Review: Bayonetta 3 is a love letter to gaming’s most wildly creative action star
Platinum’s take an occasionally messy trip into a marvellous multiverse of madness
- Yusuke Miyata
- Key Credits
- Atsushi Inaba (Executive Producer), Hideki Kamiya (Supervising director), Yuki Suda (Art director)
If Bayonetta 1 was a love letter to action games, then the third game is a love letter to Bayonetta herself: a multiverse mash-up that catapults the witch into the orbit of her ‘what if’ alternatives to swap one-liners and crib new tricks to fold into her toybox. If you thought the Bayonetta of the first two games was pushing at the limits of what could be done with an action hero, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Let’s talk about the train. Bayonetta’s new power is to summon giant demons to fight in her place. You hold a shoulder button, they pop out and you take control, dealing kicks or claw swipes with the creatures – like the giant Madama Butterfly, or demonic dragon Gomorrah – that appeared in earlier games in cinematic finishers. Tag-teaming Bayonetta’s surgical style with sky-blotting dropkicks is wild in itself, but only gets loopier as her bestiary grows. This includes, after a trip to alt-universe China, a vintage locomotive.
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Summon Wartrain Gouon and time slows to a crawl as the camera pulls to a birds eye view. From here you lay a train track, plotting a course to steer Gouon through enemies while also programming in attacks to activate on desired stretches of the line. Y’know: a burst of scalding hot steam here, or maybe a loop-the-loop to shunt angels into the sky. Perhaps you hit the breaks and allow demons to disembark and fight on your behalf. It’s as if Bayonetta and Railroad Tycoon had a baby: a bonkers blast of first-class originality.
And the oddballs keep on coming, through the story and beyond. Later she enlists a frog who, if allowed to complete four parts of a song in sequence, can drown arenas in acid rain. Too impatient for its recital? Just whip demons from afar with its massive tongue. Or better still, the demon bird Malphas, who can pick up even mini-bosses in its talons and fly around pecking on their skulls. The same carrying even allows a Zelda-like dungeon full of wind and weight puzzles – just one of a hundred left turns Bayonetta 3 suddenly takes.
It’s easy for a Bayonetta 3 review to become a breathless list of mad additions and that unfettered nature has a similarly overwhelming effect in game. You’re constantly having to get your bearings in new worlds, meeting Bayonetta and friends in new guises and, crucially, amassing more weapons than you can master in a single playthrough. This makes sense given how replayable the game is – there are always better medals and bewitchments (read: achievements) tempting you back – but there are times you’d appreciate a breather to enjoy what you’ve just earned before the next deluge of weirdness.
Perhaps to make this more manageable, Bayonetta herself has been streamlined. You no longer equip different weapons on hands and feet, so each item has a clear playstyle. With the Dead End Express you’re revving up a train/chainsaw hybrid, trying to build a head of steam for stronger hits without overexerting the engine. Whip out the Ribbit Libido BZ55 instead – a seemingly innocuous mic stand – and it’s all about ending combos with held hits to sing notes that buff your attack and defence. So even though you aren’t sniffing out weapon synergies, there’s heaps of fun in learning all these quirks.
And if it does strip things back, it’s only continuing a trend across the Bayonetta series of lowering the skill floor with each iteration. In Bayonetta 2 it was the inclusion of Umbran Climax that allowed you to quickly build up incredible stopping power; here it’s simplified weapon combos and the nuclear option of dropping a 40-foot monster into the mix. You can’t summon indefinitely, but it’s easy enough to let the big guys do the heavy lifting in the meat of the fights.
We’re not bothered about the difficulty implications of that – the real challenge in Bayonetta is getting through fights in style, after all – but the combat loses some of its scalpel sharpness. In previous games you steered a lighting-quick death-dealer through the tiniest gaps in attacks to keep your impossible combos going; shifting between that style and a lumbering tank inevitably saps some of the grace and momentum. At the same time though, it makes this the most obviously spectacular and beginner-friendly of the trilogy and it’s not as if the previous games aren’t ready and waiting on Switch for a revisit.
“You’re constantly having to get your bearings in new worlds, meeting Bayonetta and friends in new guises and, crucially, amassing more weapons than you can master in a single playthrough.”
If you have played the trilogy, you’ll find this a more fleshed out world to explore. After the second game’s tendency to slip into linear setpieces, Bayonetta 3 puts you in larger areas jammed with trinkets, platforming challenges, hidden fights, animal familiars to hunt down and strange temporal puzzles where you alter the flow of time to build (or unbuild) hidden paths. It ends up being a substantially longer adventure for all the time you spend climbing up every last bit of scenery, terrified of missing something.
It’s more of a completionist’s dream then, but there are times you go too long without a fight, and Bayonetta isn’t the most graceful acrobat in the stricter time trials. (Also, whoever decided to make us rewatch the introductory cutscenes whenever you fail a trial deserves their own spot in the witch’s demon collection.) And while we’re grumbling, when Platinum drops vast enemies into fights it can see the buttery frame rate stumble and the camera struggle to frame the action.
There are several chaotic set pieces – a dragon chase across New York and a train-based boss fight – that butt heads with the technical limits of the Switch. In the same way that Bayonetta 2 eventually got a Switch port that ironed out Wii U hiccups, we wonder if we’ll one day see these incredible sights on a Switch successor in a more satisfying light.
But if Bayonetta 3 is maybe rougher around the edges than its predecessors, it’s in the name of a wild excess that can’t help but pummel you into submission. Here’s a game that can shift from Bayonetta’s summon juggling antics to an entirely new character, Viola, who chops and parries through sword combat like a geek raised on Metal Gear Rising.
Then in the blink of an eye you’re suddenly sneaking Bayo’s bestie Jeanne through a 2D stealth skit that takes Mark of the Ninja’s creeping but also let you tempt guards to their doom by taking an alluring shower. Blink again and you’re in a side scrolling shooter, a web-swinging chase, a rhythm game, a kaiju-powered round of rock, paper, scissors… it’s as if at no point anyone at Platinum put their foot down and told the team to cut an idea.
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And at the heart of this maelstrom is the witch herself. Or should that be witches themselves? It’s a wild trip through what could have been: glimpses of heroes with very different wardrobes, unified in a mission to kill angels, demons and everything in between with preposterous implements.
The idea, that every version of reality would have its own Bayonetta hogging the spotlight, is classic Platinum: egomaniacal perhaps, but also kinda earned. Based on the strength of this entry – part love letter, part victory lap, all very OTT – a world without Bayonetta would be a duller place indeed.
While some ideas get lost in Bayonetta 3’s endless sprint to keep you entertained, there’s no other action game with this imagination, wit or style. Prepare to explore its mad depths for weeks.
- Incredible demon summon design
- New weapons are a hoot
- Constant flow of new tricks and surprises
- Hefty adventure packed with secrets
- Not quite as pure an action game as 1 + 2
- Technical issues when the action heats up