Bayonetta 3 Switch Review
Wow, I remember picking up my pre-ordered copies of the original Bayonetta and Darksiders for the PS3 like it was yesterday – turns out it wasn’t. Over a decade to complete the trilogy, bouncing between platforms, out-living several generations of consoles, and winning the hearts of many as a true competitor to the long-standing hack and slash champion, Devil May Cry. The now-classic title took the genre to all new heights with more combos that you could shake a hundred sticks at, allowing for insane chains between the wide variety of weaponry and all tied together with a slew of over-the-top animations. Of course there’s also the generous helping of semi-nude special attack transitions to complete the whole ‘dommy mommy’ vibe. I can’t even imagine what or who Bayonetta would be without them. But after all this time, after eight long years since the previous entry, does the latest addition continue to steam forward? Does it continue to push the boundaries of 3D action platformers in terms of story, combat mechanics, and design? Absolutely not.
Hey, it’s still a lot of fun, don’t get me wrong. But was it worth the wait? No way. Besides the obvious graphics throttling and substandard performance required to squeeze it onto the Switch (making it look like it came out alongside Bayo 2) there’s also a torrent of other grievances I have with it. The flashy, score-popping combat is still a blast though, even if the heavily contained fights and ranking system do feel weirdly outdated. The all new ability to summon and control demons to brawl right beside you on the battlefield is fantastic. It makes Bayonetta feel more powerful than ever and grants players full access to things they’d only ever previously interacted with via Quick-Time Events. Better yet is that each new weapon, of which there are plenty (and mostly all pretty unique feeling), comes with its own demon companion so there are ample options to try something new or work towards your own playstyle. Notably they aren’t tied directly to the armaments so the player has full control of their build blend, consisting of three beasties to command and two sets of equipment to hot-switch between. This stream of new toys to test single-handedly carries the core fighting experience through the campaign and staves off the staleness of the all too samey feeling filler fights as you approach the endgame. It may feel retro but there’s not much else as satisfying as blitzing around pummeling dummies and perfectly ducking hits in beautiful high-scoring death ballet.
The story is where I think I was most disappointed, not that the franchise’s lore was ever particularly interesting (or made any bloody sense at all). This time they hop on the ‘multiverse’ bandwagon which, whilst it isn’t a bad way to show off alternate Bayonettas (each with their own style and tremendously divergent histories), is so played out. And absolutely nothing is done to freshen it up – just hopping from world to world, collecting a part of the magical MacGuffin that will solve everything and watching the exact same scenario run again and again. Each time culminating in a boss fight and follow up mini-game battle between our protag’s ultimate forms and Singularity, the villain of the piece. One of them, by far the silliest and most ‘Bayonetta’ of them, I found to be a total blast but the others were way too slow and dragged out. I get we’re controlling creatures the size of cities but having a bizarre Godzilla-esque punchout is still supposed to be fun. This all without mentioning the new character, Viola, whose origin they try to slowly reveal even though it’s clear as day to anyone with a brain in the first second of her introduction. Consider her this game’s Nero.
There are actually a good amount of missions focused on her. And although she also has a demon in her corner (a giant opium addicted cat named Cheshire with a portal dimension in its mouth, who moves around on a flying unicycle), controlling her is a whole different thing. She doesn’t have ‘witch time’, the Bayonetta classic that slows down the action upon timing a dodge just right. Perhaps a staple nowadays, it was a new concept back then. Instead Viola uses a parry system with her katana. The window for error is much smaller, sure, but it’s also not available to pull off by cancelling out of an attack or when Cheshire is out because that requires the sword to be thrown into the ground, forcing Viola to kick box her way through the hordes of evil green dudes. This makes playing as her much less forgiving, which I actually really liked. I was already playing on hard mode, as is usual for action games, but using her I actually felt challenged. In fact there’s a boss fight about midway through that I absolutely adored. A huge lion-like beast made of what seems like umbra energy storms around an arena throwing huge slashes and rapid combo attacks at you, all which need to be parried, escaped, and punished just right in order to take down. The problem is that this fight – my favourite part of the game, probably – didn’t feel anything like Bayonetta. It was more like a Dark Souls boss and I’m not being facetious.
Speaking of how games in this series ‘feel’, did the other ones have so much exploration? At times I felt like I was playing Super Mario Odyssey as I ran around these open areas finding health and mana upgrades, bonus challenge stages, and the three elusive umbra animals hidden throughout each level. I guarantee I’m in the minority when I say I really enjoyed these sections but platforming and secret-hunting is my jam. I found mastering the movement abilities of different weapons in order to dash, climb, and solve puzzles throughout them hugely engaging, but also disconnected from the game’s design. I may just be misremembering the older titles (it has been a very long time since I played them), but I recall flitting from set piece to set piece, not spending time wandering about looking for pickups. Another change that I liked but that didn’t seem to fit in with what the games were trying to be. On the other hand, the 2D stealth action Jeanne levels are exactly the type of bonkers additions I would expect from the team. They are a perfect example of the creativity they are renowned for but that this entry sadly lacks. I mean there are always wild things going on in the Bayo titles and even the God-awful film, Bloody Fate, but this time there isn’t enough. It’s all a bit serious, actually, and it really damages the mood.
The sheer amount of cutscenes in general is troublesome but the generic ultimate universe-melding big bad blabbering on about fate and whatnot whilst our main character witnesses billions of people die is a flat out vibe-killer in what is supposed to be a stylish and deliberately ridiculous story about a dancing witch full of double-entendres and quips about her beserk fashion sense. Then, when you’re finally getting to play, the low resolution mixed with the hectic combat system that includes controlling Bayonetta and a giant monster at the same time; all whilst filling the screen with explosions and butterflies, can be equally irritating as it’s difficult to even gauge what’s going on. Just take a look at the screenshot of my gameplay below and you’ll see exactly what I mean. Not all battles do end up feeling so cramped and awkward, but many of them do and it can warp the wonderful rhythm of combo creation into a blind button-mashing fest.
Is Bayonetta 3 worth playing? If you’re already a fan, absolutely. Just don’t expect it to be the absurd larger-than-life addition than we all hoped it would be. If you’re on the fence about it – this isn’t going to be the one to change your opinion. The combat is still there, even if it is starting to rust up with age. There are still signs of that unhinged expressiveness the others are renowned for under the layers of bleak environments and flat out boring narrative. The whole thing can still often look colourful and eruptive, but is heavily anchored by the limits of the Switch – truly a cruel fate for what could be one of the craziest worlds to experience in a game if Platinum Games would be set free to do as they please. It really is a shame, especially after such a long wait. It’s not a bad experience by any means, and it did have fairly unreasonable expectations to live up to, but it ended up falling rather short in just about every way. For any other series that might be satisfactory, but not for Bayonetta. It deserves better than just ‘good’.