Here’s one you’ve heard before: Video games are art. Not everybody agrees with the sentiment, but unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past 10 years, you’ve heard it from someone. The huge strides made by video games in the past 10 or 15 years in terms of graphics and complexity are unquestionable.


For PS3, Xbox 360

But beyond that, there are new elements that are hard to put a finger on: maturity, a focus on the integrity of story, the ability to move the player emotionally. This is great for games and really great for gamers. What’s so striking about Platinum Games’s new title “Bayonetta” is how it acknowledges these changes, paying homage to them and then flinging them into an exploding toilet, flushing them away with the heel of a stiletto that’s also a pistol. While naked.

Bayonetta is a witch, though what we generally associate with “witches” is almost totally absent from the game. Our protagonist wields four guns — two in her hands and two serving as high heels for her boots (which somehow remain functional) — and there’s not a broom to be found. She’s in the business of killing angels, and business is a-boomin’.

The angels in the world of “Bayonetta” aren’t so much pudgy-faced cherubs as giant, mono-eyed, muscle-bound, weapon-wielding monsters who show up in hoards, vying for the protagonist’s blood. With the help of a short Mafioso caricature (who sounds suspiciously like Joe Pesci) and a towering arms dealer, Bayonetta searches for the answers behind her mysterious past, one dead angel-monster at a time.

But the story of “Bayonetta” is very, very much beside the point of the game. Revealed through grainy footage and a film reel border, the game’s plot is like a B-movie’s: It’s cheesy, predictable and over the top. And it knows it. The self-conscious awfulness of the script is one of many aspects that are so appealing about “Bayonetta.” The game wants the player laughing at the absurdity until they are dead-focused on the actual gameplay and combat. And for the most part, it’s quite successful.

It’s all about the combat. “Bayonetta” takes players through 15 levels filled to the brim with bad guys of all shapes and sizes, from winged heads to mammoth demi-gods, and each needs a beating in its own particular way. The controls are just this side of button-mashing, with enough nuance to keep players always reaching for that perfect combo — that exact set of moves that will send a given angel back to its Maker. One might be able to hack through the first couple of levels without much effort, but for the most part the dozens and dozens of battles will require full attention and provide an addicting challenge.

The game is not without its problems. There are way too many cut scenes for a plot so terrible, and the outlandishness starts to wear thin after a while. And Bayonetta herself will start to grate almost immediately, with her smarmy, British sarcasm and excessively suggestive wordplay. But that shouldn’t prevent you from giving “Bayonetta” a try. While the rest of the gaming industry is taking itself a little too seriously, straining a little under the weight of achieving the coveted status of “art,” it’s refreshing to have some expertly designed, stylish, dumb fun — the stuff guilty pleasures are made of.

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