[Review] Bayonetta 3
Posted on November 12, 2022 by Dennis Gagliardotto(@LyonHart_) in Reviews, Switch
Release Date: October 28, 2022
The wait for Bayonetta 3 has been a long one as fans have been waiting since the reveal of its logo at The Game Awards in 2017. Though we’ve had the previous entries ported over to Switch to play, the latest addition to the series is finally here in what feels like a fever dream. Bayonetta has had long gaps in between each game, but each entry of gaming’s most powerful witch has been well worth the wait, with Bayonetta 3 being no different. The excellence in storytelling, gameplay, theatrics, and PlatinumGames’ signature hack-and-slash mastery improves with each, and while Bayonetta 3 is just under what Bayonetta 2 achieved in 2014, it’s still is a masterful title in a league of its own, held back only by the aging hardware it finds itself restricted to.
Bayonetta 3 continues the trend of facing off against a multitude of enemies in large-scale arenas from beyond the ether. But rather than facing the demons and angels that plagued the first two titles, a new cosmic class of enemies known as the Homunculi threaten the multiverse, all led by a powerful deity-like creature known as Singularity. Since the multiverse comes into play, there are multiple Bayonettas in parallel universes that have been seen, and Singularity has destroyed countless numbers with Bayonetta 3’s main Bayonetta being the next target.
The game has the usual cast of characters in play, so not only is there a beautiful new design for the Umbran Witch, but series staples like Jeanne, Luka, Rodin, and, yes, even Enzo return to aid Bayonetta in protecting the world once more. There are fresh faces among the familiar, however, with the main one being Viola – a katana-wielding punk rock-clad character who is on time patrol similar to Trunks in Dragon Ball. Her goal is to keep Bayonetta 3’s universe from collapsing, all while collecting five Chaos Gears – all in separate realities – to bring balance back to the multiverse and keep Singularity from further torment and destruction.
The story, like the others, is fairly straightforward, but it’s easy to lose track of the bigger picture when Bayonetta has always had a multitude of fights that, while an exciting and engaging thrill ride, tend to make the player lose focus of the bigger picture. Even so, every cutscene, sequence, and climax is immensely entertaining. Even if by the end you’re struggling to figure out how to explain the story to someone else in greater detail, the memories and enjoyment Bayonetta has consistently given since 2008 make it all worth it thanks to PlatinumGames’ combat prowess.
With the multiverse being a narrative hook, the game takes advantage of this by providing multiple set pieces and realities that may not seem traditional to the series’ lore and direction. In doing so, Bayonetta 3 feels like a constant roller coaster where the player is taken from theme park to theme park in such a quick fashion that the dopamine hit is consistent throughout. The only real “calming” moments to the gameplay are during the general exploration segments where collectibles, challenges, and secrets are riddled in just about every corner. Bayonetta’s abilities in and out of combat make the exploration factor get another level of fun throughout each chapter of the game, and even during areas that seem like they’re meant for just window dressing or have no real reason to hide a collectible or the sort, it’s relatively surprising to still end up acquiring a new color palette for Bayonetta, piece of music, or figure for its gallery to name a few.
With Bayonetta’s multiple transformations that help her climb, sprint, fly, glide, and more, the fluidity of going from form to form when switching between two presets designated by the player feels fantastic. Being able to mix and match weapons, infernal demons, and now customize Bayonetta on a more detailed level by choosing hair, costume, and glasses color is a real treat to fans of the series and emphasizes the multiverse aspect by having your own sort of Bayonetta. Admittedly, however, while I enjoyed the various timelines, costumes, and palettes, I found myself frequently going back to the traditional look, but every few chapters it would be nice to see a change and how that’s reflected in the in-game cutscenes.
Having the options available to switch it up to various weapons and demons makes Bayonetta 3 feel fantastic and fresh throughout, and with a multitude of combos that are also fairly easy to remember and execute, the game does well to feel like its most approachable to date. Even for those jumping in for the first time (though I’d highly recommend getting Bayonetta 1 and 2 ports on Switch first to really appreciate Bayonetta 3), there’s a great archive that logs everything throughout Bayonetta’s adventures. Also, as an additional measure of Bayonetta 3 feeling like it’s encompassing all things Bayonetta, there are quite a few moments in which she’ll revert to her child form as Cereza to complete puzzles in witch time, manipulating time moving forward or backward to change the environment in order to be able to access certain areas and either progress or acquire secrets. They’re not particularly difficult to get a grip on and more often than not feel arbitrary, but they’re still a nice little feature to add another layer of depth to the environments, mechanics, and gameplay.
Rewards are also substantial and important as you fight through waves of enemies as well because of the multitude of currencies that can acquire items, features, accessories, and more at The Gates of Hell. Outside of that one is able to upgrade just about everything Bayonetta and co. are capable of in a skill tree-like manner – this also includes being able to upgrade health and mana through broken Witch Hearts and Moon Pearls respectively. There’s just a lot overall to Bayonetta’s world through its chapters that even with another linear progression system in its gameplay, there’s enough set aside to incentivize the player to take a deeper look around the corners to see what new treasures may be hiding.
Bayonetta 3 isn’t all about Bayonetta, however, with quite a few moments and missions that are focused on Jeanne and Viola, and each has its own feel and look to it with a move set that is unique but mechanically similar. The settings they’re used in, however, are different, and these are certain aspects of each that will take a certain tweak to the brain to get used to. Viola, for example, has more or less the same move sets and capabilities as Bayonetta, but Witch Time for her works slightly different as her sword needs to parry an attack by utilizing the shoulder “R” button rather than dodging with the trigger “ZR” input as done with Bayonetta and Jeanne. What is a nice change, however, is that Viola can move around and continue to attack after summoning Cheshire, though she fights barehanded and her move set is a bit more limited without her katana. As others typically remain idle while the player gains control of the demons in battle, it’s nice having a bit more freedom to fight and resisting becoming an easy target. Viola is a great character and addition to the series, though admittedly at times she can feel a bit out of place. More often than not, her involvement did feel a bit forced and at times unnecessary, but it bears repeating that the gameplay is so spectacular that it doesn’t hinder the enjoyment of the game whatsoever.
Everything about Bayonetta 3 is near perfection, and the game never really stops being fun no matter how one looks at it. It’s unfortunate, however, that the game could have been so much more on hardware that was much more capable of the intensity. It’s clear Bayonetta 3 when compared to the other two in the series is pushing its model density, animations, and capabilities, and while they all look great, its performance is more often than not all over the place, with clear technical shortcomings that frankly disrespect the artistry behind PlatinumGames and Bayonetta altogether. I’m not sure if this game was ever supposed to run at 60 frames per second, for starters, but despite playing 65% docked and 35% in handheld mode, performance while playing on a television rarely reached that mark from personal experience. Handheld mode, on the other hand, had a much higher consistency of reaching 60 FPS, though it’s clear resolution takes a hit once this happens, and unfortunately, Bayonetta 3 could use all the help it gets to get a decent resolution on both handheld and docked modes. Never mind once the player tries to take advantage of its Photo Mode – a feature I was immensely excited to see – only to have it obliterate the image down to what feels like a 3DS throwback and have effects that show no real sign of functionality on screen. Adjusting the depth of field or focal point only really works when sliding to the max or minimum – same with just about every other slider the Photo Mode offers – so details in picture composition are equal parts blasphemous and fictitious. It, quite frankly, feels like a downgrade from what Astral Chain offered, and you could count every jagged edge on full display with Astral Chain both in and out of photo mode.
Technical shortcomings aside, Bayonetta 3 is a marvel with what it offers from the moment a new game begins to the moment the credits roll, and there’s rarely a dull moment in between that gives that feeling of wanting to put the Switch down to do something else. Bayonetta is bewitching in the best of ways, and she’s as witty, seductive, and confident as ever, with all of her personality showcased in the most beautiful and theatrical of ways through the combat and various summons, boss fights, and environments she finds herself in throughout. Though there’s an overemphasis on the kaiju aspect of Bayonetta 3’s gameplay that feels almost like a necessity rather than an option and parts of the game that vary in production quality, overall Bayonetta is as stylish as ever, and PlatinumGames has crafted yet another template for not only how to do hack-and-slash combat right, but make them approachable and consistently fun with perfect pacing, charisma, appeal, and wonder where frustration is only sourced from a lack of investment by the player. Bayonetta as a character and as a series has reached a new height of iconic artistry, cementing itself as a symbol of quality and allure seldom seen elsewhere. The only thing to really be jealous about is the prospect that in another universe, SEGA still invested heavily in the property out of Nintendo’s hands and made Bayonetta shine further on capable hardware.
Bayonetta 3 is a fantastic game through and through that once again shows the prowess and excellence in the art form of hack-and-slash titles that PlatinumGames has become known for. It’s another masterclass of game development from the studio that has surpassed itself time and time again. However, while Bayonetta 3 is a borderline masterpiece from beginning to end, it’s a shame that it’s held back by the hardware it finds itself trapped in as the game more often than not shows the Switch’s age on display.
Bayonetta 3 copy provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.