Describing Bayonetta as "over-the-top" doesn't quite capture its peculiar, extravagant insanity. This is the game where giant torture racks and disembodied fists can be summoned mid-attack, where a sultry string bean can suplex a dragon and laugh off the effects of gravity. Director Hideki Kamiya is definitely back to his Devil May Cry ways, but this time he embraces adrenaline-fueled absurdity like it's a long-lost friend, just recently escaped from some mental asylum.
If there's one thing that suffers the most from the visual overload, it's the camera, which seems to have a hard time keeping an eye on things -- never mind all the combo meters, health bars and flashes of enthusiastic text vying for your attention. To be fair, though, there's a hell of a lot going on. Bayonetta possesses a very robust set of attacks and combos, from ranged gun-boot flurries to multi-stage melee beatdowns. There's a great reward for well-timed dodging, too, in the form of "Witch Time." Leaping out of the way (improbably, this works even when you're airborne) will briefly slow down time and allow you to effectively retaliate against the bizarro enemies.
The controls feel fast and fluid, right on par with the likes of Ninja Gaiden. An interesting -- and even unexpected -- difference between Bayonetta and Team Ninja's hardcore kill-'em-up is the barrier of entry. Bayonetta's a tough game, don't misunderstand, but it seems to do a much better job of teaching you how to play. Attacks are illustrated with their corresponding buttons on-screen and our first few minutes with the game were accompanied by a surprisingly sensible and (gasp!) nice tutorial. You can even run about and learn some combos while the next area loads.
The action feels good, but Bayonetta really shines when it comes to the gorgeous environments. Graphically splendid, yes, but equally arresting from an art standpoint. It ties into the game's balmy approach to telling an inevitably ridiculous story, which, as far as we could tell, boils down to a scantily clad Mary Poppins waging war on other super-powered vixens ... or something. When you stack the plates this high, one insane action set piece on top of the next, it doesn't really matter, just as long as the whole thing doesn't come crashing down.
Provided Bayonetta reins in its camera and keeps putting on an unhinged show, it'll be easy to recommend to action fans. Putting aside the silliness, it also remains to be seen how well Bayonetta, the character, can avoid controversy and dogged accusations of in-your-face sexism and exploitation. Her clothes, um, do disappear quite a lot.