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Video Game Review: 'Bayonetta'

Campy and feeling a bit behind the times

Posted: January 21, 2010 1:13 p.m.
Updated: January 22, 2010 6:00 a.m.

Bayonetta the witch shoves one of her foes into an iron maiden in a scene from "Bayonetta" the video game - high on style, less than satisfying.

 
Bayonetta is the most flamboyant video-game heroine in a long, long time. Leggy, bespectacled and clad in a skintight black catsuit, she struts across the screen like a model stalking the runway. That model, however, is more campy than sexy, more RuPaul than Gisele.

Her starring vehicle, "Bayonetta" (Sega, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, $54.99), is just as ridiculous. It's a mess, frankly, with about a half-dozen issues that would normally make me shut down a game in exasperation. But it's so cheeky in its desire to break through the barriers of good taste and common sense that it's rather endearing.

Bayonetta is an "Umbra Witch" who's been dragged back to life from an underwater tomb. She takes up arms against the Lumen Sages, who worship light and have the forces of heaven on their side. Both sides are after the Eyes of the World, a pair of gems that, when combined, will reawaken the Creator and usher in a brave new universe.

The story is told largely through cut scenes, which will try the patience of players who want to get back into the action. Perversely, many of these non-interactive scenes involve fighting, and I kept wondering why I was watching battles unfold rather than engaging in them myself.

Once you do take control of the witch, you'll enjoy one of the most versatile combat systems ever devised. Bayonetta is a remarkably acrobatic heroine, gracefully wielding whips, blades and firearms in a fast-moving blizzard of action. She has pistols strapped to her feet, so you can mix katana slashes with gunfire to produce ever-escalating combos of damage.

The game also encourages you to make use of evasive strategy. Hit the dodge button at the right time and you're rewarded with "Witch Time," which slows down your opponents so you can really let them have it.

Bring enough pain and you can unleash a torture attack, thrusting your opponent into an iron maiden or a guillotine. And boss battles are wrapped up with climax attacks, in which Bayonetta's hair (really) turns into a beast-chomping demon.

Those boss battles are where you'll see the most bizarre creatures from director Hideki Kamiya's fevered imagination. They combine iconography from Eastern and Western religions alike: One boss, for example, is a two-headed dragon with an upside-down cherub's head for a body.

The overall look is bound to divide gamers. Some will revel in the baroque splendor, while others will find it garish. The same goes for the hammy sexuality of the main character, which I found more abrasive than alluring.

"Bayonetta" feels like a game that would have blown me away 15 years ago. (It even pays tribute to Sega arcade classics like "Space Harrier" and "Hang-On.") While it introduces an exotic new vision, it doesn't give us anything to do except fight, and its strictly linear story prevents you from exploring its distinctive universe. It's high on style, but less than satisfying.

Two stars out of four.
On the Net:
http://www.sega.com/platinumgames/bayonetta/

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