The first thing you should know about Bayonetta is that the story is entirely unimportant. It makes no sense. At all. Period. There's something about two warring clans, one of witches and one of sages (Light vs. Dark -- yada yada yada). There's a "journalist" who inexplicably carries a grappling hook; an ancient god that's being resurrected; and, at one point, there's even a dance-off.
Now, forget about all of that. You'll be skipping through it on your second playthrough anyway. And that's really the point. If you like action games in the vein of Devil May Cry orNinja Gaiden, you'll probably start your second playthrough of Bayonetta exactly when I did: immediately after the first.
Bayonetta is as meaty as third-person action games get. Again, it's a lot like Devil May Cry, which makes sense given both games were created by Hideki Kamiya. You control Bayonetta, an impossibly tall witch with guns in her high heels and a bodysuit made of her own hair (more on that later). Apart from her somewhat bizarre appearance, she has plenty in common with DMC's Dante. Actions are fairly straightforward -- jump, punch, kick and shoot -- and within minutes of familiarizing yourself with the various combos, you'll be stylishly slaughtering angels (Bayonetta is a witch, remember).
While the core combat is familiar, there are enough extensions that it never gets dry. For one, the finishing moves, which summon giant fists or high-heeled boots, add an especially enjoyable aspect to the ass-kicking. More important than the finishers, however, is "Witch Time." You may have guessed that this is merely bullet time in disguise, and you're right, but the way it's used is what matters. Dodging an attack the instant before it lands activates Witch Time, which gives Bayonetta the breathing room needed to pull off some of her more devastating moves. It's this mechanic that really kept me engaged in the combat, doing my darnedest to dodge enemy attacks.
There are also plenty of advanced techniques. Dodge Offset, for example, lets Bayonetta interrupt a combo, dodge, and then take up the same combo where she left off. It takes nimble fingers and perfect timing, but it's definitely satisfying to begin a combo, dodge, initiate Witch Time, and then finish an enemy off with a giant boot to the head -- a sequence that will net you an Achievement if you can pull it off.
Of course, there are myriad weapons to try out. Each combination of weapons -- you can equip two at a time -- yields unique moves, too, so mixing and matching is encouraged. As if all that weren't enough, you can also purchase new techniques from the in-game store, as well as accessories that enable more techniques. The fact that Bayonetta does all this and manages to feel less complex than Devil May Cry 4 is just icing.
Graphically, Bayonetta fluctuates between show-stopping and surprisingly dated. The character models share the same plastic look that's so common in Japanese game design (think Ninja Gaiden or Dead or Alive), and there are many static environments and last-gen environmental effects. That said, the action set pieces -- including an absolutely inspired tribute to Space Harrier -- are incredibly well orchestrated and stunningly gorgeous, as are the bizarre, screen-filling bosses.
Finally -- and I'm just not sure how to smoothly transition into this -- there are the creepy sexual undertones that pervade the entire game. Bayonetta's suit is made entirely of her own hair, and she uses her hair to summon demons. Consequently, her suit is almost entirely stripped off in order to create said demons. Considering you'll be summoning a giant fist or boot every ten seconds or so, Bayonetta is nearly naked just as often. And that's before you factor in cinematics and the numerous times the camera crash zooms on Bayonetta's lady parts. One of the game's monsters, an angel with a womanly form, is introduced by essentially masturbating directly in front of the camera, during which -- and I'm not kidding -- her crotch glows with an angelic light.
The character design and cutscene direction (and the story, to some extent) feel like something designed by horny, twelve-year-old boys. If the actual combat wasn't so refined, it might be hard to get past that. Fortunately, the combat is refined and easily outweighs the awkward kinky stuff. With lots of weapons, brilliant combat, multiple difficulties, and loads of unlockables, there are plenty of reasons to keep coming back to Bayonetta after the first playthrough. Just skip the cinematics.
Editor's Note: This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game purchased by Joystiq.