A Viennetta is a tasty dessert consisting of layers of vanilla ice-cream and thick milk chocolate. Viennettas come in a variety of flavours, so I initially assumed that a Bayonetta would consist of layers of vanilla ice-cream and thick metal stabbing devices. As it turns out, this is not the case: a Bayonetta is an acrobatic witch with guns on her arms and legs, a warrior in emo specs with the power to kill people using her hair.
Bayonetta is the star of a forthcoming SEGA game of the same name, and it's looking to be a damn good one, too. The director of the project is Hideki Kamiya, the brains behind the original Devil May Cry as well as top-calibre titles like Resident Evil 2, Okami and Viewtiful Joe. In short, he's the kind of guy you pay attention to, and Kamiya-san himself has stated that he sees this game as being similar to what he'd have done with the DMC series had he stayed aboard the franchise.
Precious few details have emerged about Bayonetta since it was announced in the middle of 2008, and SEGA seemed keen to remain tight-lipped when I visited them a couple of weeks ago. If anything this sense of mystery worked to make the game even more interesting, and even though concrete details were relatively scarce it's already clear to me that the bullet-happy witch has buckets of potential. The visual style, for one thing, is immediately striking - with levels and enemies that recall Ancient Greece spliced with contemporary Japanese cool. It's super-slick too, running at what appeared to be a butter-smooth 60 frames per second.
In terms of core gameplay, Bayonetta seems fairly reminiscent of Devil May Cry and other mainstream action titles. There's the mandatory third-person perspective, large quantities of enemies on screen at once and an emphasis on show-off combos. Though I've yet to play the game for myself, it seems as the four face buttons will correspond to Bayonetta's pistol wielding limbs. A tap of a button might unleash a close-range kick, but holding that same button down results in the feisty witch blazing away with one of the firearms on her foot - striking some kind amazingly acrobatic pose as she does. By stringing these moves together you can create a lengthy chain of attacks to send your combo through the roof.
As cool as all this four-limbed blasting is, it's the second set of attacks that seemed to have grabbed the public attention. By collecting purple orbs dropped by bad guys Bayonetta will fill a gauge that eventually allows her to pull off Torture Moves - flashy executions that involve some rather innovative use of her hair. At one moment her dark locks become a fist that smashes the enemy into oblivion; a few minutes later it's a giant stiletto heel that crushes someone underfoot. And there are even stranger kill methods: during my demonstration the witch summoned a sinister-looking guillotine, and later an Iron Maiden that closed around one hapless enemy.
It's not just the rank and file troops who get this treatment either. At one point in the demo I watched as Bayonetta took on what appeared to be a massive stone giant, tinged with gold. After dashing around and weakening this chap (who was apparently only a sub-boss) by attacking a vulnerable spot on his back, the demonstrator followed a QTE prompt that initiated a stupendous-looking finisher: Bayonetta's hair transformed into an enormous canine head that proceeded to decapitate the giant with a bloody chomp of its jaws. This was followed by what appeared be some kind of button-mashing challenge that can yield some form of reward - the SEGA rep wouldn't say what though.
While the plot of the game remains a complete mystery, one thing was made slightly clearer by my recent visit to SEGA. We've heard before that Bayonetta herself inhabits "a different dimension," but what is now apparent is that this world exists in conjunction with our own. While you explore levels you'll see human beings walking around, but they'll look like ghosts - all transparent and ethereal. The humans, meanwhile will be able to hear you even though they cannot see you, so if you walk up to one and start firing your weapons they'll get scared and run away. It's a clever idea, a concept that further fuels my hunger for more story details.
All the same, even without any plot details there was plenty to like about what I was shown. Hideki Kamiya is claiming that he's going to set new standards for action gaming, and it's clear that grand spectacle is going to play a large role in this attempt. While the brunt of my demo took place in a large, leafy courtyard, a second section found Bayonetta fighting another stone giant as he attempted to destroy the stone walkway she was standing on. The ensuing battle saw the witch leaping back and forth over huge stone fists that tried to grab her, until she eventually found herself leaping to the attack from an entire chunk or walkway that the giant had pulled free.
An even stranger and more epic fight took place during the last section of my demo. Here Bayonetta and a mysterious red-suited companion were blasting away at demons as they fell through space atop a chunk of a broken clock tower. All hell broke loose as the pair were attacked by flying serpents and strange angel-like enemies with halos and wings. As the fight raged the camera seemed to swirl around the pair while bad guys and chunks of stone scenery flew in all directions. It looked utterly chaotic and a little bit mad, and yet achingly stylish. Indeed, the same could be said for the game as a whole. Bayonetta looks like it will marry a few familiar elements with a whole lot of fresh chic, and with E3 just around the corner it's surely just a matter of time before we get a few more juicy details. Watch this space.
Bayonetta will be out at some point later this year on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.