Every weapon Bayonetta uses has three kinds of attack, and any two weapons can be switched mid-combo. Hammer buttons and you’ll get a string of attacks, insert a few pauses amidst the hammering and the attacks will be different. Hold the trigger and lock on to a specific enemy and your options change again. Hold any attack button and you’ll get more attacks; grab an enemy’s weapon and you’ll have even more. That’s a lot of options.

It sounds impressive when Platinum Games boasts Bayonetta has so many combos that they couldn’t actually test them all, but what really matters is the sheer number of options that fact gives in any given fight. With just four buttons and an arsenal of weapons, you can get truly creative with Bayonetta’s moves and develop a fighting style that’s all your own. The variety – both in combos and content – is just one of the ways Bayonetta manages to subvert an entire genre.

The others don’t sound like much: a slow-motion mode and a cracking sense of humour, but they’re both critical. Evade at exactly the right second and Bayonetta enters Witch Time – a brief second or two of slow motion to make your combos even more beautiful. Instead of a dedicated and arbitrary slow-mo button, Witch Time is a reward for absolute precision in a game where you’re beset by impossible odds. You can evade at any time, but if you can keep your head and evade only when you’re in the most danger you get a second’s clarity where you can pick your targets and carefully dish out the most complex and devastating combos.

And then there are the laughs. Without its sense of humour, Bayonetta would be deadly serious fanboy bait – all teasing titillation and gratuitous sexual excess – but Bayonetta is played with tongue firmly in cheek. Every time Bayonetta inexplicably contorts herself into a pole dancer’s pose to pick up a gun, or sucks on a lollipop while winking at the camera, it’s played for laughs, not erections. Every line of dialogue is performed with irony and every scene is loaded to the brim with touches a gamer can’t help but love – Hideki Kamiya’s name on a tombstone being pissed on by an angel, Magical Sound Shower on the car radio, and a trumpet you can fire like a gun. Genius.

Bayonetta’s absolute faith in players isn’t reflected in Sega’s faith in Bayonetta, who pulled the game out of the path of the three-way sequel bloodbath that is Assassin’s Creed 2, Uncharted 2, and Modern Warfare 2. It’s out in Japan but won’t arrive in the West until January. A delay which might just make Bayonetta the best action game of both 2009 and 2010.

Nov 19, 2009