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December 22, 2009 - Bayonetta is the best action game I've ever played.

When I say "action game," I refer of course to games like Devil May Cry, God of War and Ninja Gaiden. I think most gamers can agree that all these titles do similar things (despite their notable differences), so it's safe for me to compare them all and claim that Bayonetta is my favorite. This over-the-top affair from Team Little Angels at Platinum Games not only delivers some of the most sublime combat mechanics around but it coats the experience in an eccentric, hyper-stylish shell that everyone with a 360 should experience. Hideki Kamiya, the director of Bayonetta and the man behind such legendary projects as the original Devil May Cry, Okami and Viewtiful Joe, should be commended for his incredible work. Kamiya and his team have created an action masterpiece.

At the heart of Bayonetta is a story about the traditional balance between light and darkness. Long ago, two clans -- the Lumen Sages and Umbran Witches -- maintained the balance between the opposing forces. The Lumen, aligned with the god of Paradiso, controlled the power of light, while the Umbra, funneling power from the demons of Inferno, watched over the darkness. Both clans had deep respect for each other, but a tragic event caused the two clans to enter into a terrible war. At the end, only one Umbra Witch remained: Bayonetta.


One of the most brilliant things about this backstory is how the two clans are portrayed. The Umbra Witches aren't necessarily evil so much as they are an important part of the universe's balance. The game, after all, is mostly about Bayonetta killing the angelic legions that stand in her way to the truth, but I never felt evil or diabolical while playing. It's just Bayonetta's purpose, and she fulfills that purpose with extreme skill.

Bayonetta is one of the coolest female characters I've ever come across in gaming. Although her sexuality is highlighted at almost every turn (which might lead gamers to believe she's a stereotypical heroine), she is also immensely powerful, calm and confident. Bayonetta is one of my main reasons to play the game, as she's just terribly fun to watch.

Of course, not everything about the narrative is great. Bayonetta's plot is all over the place, as certain character motivations and past events aren't clearly explained. Once you complete the game, things make quite a bit more sense, but this isn't as skillfully told as game stories like Mass Effect and Uncharted.

But raw storytelling shouldn't be your only reason for picking up a copy of Bayonetta (people like Ninja Gaiden, after all). This is an action game, so action is what you're going to get. The combat system is fairly easy to grasp but has an almost unimaginable amount of depth. The face buttons are used to punch, kick, fire Bayonetta's handguns (regardless of what weapon she has equipped) and jump. The most important input besides the face buttons is pulling the right trigger. This will cause Bayonetta to dodge in any direction, which is arguably the most important technique players must master when learning the Bayonetta combat system.

When dodging an attack, timing is key. Pull the right trigger just before an attack lands and Bayonetta will leap out of the way in slow motion, which activates Witch Time. This allows Bayonetta to move at incredible speeds while her opponents are trapped in a sluggish state. Witch Time is implemented brilliantly, because it not only allows for phenomenal special effects, but also lets players catch their breath, reorient themselves and score a few much-needed hits on tougher enemies.

Bayonetta is too cool for school.
Bayonetta is too cool for school.

When it comes to the offensive side of the coin, Bayonetta also excels. The beautiful witch has the ability to equip weapons on both her hands and her feet, which helps lend a very unique taste to the combat mechanics. At the start of the game, Bayonetta's set of four pistols, Scarborough Fair, is used as both upper body and lower body weapons -- one gun for each hand and foot. As players progress through the game, more weapons are discovered, like a demonic katana, clawed gauntlets, ice skates (yes, really) and more. Each weapon combination results in a new set of combos, which is truly astounding. Having the freedom to wield a glowing katana blade while skating around the environment is almost too good to be true.

This massive number of combo sets might seem overwhelming, but fortunately most combos have similar inputs. For example, almost every combination of weapons a player comes up with will almost always have a combo for hitting "punch, kick, punch" in a row. This lets players bleed their skill over into new weapons, which is great. And while players can get away with just pounding on one button to attack, the element of skill comes into play when executing well-timed dodges and preserving a combo string for high scores.

Of course, there's much more to fighting than just performing combos and dodging attacks. When facing the many angels of the divine, Bayonetta can perform Torture attacks when her magic gauge fills up enough. These attacks -- which can be executed by hitting both punch and kick simultaneously -- are usually unique to each angel type and deal tremendous amounts of damage. Bayonetta, for example, will summon up a guillotine, a massive spiked wheel or some other fiendish device and then pulverize her poor angelic opponent. This system adds a great physical element to the normally skill-based, time-sensitive combat, as players can mash away at a button to power up the attack and earn more halos (the currency in the Bayonetta world).