By the end of Bayonetta 3’s third chapter, it operates on a scale that dwarfs most video games. Buildings twist and crumble like flimsy plastic, giant craters shape the earth, and mountain-sized creatures level entire cities; the bombastic culmination of three hours that feels like walking a mile a minute; a never-ending flood of excitement.
It’s loud, obnoxious and frankly a bit exhausting. And I was yelling and yelling the whole time.
The Bayonetta series has always been at its best, staring at your TV with your mouth open and repeatedly muttering, “What the hell happened?” The series is inherently excessive in terms of violence, action and sexuality. Rapid and repeated combos lead straight to flashy, gory and extravagant animations, all flanked by silly cutscenes where the titular witch flaunts her sex appeal and uses it to distract, taunt and encourage those around her.
Bayonetta 3 is of course no different. From the first few seconds, you’ll be thrown into large-scale combat, where you’ll have to juggle numerous enemies at once while switching weapons, summoning huge monsters, and dodging attacks. And to that end, when you play as Bayonetta, it’s the best the series has ever felt. For more than 12 hours, I never got tired of their fight and happily greeted each new wave of enemies or difficult bosses.
This is largely due to how Bayonetta 3 changes the series’ formula. The game no longer banishes Infernal Demons (basically large monsters that Bayonetta summons to fight alongside her) in cutscenes at the end of a boss fight; You are a complete mechanic. As long as you have your magic meter filled, you can summon one of these beasts, here called Demon Slave, almost whenever you want and control them while you fight. Somewhat against their intended use, I’ve used mine mostly as finishing moves. Capping a combo with a massive attack from one of my four equipped monsters always felt powerful and weighty, and did a lot to even the odds against the game’s many, many bosses. Throughout Bayonetta 3 it keeps throwing hellish demons your way, and I’ve loved trying out each new addition. Aside from game-specific sections, however, I’ve mostly gone back to the first two the game features, Gomorrah and Madama Butterfly, but that’s more from complacency than a lack of usable variety.
Perhaps Bayonetta 3’s defining characteristic is an absurd amount of options and variety. Matching the vast crowd of demon slaves are Bayonetta’s weapons, each with their own gimmick, strength, and disadvantage. I mostly stuck to the lightning-fast, long-range Ignis Araneae Yo-Yo as my main weapon, with Dead End Express’s massive hammer-saw hybrid for slower but heavier attacks. Hitting fast with the former, dodging to trigger Bayonetta’s signature witch time (which slows down everything but you), then slamming enemies with my massive hammer before summoning an infernal demon as a finisher was constantly entertaining. If anything, I would wish for more encounters. I’ve often dropped most normal enemies after just a few big combo strings, so I had to rush to find the next jerk to beat up.
Bayonetta 3’s 14 chapters constantly switch between settings, literally sending you around the world and beyond. From Japan to New York to Egypt and across the boundaries of space and time, each level has a unique visual palette and core idea. I loved figuring out where I was going next, but more than that, I loved the end of each chapter, which contained a bombastic, larger-than-life set piece that mostly completely flattened the level you’d just explored. These include massive kaiju battles (a personal favourite), a battle high above the Earth’s stratosphere in which a being the size of God blows bubbles at his opponent, and a literal battle of operatic proportions. Some sequences are better than others, but they’re all a spectacle, so for the few that don’t feel quite as good, at least they’re fun to watch.
It’s all happening at an incredible speed. Bayonetta’s pace is almost non-stop, constantly throwing new enemies, bosses, and set pieces at you and asking you to confront them. It’s stunning and I loved it. Bayonetta 3 never wants you to be bored and does everything in its power to keep your eyes glued to your TV or Switch screen, no matter how tiring that might be.
For what it’s worth, Bayonetta 3’s story is the most relatable in the series. That said, it’s not largely gibberish. Bayonetta is charming throughout, as are most of the recurring characters like Jeanne, Luka, and Rodin, but the larger narrative is a memorized multiverse tale. Some big bad man is trying to take control of the different dimensions to control space and time. This introduces several different bayonettas (a fun narrative way of giving you the aforementioned different weapons), and there’s a late-game twist that changes the bayonetta lore neatly. For the most part, however, the narrative is largely forgotten beyond the surface entertainment value.
However, the story introduces the weakest parts of Bayonetta 3: all the levels where you don’t play as Bayonetta. Early on, new character Viola is introduced, a young punk from another dimension who needs Jeanne and Bayonetta to help her save the multiverse. This sends Jeanne on a mission to find a scientist to help the trio. Jeanne’s levels play out as a stealth-focused sidescroller, although there’s never that much excitement other than running from point A to point B and occasionally battling a boring boss.
The handful of Viola’s levels are mechanically interesting but fall short on the landing. Viola is a hack ‘n’ slash focused character, and her witch time is tied to a save rather than a dodge. That parry window is incredibly tight and my opening hours with the new witch were frustrating until I finally got the hang of it, and at that point it only got marginally more fun. She has her own demon slave, a giant cat named Cheshire (a nod to previous games), which came in handy when I just wanted to brutally fight my way through the levels.
I like the idea of introducing new playable characters to the Bayonetta series, but Viola didn’t do anything for me. Cosmetically, she’s an office worker’s approximation of a punk rocker, more Spencer’s Gifts than 924 Gilman Street. But even then it’s boring and uninteresting. The game forces you to spend many hours playing as them, and I struggle to think of a single defining trait that differs from their cheesy mall-punk aesthetic. That Viola is boring and forgetful is unfortunate, because despite the show’s often lackluster storytelling, there have always been incredibly funny characters. Given the implication that Viola could play a much bigger role in potential upcoming games, I’m disappointed that she can’t match Bayonetta’s charm.
But that’s a small complaint at the bottom of a mountain of compliments. Bayonetta 3 is an absolute banger for most of its runtime. It’s bombastic, over the top, and extravagant for extravagance’s sake, literally leaving in ruins. I’m already going back through each level trying to get better scores and I have no intention of stopping right away. I may be hesitant about the future of the series, but for now this is the best Bayonetta ever.
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