After a seemingly torturous wait for the titular witch’s third outing, being initially announced in 2017, the time has finally come to be bad and look fabulous doing it. Long regarded as PlatinumGames’ crowning glory, the Bayonetta series has not been one for being a straightforward affair, the series hasn’t exactly been the most stable over the years. If it wasn’t for Nintendo helping greenlight 2014’s Bayonetta 2, we wouldn’t even be in this situation. But here we are, down for a third helping of being a bad witch and punishing anyone willing to disturb the natural order of the world, but now it’s not just one world that needs saving.
Developed by PlatinumGames
Published by Nintendo
Released: 28th October 2022
Digital copy provided by Nintendo UK
Bayonetta 3 doesn’t waste time setting the tone, immediately getting very dark, then thrusting you into battle against a new foe. Prior games had you duking it out against various angels and demons, now this game introduces the meteorological themed Homunculi. These artificial beings are unnatural and uncanny, named after various cloud types, ranging from the basic Stratus to the more complex Cumulonimbus. Each successive Homunculi packs more challenges on top of the other and prove themselves to be a devastating force.
The story is really hectic, to put it mildly. Whilst Bayonetta’s storylines have always been rather crazy, this one takes things to the absolute next level with the introduction of a multiverse with multiple different Bayonettas all over the place. While you only play as one of them for the most part, it’s fascinating to see different interpretations of the character in varied settings from modern day Tokyo to feudal China. The Homunculi forces are steadily aiming to destroy different worlds for a greater purpose, and it’s up to Bayonetta to put a stop to this by collecting five Chaos Gears to protect the natural order of the multiverse. As the story progresses though, things get a bit too weird as the revelations start stacking on top of each other, becoming a bit of a mess. It’s overindulgent to a fault, in a way no prior game really attempted, despite their own absurdities.
Gameplay is split up into stages, each with level traversal scattered with combat challenges along the way. There are a variety of puzzles scattered around outside of the combat sequences which test you in various ways. These range from making use of unlimited Demon Slave points to break the surroundings, using a time altering clock to affect the environment to open the path to hidden items, or even just collecting a certain number of macguffins within a time limit. These break up the levels so you aren’t just pressing forward and beating up creatures for high scores all the time.
Throughout stages you will find three hidden animals, a cat, a raven, and a frog (all very witchy creatures). They each have some quirk in not only locating them, but actually catching them. The cat is most troublesome, while the frog is probably the easiest, but does tend to attach itself in some weird, out of the way places. When all three are found within a stage, an alternate branching version of the level will appear on the chapter select. They consist of a brand new challenge which nets you various rewards for completing them, which can sometimes include new weapons to play with.
Alongside Bayonetta, Jeanne, and the newest character to the roster, Viola, have their own levels. Jeanne’s are the most distinct, taking on a stealthy, Elevator Action style of gameplay from a side scrolling perspective. These break up the action sections nicely and don’t overstay their welcome. Viola’s missions are more like Bayonetta’s, but with a different play style more focused on parries than dodges. They take a while to get used to, as they’re fundamentally different from a mechanics standpoint, not to mention harder due to the stricter timing for activating witch time with well timed parries.
Combat follows similar beats to the previous two games. You have your guns doing weak damage on the Y button, a punch with X and a kick on Y. Mixing and matching between punches and kicks give you different combos, while the gun mostly acts as a way to keep the score multiplier going. There are a handful of specific commands to do special moves, a good example of an early one you will find useful is hitting X immediately after a jump for an uppercut, sending your foe airborne for some aerial combos. These moves vary with the weapon you have equipped, so this uppercut command will do something else. Lastly, and most importantly, comes Witch Time. By dodging with ZR when an enemy is attacking, you can activate a slow motion effect with the proper timing. This opens up an easy opportunity to attack with little resistance, as well as boosting your combo multiplier, so it’s easily the one mechanic you’ll want to trigger at any opportunity you can.
Like previous Bayonetta games, combat scenarios are graded based on your performance, with each individual grade leading to a final chapter score. These start at the pitiful Stone medal all the way to the illustrious Pure Platinum. Various factors play into these grades, from combo duration, time taken and damage accumulated. For the best scores, you want the biggest combo in the shortest amount of time without taking a hit, which proves to be very daunting as the game progresses. While the game is forgiving with deaths, with numerous checkpoints between combat sections, these massively influence the score.
The newest mechanic to the series is Demon Slave, the ability to directly control the demons under Bayonneta’s command. In-universe, the pacts a demon makes with a witch are only valid against angels of Paradiso, so these new Homunculi enemies mean nothing to them. Taking direct control is the only way to make use of their powers against them. By holding ZL, the currently active demon comes out and has its own set of very powerful attacks. This is limited by a magic metre that drains as you use the demon, this gauge gradually refills with time when you’re not controlling anything. Whilst very strong, this leaves Bayonetta vulnerable to enemies, so it’s best used scarcely and wisely as not to put yourself in too much danger. Even in 1-1 boss encounters, any wide ranged attack can still catch you off guard, meaning you need to pay extra attention both to yourself and the demon doing the attacking.
The performance leaves a fair amount to be desired, with unwelcome hiccups along the way. They are most jarring during cutscenes, which cap out at 30 frames per second, making the drops very noticeable, but don’t think you’re safe in regular gameplay either. Larger set pieces can dramatically drop the frame rate, which happens fairly frequently to boot, while smaller encounters are less likely to see drops. The 60fps target can be met, sometimes, but more frequently it’ll be dropping to the 50’s and even 40’s as well. At the same time though, the game gets so hectic that you might not even notice the drops in the heat of the moment, but during quieter sections the minor drops do become evident. It feels as though Platinum were too ambitious, it’s as if they had designed the game with a Switch successor in mind.
Visuals are fairly inconsistent, sometimes looking absolutely beautiful and other times looking just OK. Nothing truly looks ugly, but it’s pretty obvious that some concessions were made in the name of optimisation, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, with the inconsistent performance, this doesn’t seem to have really paid off. It gets really jarring in handheld mode, where the resolution drops well below the native 720p screen. Those with the larger OLED screens might notice things a lot more than those on older models.
When discussing this game, it’s hard not to bring up the elephant in the room, as it has certainly made its voice very clear, pun intended. The case of voice actors for this game is a loud and controversial issue, as Hellena Talyor has not returned to reprise the role of the titular character, instead shifting hands to industry veteran Jennifer Hale. It’s been a challenge not to notice, even since the game’s proper unveiling, that something has been a bit off with Bayonetta’s voice. It isn’t my place to pass complete judgement on the situation though, Hale has done an overall excellent job filling in the shoes, but the situation is very muddy and difficult to truly ignore. If it is a deciding factor as to whether or not you choose to play this game, I won’t judge you, as there is no right or wrong answer.
With a wide variety of combat options and a great freedom of gameplay expression, Bayonetta 3 proves itself to be another masterclass in the action genre. Many casual players probably won’t even scratch the surface of the different combat options available, but more experienced action gamers will greatly appreciate the depth with the many tools at their fingertips. Not to mention the sheer quantity of spectacle on display, as expected for the series, but Platinum have gone above and beyond this time. Battles against larger than life foes are much more common now, mostly to accommodate the Demon Slave mechanic.
Whilst an excellent game from a gameplay standpoint, the performance woes and jarring story are a bit of a letdown. It’s difficult for me to say they truly get in the way to any significant degree, as the game’s high points are so good that these lows don’t impact it in any tremendous manner. It’s still fantastically fun and a prime contender for action game of the year. It revels in its absurdities and just loves presenting you with fun scenarios, this sense of fun is something more action titles need to adopt. All in all, it’s a worthy followup to the prior two games, not content with just being more of the same while not losing its identity in the process.
Final rating – 4 out of 5
Bayonetta 3 is available now for Nintendo Switch.
Long time fan of Nintendo and games in general, I always lean on the quirkier and unique sides of things in particular. It all started when I was lucky enough to get a Gameboy Color and Pokemon Yellow for my tenth birthday and it’s been going strong ever since. I’ve always had a need to get my voice heard and share anything I find interesting with the world.