Whew, what a ride this Bayonetta 3 hype cycle has been, huh? From wondering if we’d ever get a third, to wondering if it’d fallen into development hell, to staring down boycott calls from former Bayonetta voice actor Helena Taylor, to dramatic changes in testimony that turned that whole saga on its head. Few games have had such a rollercoaster lead-up, but now that it’s here we can all breathe a sigh of relief because Bayonetta 3 is very, very good.
By pure chance alone, Bayonetta 3 feels fit for the moment. At a time when loving Bayonetta feels *complicated*, Bayonetta 3 is a relentless, unashamed celebration of Bayonetta – of this character, of her companions, of the demons she fights alongside and of the outrageous spectacle that is the hallmark of this series. This is so joyous that at times you can just see how much fun PlatinumGames is having making this. The ridiculous shit it comes up with, and the quick winks to the camera when the game acknowledges how fucking wild all of this is. That little wink is everything because it’s a reminder that you and Platinum are in this together. Platinum make a very specific type of game, and it makes them for those who love it, and Bayonetta 3 really feels like a big ol’ love-in.
It doesn’t hurt that it’s also a pretty amazing game. The breadth of Bayonetta 3 is remarkable – the number of unique weapons, the number of attacks and combos with those weapons, the number of summonable demons, the number of enemies, the number of different, off-shoot game modes that the game suddenly flicks to at a moment’s notice – it’s staggering. Here in Bayonetta 3, Platinum has an insatiable desire to constantly add new stuff, and by the end you just look back at it all and you’re like, “Damn man, how’d they cram all of this into one game?”
It’s not without its problems, though. The biggest one is how limiting the Nintendo Switch hardware has become. Where Platinum breathes so much imagination into its core gameplay elements, it is seriously hamstrung when it comes to environments. The ‘Verse’ structure has also outlived its use-by date, as with so many new tools to play with in each chapter, verses that last as little 30 seconds never let you experiment and become confident with these new tools. Finally, summonable demons are a brilliant addition to the game, but they create visual noise and camera challenges that haven’t been elegantly solved here, often putting them at odds with how satisfying the core combat is.
These things don’t detract from what Platinum has achieved here with Bayonetta 3. I keep coming back to this word relentless because that’s how Bayonetta 3 feels – utterly relentless. Relentless action, relentless spectacle, relentless imagination – it just never, ever stops. Other games generally settle into a rhythm. Bayonetta 3 never does that, and the result is this truly insane, unforgettable ride.
That ride begins with the story, which…isn’t Bayonetta 3’s strong suit. What it does have is an excellent premise, which is that a new baddie by the name of Singularity is intent on wiping out each and every reality to arrive at a singular truth.
What does that look like in practice? It means we’re taking a trip through the multiverse. Every few chapters you’re whisked away to not only a new place and time, but a new reality where everything is the same but different. Case in point: there are other Bayonettas in those realities, each of whom have their own weaponry, demons they summon and story arcs that you have to help them resolve. It is such a thrill to arrive in a new location and wonder, “What will this Bayonetta be like? I wonder what sort of crazy shit she’s capable of? I wonder what she’ll need help with (besides kicking the shit out of demons, of course)?”
This is so joyous that at times you can just see how much fun PlatinumGames is having making this
Outside of the leading lady, Bayonetta 3 features several returning characters like Jeanne, Rodin and Luca and it also adds a new character to the mix as well: Viola. Viola plays a pivotal role in the story and is a strong addition to the cast. She’s less experienced and a hell of a lot goofier than the Umbra Witches she’s sharing the stage with, and it’s nice to see someone a little overwhelmed by everything going on, rather than just smirking at it. She’s only playable in select chapters and playing with her is just as fun as playing with Bayonetta herself, albeit with far fewer options since Viola can’t mix and match her loadout like Bayonetta can.
Speaking of which, there are a lot of ways to mix and match your loadout this time around.
Remember all of those multiverse Bayonettas? They each have their own weapon and demon companion which you can eventually use, and rather than buy this stuff from Rodin at the Gates of Hell bar/shop, you automatically unlock it as you complete major story arcs.
On the arsenal of weaponry – I won’t spoil them all but I will say that there is more than enough here, especially when you look at how transformative these weapons are across every part of the game. Weapons also fulfil multiple purposes. Obviously, they are a new tools you can use to beat up bad guys, but each weapon is also aligned to a demon, so the back end of each of your combos will transform you into that demon. There’s more though, as double-tapping the right trigger will instantly transform you into that demon when you’re exploring each level. This a neat trick since each demon has their own traversal abilities. Madame Butterfly will float gracefully, making jumping challenges much easier, while the spider demon can climb up walls, allowing you to reach places that you simply couldn’t without his assistance. In this way, proper demon usage is a sort of puzzle that powers the exploration side of the gameplay loop, since using the right demon in the right area is going to help you beat every challenge, find every secret and collect every collectable.
The imagination that went into each of these weapons is unbelievable. Platinum has asked us to keep many of them a surprise, but here’s one example – a locomotive train…on a stick! That is one weapon you’ll be swinging and it’s by no means even the craziest weapon in Bayonetta’s arsenal. None of them are gimmicks, either. Each weapon is extremely useable, with a distinct identity and utility that’s going to make it more useful in certain scenarios.
Weapons are just one side of the combat equation, though, because Bayonetta 3 also introduces Demon Slavery. Just as you amass a collection of weapons you can whip out at any time, you’ll also amass a collection of demons you can summon at any time. It’s like Pokémon, only the trainers all have to get naked and start dancing to make their Pokémon fight. Pressing the left trigger at any time will instantly summon a demon of your choosing. At that point, so long as you continue to hold that left trigger, you are in command of them. Bayonetta will just be vibing off to the side while you control your gargantuan companion, which also has its own move set, its own combos and its own skill tree, with unlocks giving it even more moves and more combos. They’re not as deep as Bayonetta herself, but they are involved enough such that you aren’t just pressing buttons – you are deliberately dishing out a variety of attacks to maximise damage.
One thing I would say about the Demon summons is that as great as they are, they do create a lot of visual noise and issues with perspective that Platinum has not fully come to grips with. In particular, when you are at all close to an enemy and your demon is nearby, the camera can get really funky, with either the enemy or your demon obscuring your view. This seems somewhat unavoidable given the nature of this mechanic and how frantic gameplay often is, but it was enough of a problem that I often found myself repositioning not out of any defensive need, but just so I could actually see what was going on.
Luckily, you rarely ever need to summon a demon if you don’t want to and I’ll admit that for me, Bayonetta 3 feels its absolute best when I’m not using the demon summons and just fighting with my own weapons. That’s when I can see everything clearly, when I can engage with this deep and broad combat sandbox, and when I can begin to hone in on a sense of mastery. The demon slavery system is a nice addition, but it’s also messy. I’m glad it exists, but I’m also glad Platinum didn’t design the entire combat framework around it.
The pace at which Bayonetta 3 introduces new weapons and demon slaves highlights the shortcomings of the current verse structure. If you’re unfamiliar with this, Bayonetta has strong biblical vibes and the whole thing is divided up into chapters and verses, the chapters being the level and the verses being the specific encounters within a level. You enter a verse, the walls go up around you, some enemies spawn in, you beat them down and then you get a score at the end based on how well you did.
This structure has served Bayonetta well to this point, but it’s no longer fit for purpose. It’s a little exaggeration to say that some verses will be 30 seconds or less of actual fighting. On average I’d say they’re no more than one to two minutes, and the better you play the faster they get.
Very often I found myself only just starting to get into a combat rhythm when the verse would suddenly end because I’d killed everything, and that’s an issue that persists throughout the entire game mind you, not just the early chapters. Bayonetta 3 is constantly introducing you to new enemy types, new weapons and new demon slaves. It’s giving you a steady stream of unlocks in your skill trees that each substantially fatten out your combat repertoire, and the verse structure does not give you enough time or enemies to really suck the marrow out of these things.
I wonder if the verse structure is a function of hardware limitations because if there’s one thing that really holds Bayonetta 3 back, it’s the Nintendo Switch. This is the very first new release game I have ever reviewed where I have thought to myself, “I really hope this gets a remaster.” Visually, playing Bayonetta 3 is like travelling back in time seven or eight years and that is a tough pill to swallow when the rest of the package shines so brightly.
To their credit, Platinum has put all of the Switch’s processing power into character detail and framerate, which was totally the right call, and overall performance is actually very good. A few dips here or there but on the whole, but generally it runs smoothly. But what suffers immensely is world design, which looks incredibly bare. Flat textures, uninspired spaces, zero visual flair to speak of – just nothing. The people at Platinum are such visionaries and they’ve delivered so much imagination in this game. We can only guess at the sort of environments they could have delivered us if they weren’t so constrained by Nintendo’s aging hardware.
It’s a testament to Bayonetta 3’s overall appeal that not even these complaints diminish my enthusiasm for it. To this point I have described Bayonetta 3 as a character action game, and it is, but you know what Bayonetta 3 really is?
It’s a theatre musical.
Very often I found myself only just starting to get into a combat rhythm when the verse would suddenly end because I’d killed everything, and that’s an issue that persists throughout the entire game
It’s a chorus bellowing and a set of changing backdrops cycled in and out with each curtain fall. It’s a thread-bare plot propped up by the song of violence and the spectacle of its choreography, and it’s the gyrating leading lady in the spotlight, lapping up every bit of attention; a mirror reflecting the love shone by her adoring fandom.
If you’re new to Bayonetta – don’t imagine that you are just suiting up for a third-person melee action game. That is the genre of videogame you’ll be playing, but it’s not the experience you’re likely to have. Far more impactful than the combat is the creativity and variety on display.
What you know you’ll get when you pick up Bayonetta 3 is an excellent character action game – weapons, enemies, combat, and combos. What you won’t know, and what you won’t ever be able to predict, is where this game will go next at any given moment – be that geographically, temporally, narratively, or with its perspective and even gameplay genre. Bayonetta 3 is a pulpy anthology of good times, totally unconcerned with limiting itself based on what might ‘fit’ or what might ‘make sense’. Platinum is constantly trashing such restraints, letting things play out in the most audacious, unexpected and fun way possible.
That’s the guiding star for Platinum here: fun. The team clearly sat in a room and kept asking, “What would be fun to do here?” Then someone would come up with something batshit insane and then they’d be like, “Cool, let’s do that.” It’s all the stuff that I won’t spoil for you here in this review, but it’s that stuff that’s really going to stay with you. Few games can match the depth and breadth of Bayonetta’s combat, and fewer still can match how much imagination it packs into every square inch of it. Platinum has proven that it is still a powerful force in the action game space, and Bayonetta 3 is a wonderful love letter to the series, arriving at a time when we can all use a bit of a reminder of how much there is to love.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch // Review code supplied by publisher
- October 28, 2022