Poor old Lara Croft: we're about to see a new pretender to her throne who, frankly, makes her look like a lily-livered, goody-two-shoes, simpering milksop. Her name is Bayonetta and while, like Lara, she may have a cut-glass Received Pronunciation accent, all similarities end there. She's an amnesiac witch, for starters, with guns attached to her stilettos as well as in her hands, and a distinct penchant for sado-masochism best expressed by a bewildering variety of special moves.
Oh, and her clothes (which are magically constructed from her hair) have a habit of falling off. The good news is that now the Bayonetta demo is here, we can all get to know her. You can download it to see for yourself here
There was considerable excitement when Sega snapped up Bayonetta developer Platinum Games, with the likes of Shinji Mikami, of Resident Evil fame, and Hideki Kamiya, who brought us Devil May Cry and Viewtiful Joe, to the fore. Nobody makes gloriously, gothicly, surreally weird games better than the Japanese, and the two ex-Capcom men just aren't interested in making games that are like anyone else's - or indeed normal in any respect whatsoever.
The mentalist, ultra-violent MadWorld - deliberately subverting everything that the Wii stands for - marked a promising start for the union, but Bayonetta - which is Kamiya's baby - is the first game from Platinum to hint at the potential grandeur of what is to come. Edge Magazine, certainly, was suitably enamoured: it gave Bayonetta that rarest of things, a perfect 10 review score.
So what is it like? The demo, as is invariably the case, is a tiny amuse-bouche which gives the merest hint of what the full game will be like. Frankly, it leaves you on your knees craving more. But by the often low standards of demos, it's pretty useful, introducing you to the game's key mechanics, while leaving plenty of gameplay levels unhinted at, for you to discover on the 8th of January, when it will hit the shops.
The Bayonetta demo consists of the tutorial, plus extracts from two levels: Falling Clock Tower and The Angel's Metropolis, the first of which takes place right at the beginning of the game, and the second of which you would encounter in the full game's first chapter proper, after completing the prologue.
There can, surely, be no better sign of a good game than a tutorial which is actually enjoyable, and that is true for the Bayonetta demo. The tutorial gently introduces you to the basic gameplay mechanics, namely Bayonetta's special attacks, which are achieved, beat-em-up-style, with combinations of the Y and B buttons, shooting, for which you need to hold down either the Y and B buttons, torture attacks, which are triggered by pressing Y and B together when you've filled your Magic Gauge and, perhaps most important, dodging using the right trigger - dodge at the last moment when an attack is about to hit, and you trigger a short period of Witch Time, in which everything around you slows down.
The tutorial is pretty forgiving - it only makes you nail one instance of each move before letting you move on. And when you've satisfied it, it introduces you to another of the game's neat touches: you can practice Bayonetta's special moves whenever any loading is taking place.
Falling Clock Tower
The first thing that strikes you about this short but sweet extract is Bayonetta's Steampunk art style - you're falling while fighting on a disintegrating clock tower, not unlike Big Ben, with pleasantly disorientating explosions and chunks of masonry taking place around you. The next thing you notice is the responsiveness of Bayonetta's controls, which is the very crux of the game, and gives you full control over Bayonetta's moves, rather than leaving you feeling as though you're just randomly mashing buttons.