clover Studios (Okami, God Hand) staff. If you're familiar with Devil May Cry, you have a fair idea of what to expect here - it is, after all, designed by Devil May Cry creator Hideki Kamiya.
The basic story goes that there were once witches and sages in the world but they hated each other and went to war. Chaos ensued and they were all wiped out - aside from Bayonetta, who was found (without her memories) in a box at the bottom of a lake. Knowing only that she's a witch that likes to waste angels (!), the game begins... There are no story spoilers in this review - just know it's incredibly convoluted and incredibly Japanese.
The gameplay is pure action. Sure, sometimes you might have to look around to figure out where to go but those bits are brief and not enough to append the word "adventure" to the game's genre. You have two main buttons to use in combating the angelic hosts; kick and punch. Sounds simple enough and it is - the complexity (and there is depth here, be in no doubt) comes in the order you press them in and the time delay between presses. There are loads of combinations on offer (the loading screen providing an excellent opportunity to practice them) and learning them is fun.
The next most important button / mechanic to learn is dodging. Pulling on the right trigger will cause Bayonetta to leap out of the way - doing so at the last possible moment before an enemy attack lands puts you automatically into "Witch Time", slowing everything (except you) and providing an awesome opportunity to dish out a lot of low-risk damage. Unlike most games, dodging here is actually a lot of fun, with enemies clearly telegraphing their moves which allows you to integrate the dodge into your regular move rotation and make combat where you take no damage achievable to the skilled.
Bayonetta can also wield her hair (which is also her clothing, so when she uses it as a weapon, well, there's none to spare to keep her covered up) to devastating effect during combos. Pull off the right combo and huge fists, feet or other creations will be conjured up by Bayonetta's hair and unleashed on the unsuspecting (who's going to expect that!) enemy.
For those that aren't so skilled, have no fear - Bayonetta caters for you, too. The three difficulty modes available at the start include Normal, Easy and Very Easy. On Very Easy, pressing only the punch button will do everything (except moving out of combat) for you - even dodging. String together incredible combos like a videogame god, all the while mashing a single button to do so. It works well but if you have the skill (or are prepared to put in the time to learn it), it's definitely more fun to do all of the moves yourself manually.
In addition to the basic attacks, combos and guns (Bayonetta has a gun strapped to all four limbs and using them often is crucial), there are numerous opportunities to perform situational / contextual moves in mid-combat. Punish moves allow you to continue to pile on damage to a fallen foe before they get up and will typically (like much of the rest of the game) have an overtly sexual connotation, as Bayonetta leaps on the enemy and repeatedly slaps them (as you press Y), stating "you've been a naughty boy!" (or similar).
Other contextual moves include the torture attacks, where Bayonetta brings in a torture contraption and, depending on how quickly you can spam the designated button, does massive damage to the selected foe. Fortunately the other enemies are happy to let you go ahead with this and won't interrupt by attacking you while you terminate their friends in gratuitous fashion. Bayonetta can also concoct massive boss creatures of her own from her aforementioned flowing locks, using these special climax moves to finish off a boss or marquee enemy.
Enemies are mostly based on increasingly complex (and increasingly large) angelic beasts, with bosses taken from a warped imagination with access to a dictionary and some strong medication. The bosses are typically enormous, multi-screen affairs, with multiple phases to figure out as you gradually send them to their (and your!) maker. Some truly epic encounters to be had here, with normal bounds of videogames either side stepped or completely ignored as entire levels erupt or get chucked at you.
Without ruining too many surprises (skip this tiny paragraph if you don't want anything ruined), this has to be the first game ever to feature both throwing a church at a boss and then shooting a cherub in the penis.
Each level is broken up into a series of short encounters, each of which you are graded for which goes towards your total grade for the level. All of this stuff is then ranked on leaderboards so the truly hardcore can hammer through the game over and over to try and perfect it for added longevity.
Parents should be aware that, in addition to the over-the-top cartoon violence and gore, there's a LOT of sexual content. It's not explicit but is near-as-damnit so if you don't want your children spending a lot of time looking upwards at an exquisitely rendered and barely concealed female crotch, this many not be the game for you. But then, it's R16 so no responsible parent would buy it for their kids anyway - right?
Visually the core components of the game (Bayonetta herself, the environments, the enemies) are detailed and gorgeous (particularly Bayonetta...). The cutscenes can be a bit average (everything animated but the faces? what?) and they vary a lot from one to another - the ones with combat are pretty good, however. Technically there were no problems during the review, however reports suggest the PS3 version doesn't fare as well. We didn't have access to that version, however, so were unable to confirm or deny any issues with it.
If you like action games like God of War and Devil May Cry (or what Heavenly Sword tried and failed to be), you need to go out and buy this the next opportunity you get. This is the chaotic action game polished to the nth degree. The combat is sublime (even the dodging is fun), the environments are bizzarre and the action incredibly intense. Bosses are spectacular, many and varied and there's lots of it to go around.
Bayonetta is awesome. Get stuck in.