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Hi there — you all know me by now. I’m the Bayonetta fan. Practically one of the first things I told the GamesBeat staff when I was hired was that Bayonetta is my favorite game. I’ve been waiting so long for Bayonetta 3, and the others were gracious enough to let me be the one to speak about it for the site.
This isn’t officially a “review,” by the way. I didn’t want to rush my playthrough of Bayonetta 3. First of all, I didn’t get the game until after it launched, so my review would have been behind everyone else’s anyway. Second, I haven’t played a new Bayonetta game in eight years. I wanted to enjoy the experience. But the downside of that is that it’s a bit too late for an official score.
Besides, if I were to write the review, it’d mostly be praise. I love so much about this game — the majority of it, if I’m being honest. I’m sure that doesn’t come as a shock. But I did manage to pinpoint a big problem I have with the game, and that led me into a handful of smaller complaints. So let’s talk about it.
What to love in Bayonetta 3 (a.k.a. most of it)
The staple of Bayonetta is its fast, fun action gameplay, and that’s just as good in the third game as it has been before. Bayonetta has a sweet suite of new moves and weapons, some of them even more wild and wacky than we saw in the previous games.
The most important new abilities are Demon Masquerade and Demon Slave. Demon Masquerade replaces Bayonetta’s Wicked Weaves with her directly channeling her demon familiars for a handful of new powers and combos. With Demon Slave, she pulls said demons from Inferno to fight her enemies directly, the logical endpoint of her climax abilities. It adds yet another layer of spectacle and strategy to the already-complex combat system.
Jeanne returns and, in a major switch, her sections are not thinly-veiled reskins of Bayonetta’s own levels. No, she actually has her own 2D stealth-action settings where she’s infiltrating. It reminds me of the first game’s Space Harrier levels, in that it’s a fun gameplay switch that feels like someone’s homage to their favorite game. I only wish there were more of these levels — or heck, give Jeanne her own spin-off title.
Bayonetta 3’s story
Viola, the new playable character, turns out to be a much more competent and interesting character than she seems on first glance. I was ready to dismiss her as this game’s Loki, a new “little one” to snottily whine at Bayonetta whenever she comes in clutch to save them. While Viola’s not above a little whining, she does have her own skillset, distinct from Bayonetta’s, which was fun to play on its own. Her character design also grew on me after a while.
As for the story … well, it’s not my favorite out of the series, if only because its tone is all over the place. But the major hook is about Bayonetta travelling to other timelines and meeting different versions of herself. These sequences are brilliant, if only because it feels like we’re finally getting to see the Bayonettas that otherwise would just exist as sketches in an artbook. J-Pop Bayonetta, French thief Bayonetta, warchief Bayonetta — all amazing. If Bayonetta is great by herself, more Bayonettas can only improve the formula.
I’m not going to complain about the weaker parts of story — I feel that others have already done so, and better. I wasn’t a fan of the ending, and the game vastly overestimates how much I give a damn about the character Luka. But the game’s extended romp across various locations and time periods more than makes up for its lackluster finish. When I’ve had this much fun, I’m not going to let one final wimpy flute solo ruin the entire concert for me.
What to not love in Bayonetta 3 (it’s not much)
Bayonetta 3 has one big problem, which is perhaps a symptom of a few smaller problems: I hate the enemy design. These are usually one of the biggest draws of the franchise. Aesthetically, they draw on older influences: The angels combine the beautiful colors and cherubic stylings of classical artwork with the terrifying imagery of old Abrahamic texts. Beyond the aesthetics, you have several different enemy types, all of which are visually distinct and have radically different play-styles. Grace and Glory play differently from the tiny Affinity angels, which are different from the Dear and Decorations, etc.
In Bayonetta 3, almost all of the Homunculi look the same. The designers doggedly stick to the teal/white/silver color palette for every single enemy. When you’re far enough away, it’s difficult to tell them apart and customize your kit as needed. Part of the problem is that the Switch can barely handle Bayonetta 3’s graphics, and handheld mode is especially muddy in that regard. Another part is that the enemies are designed with the Demon Slave powers in mind, so some of them are too big to get a proper look at them on the screen.
And maybe I’m being too picky here, but what are these creatures meant to reference? You’ve got a million different variations of them, but I’m not clear on what, exactly, their design is meant to invoke. I can understand, when a black horse that looks like a Gothic freight train with a sword sticking out of its face jumps out at me, that this is meant to invoke demonic imagery. I have no idea what the Homunculi are meant to look like. They don’t have a sinister, machine-like inorganic nature to them, but nor do they have the Angels’ repugnant organic element to them.
Bayonetta 3’s tone issues
Like I said, the enemy design issues are symptomatic of deeper issues with the game. Bayonetta 3’s tone and content don’t exactly line up with the rest of the series. Previous Bayonetta games are basically sexy, shooty takes on The Divine Comedy. You’ve got trips to Inferno, Paradiso, etc. It’s heavily based on early Christian mythology with a smattering of pop culture references going back centuries. Bayonetta 3, however, is a vaguely scifi-ish multiverse adventure where the enemies are manmade creatures. It really doesn’t feel connected to the previous games.
For example, in previous games Bayonetta didn’t worry about collateral damage because all fights were taking place in Purgatorio, separated from the “real” world (also, Bayonetta DGAF). In Bayonetta 3, a Homonculus attack decimates New York and kills many people, including resident whipping boy Enzo’s family. I don’t know what kind of game Platinum thought they were making, but the leftover perky, DGAF attitude from the previous games does not dovetail well with a scene where Enzo is sobbing over his dead children.
But these issues didn’t really impair my enjoyment of the game. It would take a lot more than this for me to not have fun with a Bayonetta game. I think they’re worth remarking on, especially if Platinum is planning to continue the series. I’m not sure Bayonetta 3 will ever feel as special to me as the original was, but it’s still wonderful in its own way. I’m glad to have it after such a long wait.
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