Know that Bayonetta 3 has been well worth the wait. After an outrageously sensational sequel, PlatinumGames‘ has once again gone all-out to deliver its latest riotous non-stop climax action experience with its signature creative flair. Relentless in its spectacle and providing unparalleled thrills at every turn, it almost feels worrying to write anything too specific about the game out of fear of spoiling an experience that clearly takes delight in constantly surprising you with the unexpected.
Bayonetta 3 had its demonic claws in me right from the start. After futuristic-looking man-made bioweapons known as Homunculi invade her world, the cruise ship that the Umbra Witch has boarded is soon used to ride a colossal tidal wave that they have created – leaping into action to pummel her newfound enemies into submission. It’s wholeheartedly captivating, and a clear indication of the eye-popping lunacy that awaits you in the remainder of the game. Nintendo rightly wants me to remain tight-lipped about its multiverse-wandering storyline, but it’s one wild and unpredictable ride. It must be said that the cinematography of the game’s spellbinding cutscenes alone is well worth the price of admission.
There’s much to the experience that is familiar. Broken into Chapters and Verses, your battle prowess in inflicting punishing combos on your enemies and your completion time will reward you with points that score your performance from meagre Stone through to Pure Platinum brilliance. Progression will in turn place more weapons, accessories and skills at your disposal – a PlatinumGames design staple – meaning that much of the game’s replayability will come from returning to earlier Chapters souped-up to chase otherwise elusive higher scores and achievement-style challenges for Bewitchments.
It is in the fluidity of its combat that Bayonetta 3 excels. Now a hallmark of the developer’s output since the original game, it is over-the-top by design and has been elevated to even greater heights in this threequel. The basics remain the same. You’ll chain combos using punches, kicks and your ranged weapons, evading enemy attacks to trigger Witch Time to make the world around you slow to a crawl.
There are two new abilities that Bayonetta has access to, Demon Masquerade and Demon Slave. Demon Masquerade is the flashiest and most stylistic, seeing the Umbra Witch channel the souls of demons to transform and deliver devastating finishing blows to close out your combos. Whereas Demon Slave is an ancient art that seemingly takes some cues from the now-shelved Scalebound, in that it allows you to summon Infernal Demons and issue commands to let them loose to wreak destruction. This isn’t something that you can do endlessly to make it overpowered as the gameplay mechanic steadily drains your magic power, which will need to momentarily recover before you are able to summon an Infernal Demon again – not to mention that Bayonetta is left vulnerable to attack while controlling them. Bayonetta and her chosen demon’s soul will also resonate throughout the battle, building a meter that can be activated to unleash a wide-ranging special attack.
Starting out with Gomorrah and Madama Butterfly, Bayonetta forms contracts with new Infernal Demons as the story progresses. These encounters quickly became a real highlight, and while I wouldn’t want to spoil too much, early personal favourites were the cannon-toting Wartrain Gouon and the amphibian songster Baal – who can sing four parts of a gurgly melody to call down poison rain. Both Demon Masquerade and Demon Slave are unquestionably positive additions that bolster the combat system’s already flawless foundation, which, despite its advancing age, the Nintendo Switch hardware is able to keep in step with.
Differentiation in approach also comes from the weapons that Bayonetta can wield at her fingertips. Ranging from Colour My World – four purple handguns that weaponsmith Rodin has crafted for her – to the large-calibre anti-materiel rifle G-Pillar, the Ignis Araneae Yo-Yo which was created from Phantasmaraneae’s energy reactor, the brutal chainsaw-like Dead End Express and more beyond this, each weapon is as conceptually brilliant in its design as it is to wield against the enemies that rally against you. I don’t think that combat within the Bayonetta series has ever felt as distinctly varied and polished as it is here.
It isn’t only the smouldering femme fatale that you will be playing as, either. Bayonetta 3 introduces the punk-inspired Viola, who took a while for me to warm to – perhaps fearing that PlatinumGames was following in Hideo Kojima’s deceitful footsteps with Raiden in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. I preferred having Bayonetta’s diversity at my fingertips, but that isn’t to say that Viola wasn’t a welcome change of pace – who performs quick slashes and special strikes with her katana, can throw magic-charged darts and must parry incoming attacks to activate Witch Time. She can also summon Cheshire, an Infernal Demon that inhabits her blade and who can help claw your enemies to shreds.
Jeanne also makes an appearance in the game’s Side Missions. These are shorter side-scrolling stealth-based missions in which you can hide in ducts and behind doors to avoid detection and safely take out enemies from behind. Those with an aversion to stealth can choose to collect powerful guns and blast their way through such missions, which, while an enjoyable distraction that regularly punctuates the experience, isn’t Bayonetta 3 at its best although do form part of the story that unravels.
Bayonetta 3’s level design playfully encourages exploration. There are Umbran Tears of Blood to recover from chasing black cats and crows or locating hidden toads, portals that lead to challenge-based missions, and records, figures and card packs to retrieve that unlock content in The World of Bayonetta 3 in-game gallery. Rodin continues to sell his wares at The Gates of Hell, you can concoct items with materials that you gather, there are alternate costumes to purchase, and the orbs that you earn can be used to unlock new skills to further empower Bayonetta, Viola and your Infernal Demons. There’s more than enough to do and hunt out to keep completionists busy beyond seeing the game’s credits roll, which shouldn’t come as a surprise.
The unavoidable Infernal Demon in the room is the controversy that has surrounded Jennifer Hale replacing Hellena Taylor as the voice actor behind Bayonetta. I don’t consider myself informed enough to comment on the situation in any meaningful way, but it did cast an unexpected shadow over critiquing the game as its launch approaches later this week. Jennifer gave the role everything that she had and has done a wonderful job at emulating the character that Hellena originated and established, but, and this is hardly shocking, the change is clearly noticeable as someone who has been with the series – and its anime adaptation – from the start.
I found that the game runs largely problem-free on Nintendo Switch but, for me, arguably became an experience to savour in TV Mode with a Nintendo Switch Pro Controller in my hands. In its most chaotic moments there was a frame rate blip or two, but nothing that ever risked derailing my enjoyment. However, after a five-year wait, the visual downgrade in Handheld Mode wasn’t a sacrifice that I personally wanted to make, even though I didn’t encounter performance issues when replaying Chapters to see how it held up with the console’s portable form factor.
Once again, PlatinumGames has delivered one of the greatest action games ever made. Bayonetta’s most spellbinding witching hour yet represents not only the series at its climactic best but an ever-heightened benchmark of what the developer has looked to achieve within the genre. This Game of the Year contender comes out with its stiletto-heel guns blazing for an unpredictable thrill-a-minute spectacle that I never wanted to end. There’s nothing else like it.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Nintendo