Comparisons between the character of Bayonetta and Devil May Cry's Dante are inevitable. For starters, both were created by Clover Studio veteran Hideki Kamiya. Both are the stars of fast-paced action shooters with distinct visual styles. Both use dual pistols and fast-paced melee attacks to take out endless waves of enemies. But only one can beat up people with their hair.
For those who aren't familiar, Bayonetta is the eponymous heroine of a new title from Platinum Games. The studio was established by former Clover developers including Kamiya, who also worked on the original Viewtiful Joe and Okami. In other words, he's got experience creating games with a unique look and feel. Judging by the demo we're being shown, Bayonetta will be no exception.
The title character certainly has style. Bayonetta is a witch, we're told. She's dressed in skin-tight black leather, with a waist so tiny and a walk so wiggly she makes Jessica Rabbit look like Hattie Jacques. She also sports naughty secretary glasses and a long, glossy ponytail that will come in handy later.
But for now we're watching Bayonetta slink round a gothic courtyard. Everything is shown in sharp relief and coloured in lurid shades of lilac and gold, and everything seems to glow. Transparent figures are wandering around too, seemingly oblivious to Bayonetta's presence. The SEGA chap conducting the presentation explains that Bayonetta exists in a different dimension, and these figures are the ghosts of people in the real world. She can see them, but they can't see her. Nothing is being revealed of the storyline as yet, so it's not clear what role these ghosts will play.
Now a gang of winged, clawed creatures appears, and Bayonetta springs into action. She's pulling off a super-fast string of handstands and somersaults, all the while blasting away with the two pistols strapped to her ankles. These are Bayonetta's default weapons, explains the SEGA man, along with the guns she wields in her hands. Then she's got a healthy range of punches and kicks at her disposal, and can string moves together for combo bonuses. Every time an enemy is defeated, they release collectible golden halos. These can then be exchanged for weapon and attack upgrades. Customisation is a big part of the game's appeal, apparently.
The speed with which our heroine can skip around the screen and whack away at enemies is impressive enough, but the special moves really are quite special. For example, Bayonetta can summon a guillotine out of thin air, boot her opponent into the correct position and flick a switch to send the blade crashing down. Even better is the iron maiden - this snaps around enemies like a Venus flytrap, releasing great showers of blood.
Bayonetta also has a power called Witch Time. This allows her to slow down time and freeze enemies on the spot, providing the perfect opportunity to hit them repeatedly and fill up the combo meter. She can pick up weapons dropped by enemies and use them for a limited amount of time; in this demo, Bayonetta tries out a trombone that doubles as a shotgun.
But even Witch Time, weapons and medieval instruments of torture won't be enough to defeat the giant boss now bursting out of the ground, which is where Bayonetta's hair comes in. She can command it to weave itself into different shapes, such as a huge foot that can kick enemies into oblivion or an enormous fist capable of killer uppercuts.
Most impressive, however, is the dragon. Bayonetta sends her ponytail streaming into a portal in the ground, and from across the courtyard bursts a gigantic, roaring, clawing dragon. Made of hair. It proceeds to devour the boss character in a series of huge bites, and so ends the brief demo.
We've seen rather a lot to be going on with in the five minutes it lasted, but isn't all this just Devil May Cry with hot chicks and more hair? No, says the SEGA man. "There are a couple of games that have been released lately that we might be compared to, or you might think we look similar too," he says. "It's inevitable they'll get compared, but they're both original IPs and they're going to be different games. We want to set the bar when it comes to that kind of gameplay. We want Bayonetta to be the most stylish, the most action-packed."
Without having had the opportunity go to hands-on, it's hard to tell just how different the games will feel to play. But there are already plenty of distinguishing features. A heroine sexier than Dante could ever hope to be, and who has double the firepower. Some highly inventive finishing moves. Musical instruments that double as pump-action shotguns. Boss battles that revolve around hair-based combat. So while the comparisons with Devil May Cry will inevitably continue, there's much to make Bayonetta worthy of interest.