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PAX 2009 Impressions: Bayonetta

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Sega didn't have much this year at PAX. Tucked away to one side of the expo hall floor, the Sega booth had a few DS titles and only one console title of note. But that title, Bayonetta, was PAX's hidden gem. It's an action game that knows what it is and doesn't try to hide it at all. And it is awesome.

Bayonetta's story centers around the titular protagonist, a long-haired witch who uses firearms and magical attacks powered by said hair. She awakens finding herself in unfamiliar territory and later being attacked by angelic forces for reasons she doesn't yet know. In the course of fighting against these forces, she sets off to uncover that which she has forgotten and … well, there's more to the story that's been revealed, but alas, I don't feel like spoiling it for you. Let's just say it does have a few action game genre cliches in it, but it's serviceable for the kind of title Bayonetta wants to be.

The game plays a lot like Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden mixed together. It's a fairly action-packed, button-mashing fest if you so choose, but you can also link together insane combinations to create some very impressive effects. Bayonetta is also able to use enemy weapons in addition to her own guns and kicks. Battle frequency isn't too frequent that it turns into a hack-and-slash style action game, but there's plenty of bad guys to run through and some very interesting quick-time elements to play around with.

Also included are two sepcial features: "Torture combos," which are your special moves that feature things like guillotines and iron maidens, and "Witch Time," which lets you not only dodge big attacks from your enemies, but follow up with massive attacks of your own. Witch Time is in essence this game's bullet-time feature, but the torture combos are just over-the-top, ridiculous and a whole lot of fun to see when you pull them off. Imagine Bayonetta kicking an enemy angel into the ground, then picking it up and tossing it into a giant iron maiden, which slams shut and is followed by blood spilling out of every crevice of the torture device. It's something you have to see to believe, and it's just pure awesomeness.

The demo also had a boss battle where I, as Bayonetta, had to run up walls, ceilings and pretty much every surface imaginable to fight my enemy one-on-one. It was a crazy, action-packed experience that was actually substantially more difficult than I anticipated because I constantly had to be on the move. If Platinum's goal was to create a game that challenged players, yet was fun, they succeeded.

The game's controls are both easy to pick up and learn and diverse enough to make it a bit more than a simple mash-fest. Different buttons correspond with different attacks Bayonetta can pull off, and you can chain these together in any number of combinations to create cool-looking attacks. The loading screen when you die even gives some helpful hints and lets you experiment briefly with some of these combo chains, which in itself is a nice feature to help you learn the game's combat. I literally had no problems picking te game up, learning te basic controls in a few minutes and moving on to learn some of the challenging combinations in my first big battle against the angelic forces of Heaven.

The game, or at least the Xbox 360 version, looked gorgeous. Bayonetta herself is hot, thanks in part to her female designer at Platinum Games, and you can literally see her bodysuit of hair (yep, that's what it is, folks) fade away as she creates chains of attacks, the most powerful of which leave her naked. No, you can't see anything lewd, so don't bother trying. It's actually a nice little visual that helps you see how big of a chain you've put together, since her attacks do eat away at her costume. On top of that, the angelic enemies look legitimately scary, both in their design and how realistic some of their features look. The PS3 version, from all accounts, is not as good looking because Sega handled the porting, though I'm not sure if this will be fixed by the North American release date in January 2010. The in-game sounds are crisp and don't sound out of place; that is, a gunshot sounds like a gunshot, an explosion sounds like an explosion, etc. Bayonetta's voice acting is decent, though the dialogue itself is perhaps a bit cliche and cheesy at times.

I went into my Bayonetta session with almost no expectations and left being blown away by the Platinum Games title. The game is obscenely fun, yet somehow, it didn't seem to get too boring in the demo. I'm not sure if that's because of how short the first section was and if my feelings will change as the game progresses, but if Bayonetta keeps things fresh throughout, it's going to be one crazy ride. It's a game that knows what it is, knows what the cliches are for its genre, and then almost parodies it all with the extremes it takes the action genre to. Just from a pure fun standpoint, Bayonetta has to be my Game of the Show for PAX 2009, and hopefully, I won't regret picking it over Mass Effect 2 and Forza Motorsport 3 when the witch hunt begins January 2010.

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About Brian Szabelski