Golden Demonic Experience
More than eight years after the release of Bayonetta 2, Platinum Games have re-ignited their beloved franchise with two instalments in six months, the first of which we have been teased about since 2017. Finally released in October 2022, Bayonetta 3 attempts to expand upon one of the finest combat systems ever built, in every sense of the word. Equipped with modern hardware, the game is packed with a huge variety of weapons, demons, skill-trees and challenges. The scope of the game has also ballooned to encompass the multi-verse, with vast, explorable levels and elaborate combat sequences. These can be stunning to look at, but as proven by Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, the Switch can only achieve this with some questionable physics and textures that you shouldn’t look at too closely...
It is the exact opposite of Bayonetta Origins, the second of the new releases, which was developed simultaneously with Bayonetta 3. Whilst Bayonetta Origins is brilliant (and a review for another day), this competition for time and resources is the likely source of Bayonetta 3’s lack of polish. Still, if you have returned to the series for new ways to obliterate baddies in the flamboyant Bayonetta style, it’s likely that you won’t be disappointed.
Enslave Hell’s Demons
Rather than the traditional residents of Paradiso, Bayonetta and the crew are pitted against a far larger threat; Singularity and his army of senseless Homunculi. While the classic ‘Torture Attacks’ and familiar combat style remain, defeating these alien invaders often requires the use of a long-forgotten Umbran art, the ‘Demon Slave’. At any point during combat, Bayonetta can summon and directly control a demon that she is contracted to. Yes, that means you can directly play as Gomorrah, which is as devastating and invigorating as it sounds. As the demons are often quite slow, Bayonetta can cue attack commands for the demons, allowing her to fight directly alongside them. On top of looking and feeling awesome, this mechanic adds new strategic depth to the combat, especially since summoning a demon continuously drains your Umbran magic.
As you progress through the story, new demons and weapons are obtained, bringing with them even more new combat abilities and ways to traverse terrain. Each demon and weapon comes with its own skill tree, so it is best to choose a handful that you really like and upgrade them fully (although Bayonetta’s skill tree should come first). Giving the player the ability to de-activate certain abilities is a welcome piece of clever design, since you can turn off anything that may interfere with the inputs for more complex combos. However, the choice of equipping different weapons to the hands and high heels isn’t present; each weapon is used individually. Even so, the overwhelming choice of weapons allows players to adapt Bayonetta’s style to their own, but Bayonetta isn’t the only character we must use in the story...
The Full Range of Umbran Powers
Amidst the chaos of Singularity’s invasion, a young and feisty witch-in-training named Viola appears, flanked by her only contracted demon, Cheshire. In contrast to Bayonetta’s iconic firearms, Viola wields a katana and an endlessly regenerating set of darts. It’s a more defensive build, with Viola lacking the strength and move-set of a fully trained Umbra witch, much to the amusement of Bayonetta. Even her ‘Witch Time’ works differently, since she must parry incoming attacks to activate it. Beyond a skill tree, Viola’s kit can’t be customised, but the antics of Cheshire make her levels a memorable departure from those of Bayonetta.
Further from the action is Jeanne, who undergoes a stealth mission to find the only man who can seemingly help to stop Singularity.
Yes, stealth in Bayonetta. Thankfully, these are the fun sort of stealth missions; where you can, should things go awry, whip out the ‘All 4 One’ pistols, smash down the alerted Homunculi, then hide in a cupboard for a bit. The ‘Jeanne’s Spy Action’ side-chapters are played in 2D, and have the player dancing through rapid platforming and boss battling; a refreshing break from the huge main levels. Despite having lost a dimension, the Platinum Witch has lost none of her flair and attitude, with Grey DeLisle putting in another stella voice performance. It’s therefore a shame that, apart from in the training arena boss battles, Jeanne is not a playable character in the main chapters.
Continuing the theme of making everything larger and more dramatic, the levels in Bayonetta 3 are far more open than the linear chapters of the earlier games. To promote exploration, each level is crammed with collectibles and mini games. Some of these collectibles, such as the Umbran Crow, can be more frustrating than fun to catch, not least because they are required to unlock bonus levels. I find that the tension of racing against time to defeat Singularity is completely snapped when Bayonetta spends 20 minutes running down every tunnel and alleyway to see if anybody dropped any trading cards whilst being ground into dust.
Something that hasn’t changed is how the game hides a couple of verses (groups of enemies) in obscure areas, which can feel like little secrets that are harder to find than to defeat. A positive of the larger level design is that, rather than needing to back-track to find the missing verses, we get to explore new and interesting areas. Putting aside some poor textures, the levels are well designed and fun to traverse; although you can get yourself into some unfortunate situations by going the wrong way or falling off a platform. Bayonetta doesn’t mind though, as long as she can check her make-up.
This Wii U Gamepad Feels A Bit Small...
Bayonetta 1 was released in 2009, 13 years before Bayonetta 3, yet it’s hard to dispute that the first game is graphically superior. Previously, Bayonetta had crisp cutscenes and a dark art style that leant itself exquisitely to the setting. Nowadays, those cutscenes are much less flattering. It’s the facial animations that have really suffered; Bayonetta used to lick her lips in a human, deliberately risqué way. Now it looks almost unsettling, as though a small, pink creature is trying to clean her teeth.
During combat, the variety of special effects are impressive, although I can hear my Switch groaning while it produces them. Critically, the game very rarely, if ever, lags or drops in framerate. In a game that is so reliant on precision, it is reassuring to feel consistently in control, so I consistently know that dying is my own daft fault.
The Singularity Plot Disparity
I shan’t give any spoilers for the plot of Bayonetta 3, but they would be rather difficult to understand if I did. As is often the case with stories that feature the multiverse, random events can occur that don’t make much sense, but are explained away with “It happened because of the multiverse!”
That isn’t to say that these events aren’t an astonishing spectacle, because they are. I re-call several occasions when my boyfriend and I were playing through the story together, and we said, “WHAAAAAATTT?! YES BAYONETTA! YOU GO, THAT’S RIDICULOUS, I CAN’T EVEN”, or similar phrases. What I would propose is that, by broadening the scope to a theoretically infinite level, the threat and gravity of the situation is lost. In Bayonetta 1 and 2, the stakes were relatively clear, and the characters had interesting motivations and development throughout the story. The explorations of characters are vaguer in Bayonetta 3, and the Trinity of Realities (the human world, Paradiso and Inferno) is barely mentioned, despite being the main premise of the Bayonetta universe.
Ultimately, most people don’t play Bayonetta for the plot; they play for the great combat system, to furiously grind out Pure Platinum medals on verses, and for the epic ‘Angels Vs Demons’ dynamic. But the story was always there for those who did want it, and I, for one, was immersed by it. Together, Bayonetta 1 and 2 tell an engaging story which blends our real world with a fantastic and vicious fantasy. In the sense that the characters and wizarding phenomena from Harry Potter could theoretically exist, and we muggles would be none the wiser, the Bayonetta universe blends fiction and reality in ways that could (at a creative stretch) be believed. Luka’s investigative journals tell the story of a normal human who has stumbled across this hidden world, creating both a perfect opportunity for us to learn about it, and a lovable character that many players can relate to.
By using the multi-verse in such an over-powering and convoluted way, Bayonetta 3 shatters this connection like a dying witch’s heart. It is as though the soul has left its host, and is staring remorsefully down upon the vessel of fighting mechanics and gory graphics
that housed it. And without a soul, a vessel is dragged down to inferno, kicking and screaming about how it has more music discs and glowing frogs that we still haven’t found.
Yet I cannot bring myself to condemn Bayonetta 3 to this fate. The plot does have emotional moments, and the foundations built by the ceaselessly enjoyable combat system would be too strong for even Singularity to destroy. No matter how many Homunculi, angels or demons you defeat, hearing that ‘Pure Platinum’ sound effect and voice line never stops being satisfying.
Bayonetta 3 is a good game, but it dances in the shadow of what it could have been. It’s rushed release, lack of polish and blasé approach to its traditionally strong thematic base cause it to struggle in comparisons with the original. If you are new to Bayonetta and want to find the best entry point to the series, look no further than the Bayonetta 1 and 2 collection. If you enjoy those, then Bayonetta 3 is an expansion of that. Even with a few gaps, the charm of the original does remain.
Under the pressure of time and expectation, the passion of Platinum Games is there, through an awkward, glitchy smile.