By Matt Cabral
Updated January 05, 2010 at 09:49 PM EST

Bayonetta, an original third-person action-fueled romp crafted by some of the creative talent behind Devil May Cry, lands on consoles with all the impact of an over-sized battle ax to a thick demon skull. Starring a sexy-librarian-looking witch, who can let her hair down with literally Earth-rattling results, Bayonetta is fast, frenzied and, most of all, crazy-fun.

Giving subtlety the big, fat finger in favor of embracing excess and over-the-top style, the titular witch wields a dizzying amount of weapons and powers against an angelic army in an epic struggle of good versus evil. Oh sure, she deals death with all the expected bullets and blades, but that’s barely the beginning. Bayonetta can wield guns with both her hands and high-heeled feet, strapping everything from pistols to bazookas to her stems. Even cooler? She can use her hair — which clings to her bod like a cat suit — to conjure impressive attacks. Save for a few strands censoring her naughty bits, Bayonetta stands naked while her lethal locks unfurl, transforming into crushing feet, flying fists, and even baddie-devouring hair dragons. When not clearing the battlefield with her magical mane, she can call upon ancient torture devices, such as guillotines and iron maidens, to do her bidding. If all that wasn’t enough to send her enemies back to hell (or is it heaven?), Bayonetta can also morph into a panther, wield a katana while gracefully gliding on ice skates, and slow down time to score stylized attacks that’d have the Matrix‘s Neo rubber-necking.

Bayonetta wouldn’t work if the gameplay and level design didn’t support its frenetic style, but thankfully, spot-on controls and a cinematic camera keep pace with the rapid action. Additionally, inspired goth environments and inventive enemies, such as screen-swallowing bosses that make God of War‘s big bads look like grade-school bullies, keep things balanced and engaging at every turn. The whole package is further complemented by stunning visuals, a driving score, and sound effects that’ll immediately justify pricey speakers.

While Bayonetta‘s fluid play consistently stings the senses, its story sometimes sullies the experience; it’s a bit of a mess that’s not helped any by lengthy cut scenes yanking you away. Still, slogging through some senseless exposition-heavy cinematics is a small price to pay for the chance to walk in Bayonetta’s pistol-packing shoes. Its stylish presentation, adrenaline-spiking action, refined controls, and appealing hirsute heroine easily position Bayonetta as a very early contender for this year’s best action title. A