After eight long years, the witch queen returns with more drip than a drag show and higher octane than a Fast and Furious movie. Longtime fans will find this as no surprise and welcome home. For newcomers to the franchise, Bayonetta 3 will be a rollercoaster ride in the dark, moving fast with no idea what happens next- in the best way possible.
In the introductory cutscene, it’s a sunny Saturday in New York as a SEGA flag whips in the wind; a delivery man stacks a Nintendo box on top of another outside a storefront that has Platinumgame’s logo on the window, and Bayonetta’s friend Enzo yells, “You know how much shit I had to go through for this thing?” as he rips his baseball ticket in half with director Yusuke Miyata’s name on it.
It’s a fun commentary on the collaborative effort that goes into game development like this that opens and sets the tone for what is about to be the most unapologetically Platinum game since Nier Automata.
Like Enzo, rip up your expectations and come for the ride because you won’t be driving; Bayonetta will be.
Character action and hack-and-slash games over the years have primarily been a one-trick pony, get from point A to point B as stylishly as possible and get a high enough score to either pass to the next section or unlock new items. Essentially, a Tony Hawk game but with lots of punching instead of kickflips. Bayonetta 3, however, is much more than the easy-to-learn but difficult-to-master affair that usually accompanies the genre.
In fact, there’s so much variety on show in its 15-hour runtime that you will have experienced four different games in one by the time the credits roll.
Combat in Bayonetta 3
Unsurprisingly, the combat looks and feels incredibly tight, with a mind-numbingly large number of animations for every weapon, enemy, environment, and cutscene.
Each weapon, which Bayonetta can equip two at a time, has a unique move set and visual flare, giving players variety in how they decide to tackle combat. Some weapons’ swing speed will be slow, others much quicker, but the consideration of mobility will factor in weapon selection.
Some weapons will change your movement into a butterfly, web-swinging spider, or launching werewolf. There’s a ton of experimentation and consideration to be had when finding out what works best for your playstyle.
Once you’re familiar with combat, you won’t be familiar with combat, as there’s an entire second layer that is added called beast slaves. Beast slaves respond to Bayonetta 3’s massive scale and scope to both environments and leviathan-sized enemies.
Think of the old Godzilla movie battles as a frame of reference. When things get out of hand, you’ll summon a beast slave you can control to help out a fight. As you control a beast, Bayonetta will stand still and be left vulnerable, so you’ll have to choose carefully when to use them. However, there’s more depth than just controlling the beasts, as you can queue up their attacks, switch back to Bayonetta, and fight alongside your summoned beast.
Enemies can even be stunned during this process, and finisher moves can be initiated as you return control to Bayonetta, creating intense and strategic combat scenarios.
How Is The Gameplay In Bayonetta 3?
Subverting expectations is something Platinum has done with great success in the past and once again succeeds to do with Bayonetta 3. Most games will solidify what a gameplay loop will look like within the first few hours of playing, whereas here, you never know what’s next, and it’s fantastic.
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Playing this game is like eating a surprise four-course meal when all you ordered was a burger, and the waiter keeps bringing out more. You will switch between multiple characters with unique play styles as an appetizer.
During the main course, you’ll be delighted with deep levels of combat and light exploration that are layered on top of one another. Right when you think it’s over, here comes dessert: massive platforming escape sequences, shifting perspectives that use your beast slave in what becomes a traditional fighting game, and beautiful Metroid Dread-like inspired 2d sections as the cherry on top.
Each sequence transfers and morphs from one to the next while being cohesive and never letting any one thing become stale.
Technical Issues In Bayonetta 3
Despite the fantastic game that is on display here, Bayonetta 3’s ambition will, at times, result in technical shortcomings.
Texture quality can vary wildly from something that looks good to moments where certain assets stick out like a sore thumb. Dynamic resolution is at play here, like in most Switch titles, and is particularly aggressive as it targets 60 fps.
In most circumstances, the frame rate hangs in the 50-60 range but will, at times, drop into the 40s. In some more spectacular escape sequences where particle effects are dialed up and assets are whizzing by, the frame rate is capped at 30 fps. In situations like these, it was an unfortunate but necessary decision that had to be made to keep a more consistent experience across the board.
Fortunately, in my time playing, none of these technical issues ruined my experience as block and dodge windows are generous throughout the game and escape sequences don’t require much skill from the player while capped at 30 fps.
Interestingly, there is one technical aspect of the game that I haven’t seen the likes of since Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, which is near quick swapping of environments. It’s by no means as impressive as Rift Apart on the PS5, but it gets me wondering what sort of magic they’re making behind the scenes here. I didn’t think such a feat would be feasible on the Switch, but here we are, warping between worlds with only a momentary FPS dip to show.
Final Thoughts On Bayonetta 3
I’ve never taken Bayonetta’s storyline particularly seriously as it treads through Kingdom Hearts levels of convolution.
Things haven’t wrapped up in a nice, neat bow for the trilogy’s finale. Way too much time in cutscenes is spent on really cool top action, and not enough disposition to tie the three entries together in a way that feels good. In general, none of this should matter too much for the genre, but when Bayonetta 3 takes itself so seriously, it’s hard not to notice when it stumbles.
Luckily, the VO work by Jennifer Hale as Bayonetta and Anna Brisbin as Viola make up for the weak conclusion to the saga.
Very few games out there will ever let you guess what happens next on the screen. Bombastic set pieces that get increasingly weirder and more over the top than the last. Gameplay mechanics constantly evolve or change.
Music that ranges from soft rainy-day jazz to noxious power pop. Art direction is a never-ending explosion of both everything extraordinary and bizarre. When listed off in this way, it’s no wonder the finale to Bayonetta’s journey is lackluster and suffers from a few technical issues.
However, even with its faults, the work Platinum has achieved here is downright impressive. It never ceases to amaze me how some developers can harness the ability to make games this good within the limits of the Switch hardware.
Bayonetta 3 is a sexy and bloody fun time; an unapologetic ‘M’ rated black sheep amongst Nintendo’s exclusives, an anarchic burp of fresh air, and a must-have experience for Switch owners.