Let's get this out of the way first: Bayonetta is unquestionably, intentionally provocative. Here's a game that stars a voluptuous witch kicking angel ass and taking halos. She walks with an exaggerated swaying of the hips that is just this side of absurd. She carries a pair of guns and has another pair strapped to her ankles, which she is able to use while performing handstands and other acrobatics. You know, like you do. And she's clad in her own hair, which -- stick with me here -- is also used to form huge magical creatures that devour her enemies. (And of course, when her hair is being used in such a fashion, there's hardly any left to cover her delicate bits. Imagine!)
So to some people, Bayonetta is no doubt fairly offensive. It's also completely awesome.
Directed by Hideki Kamiya, the creator of Devil May Cry, Bayonetta has a similar sense of completely over-the-top action…only more so. In the demo I was given, I saw a giant hair-dragon chomp a cherub-faced giant in half. I saw a huge hair-boot come out of the sky and stomp a 10-foot-tall, winged angel flat. I saw plenty of torture attacks, like where our titular heroine summons a guillotine out of nowhere, knocks an enemy into it, and drops the blade. All this happens so quickly that it's almost hard to follow, and yet, after picking up the controller myself, I found that it all came fairly naturally. Bayonetta uses the tried-and-true formula of mapping buttons to weak attacks, strong attacks, and kicks, and stringing these together results in freeform-feeling combos that seem to offer unlimited variety. This is in part because of her four weapons, which can be used to supplement hand-to-hand attacks in a manner Devil May Cry fans will find somewhat familiar.
All this action is supplemented by ridiculous cinematics interspersed with the occasional quick-time event: You'll tap "X" to leap from one floating boulder to another, for example, or rotate the analog stick to throw a building at an enemy. (Yes, really. Look, I couldn't make this stuff up). But the gameplay itself tends to be just as ridiculous, as when our heroine hops onto a downed enemy and surfs on a wave of lava down a crumbling street. And then leaps onto the wall to run horizontally away from the approaching wave. Or when she leaps into the air, runs through a ruined street car that's falling through the air, and then fires a swarm of bullets to blast an exit point at the other end.
The thing that positively kills, though, is that the game looks so detailed and so sharp. It's spectacularly colorful, crawling with enemies and over-the-top effects, and running at what I'm almost positive is a solid 60 frames per second.
And as for the potential controversy? "We're not really concerned about religious controversy," says producer Yusuke Hashimoto, "because there's no deep meaning or message. It's more that we thought it was interesting to show light versus dark, good versus evil, and that ambiguity. As for the sexuality, we thought it was interesting to create a whole new type of witch -- a very sexy, beautiful, strong witch." They've certainly done that.
I'm not positive those relatively innocent intentions will allow them to completely dodge an uproar from a certain segment of the U.S. media, but I've been wrong before. We'll find out for sure when Bayonetta hits 360 and PS3 this Fall.