Bayonetta 3 review – for extravagance’s sake
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 mark the earth, and mountain-sized creatures level entire cities; the bombastic culmination of an opening three hours that feel like they’re running a mile a minute; an endless barrage of stimuli.
It’s loud, obnoxious, and frankly a bit exhausting. And I shouted and shouted all the time.
The Bayonetta franchise has always been at its best when you’re staring blankly at the TV and repeatedly muttering, “What the hell is going on?” The series is excessive in nature in terms of violence, action and sexuality. Fast and repetitive combos lead straight into flashy, gory and extravagant animations, all completed by goofy cutscenes where the titular witch displays her sex appeal, using it to distract, taunt and encourage those around her.
Bayonetta 3 is of course no different. From the first seconds you are thrown into huge battles that require you to juggle many enemies at once while switching weapons, summoning giant monsters and dodging attacks. And to that end, playing as Bayonetta is the best the series has ever felt. For more than 12 hours, I never got tired of her fight, welcoming each new wave of enemies or difficult boss.
This is largely due to how Bayonetta 3 changes the series’ formula. The game no longer refers Infernal Demons (basically large monsters Bayonetta summons to fight alongside her) to scenes at the end of a boss fight; they are a whole mechanic. As long as you have filled your magic meter, you can summon one of these beasts, called Demon Slave here, almost whenever you want and control them while you fight. Slightly against their intended use, I mainly used mine as a finishing move. Ending a combo with a massive attack from one of my four equipped monsters always felt powerful and weighty and went a long way in evening the odds against the game’s many, many bosses. For all of Bayonetta 3, it’s constantly throwing Infernal Demons your way, and I loved testing out each new addition. That said, outside of game-specific sections, I mainly went back to the first two the game gives you, Gomorrah and Madama Butterfly, but that’s more a matter of complacency than a lack of viable variety.
Perhaps the defining characteristic of Bayonetta 3 is an absurd amount of options and variety. Like the vast array of demon slaves, Bayonetta’s weapons are each with their own gimmick, strength and drawback. I mainly stuck to the lightning-fast, long-range Ignis Araneae Yo-Yo as my primary weapon, with the massive Dead End Express hammersaw hybrid for slower but heavier attacks. Quickly striking with the former, dodging to trigger Bayonetta’s signature Witch Time (which slows everything but you), then bashing enemies with my massive hammer before summoning an Infernal Demon finisher was constantly entertaining. If anything, I wish there were more meetings. I often dropped most regular enemies after just a couple of big combo strings, leaving me scrambling to find the next idiot to beat up.
Bayonetta 3’s 14 chapters constantly swing between settings, literally sending you around the world and then some. From Japan to New York to Egypt, to beyond the reach of space and time, each level has a unique visual palette and core framework. I loved figuring out where in the world to go next, but more than that, I loved the end of each chapter, which featured a bombastic, larger-than-life set piece that more often than not completely flattened the level you just explored. These include massive kaiju battles (a personal favorite), a battle high above the Earth’s stratosphere where a God-sized being blows bubbles at his opponent, and a literal battle of operatic proportions, among others. Some sequences are better than others, but they’re all a spectacle, so for the few that don’t feel quite as good, they’re at least fun to watch.
All this is 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 deal with them. It’s overwhelming and I loved it. Bayonetta 3 never wants you to be bored and does everything in its power to keep your eyes glued to the TV or Switch screen, no matter how exhausting it may be.
For what it’s worth, Bayonetta 3’s story is the most comprehensible of the series. That is to say, it is largely not nonsense. Bayonetta is charming throughout, as are most of the recurring characters, such as Jeanne, Luka, and Rodin, but the larger narrative is a muddled multiverse story. Some big bad guy is trying to take control of the different dimensions to control space and time. This introduces several different Bayonettas (a fun narrative way to give you the aforementioned different weapons), and there’s an end-game twist that nicely changes the Bayonetta lore. For the most part, however, the narrative is largely forgettable beyond its 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 like a stealth-focused side-scroller, though it’s never that engaging beyond running from point A to B and occasionally fighting a boring boss.
The handful of Viola’s levels are mechanically interesting but fail to make the landing. Viola is a hack ‘n’ slash focused character and her Witch Time is tied to a parry rather than a dodge. That parry window is incredibly tight, and my opening times with the new witch were frustrating until I finally got the hang of it, and then it just got a little 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 force my way through levels.
I like the idea of introducing new playable characters to the Bayonetta franchise, but Viola did nothing 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 she is bland and uninteresting. The game forces you to spend many hours playing as her, and I struggle to think of a single defining characteristic aside from her banal mall-punk aesthetic. That Viola is bland and forgettable is unfortunate because despite the show’s often flawed storytelling, it has always had incredibly fun characters. Considering that Viola could play a much bigger role in potential upcoming games, I’m disappointed that she doesn’t match the charm of Bayonetta.
But that’s a small complaint at the bottom of a mountain of compliments. Bayonetta 3, for the vast majority of its runtime, is an absolute blast. It is bombastic, excessive and extravagant for extravagance’s sake, leaving ruins, literally, in its wake. I’m already going back through each level trying to get better scores and I have no immediate plans to stop. I may be uncertain about the future of the series, but at the moment this is the best Bayonetta ever.