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Bayonetta 3 review: season of the witch

The witch is back, with a little help from her friends

Bayonetta 3 lead

It’s been a long time waiting for Bayonetta fans. The second sequel to the critically acclaimed action slasher was announced five years ago – the same year the Nintendo Switch launched. That makes it one of the longest anticipated exclusives for Nintendo’s console, apart from Metroid Prime 4, which still only exists as a logo. Yet that long wait may have been in Bayonetta 3 ’s favour.

Since its 2014 predecessor, developer PlatinumGames has been able to flex its hi-octane action expertise on the equally acclaimed Nier Automata and Switch exclusive Astral Chain. Trends have also shifted, with other media jumping on the multiverse bandwagon, and Resident Evil Village’s Lady Dimitrescu no doubt contributing to us celebrating, rather than cringing at, highly sexualised (and tall) women in games.

Most importantly, when it comes to fast-paced character action games with a ridiculous sense of style, no one does it better. So, better late than never, can the old girl get a Pure Platinum hat trick?

Smashing the multiverse

In her previous outings, Bayonetta has fought both angels and demons. Once Heaven and Hell are cleansed, where’s the next big threat going to come from? The answer is humans, or rather something man-made, which is what these strange homunculi that start invading the world are. However, it’s not just our world they’re taking over, as our heroine soon discovers that they’re taking over and destroying whole other dimensions. That’s right, our witch is going to the multiverse!

This concept has bled into so much of our pop culture now that you’d barely bat an eyelid, although you can argue Bayonetta has always been doing this to some degree, travelling  through portals between mortal and spirit realms to battle the divine and diabolic. What it does do however is allow Bayonetta 3 to be much more of a globe-trotting romp, as you hop from New York to Tokyo to China to Paris and more in the search for Singularity, the mysterious big bad behind all of this.

Of course, if there’s a multiverse, it also means there’s more than one Bayonetta. Sure, Bayo’s got a new hairstyle, but wait until you get a load of the outrageous designs for her other variants, from a pink-haired witch rocking hip colourful Tokyo fashion to another with all the regal splendour of Cleopatra.

Such imaginative style and art direction is what keeps Bayonetta 3 looking so fresh and vibrant, whether on the big screen or in handheld mode, even if the visuals themselves look like they could be from the Xbox 360 era. Fortunately, the action is so smooth and fast-paced that the low resolution is hardly a distraction, at least until you freeze it to use photo mode.

Hair raiser

If you’ve played the previous Bayonetta games, 3’s combat will be exactly as you remember. This includes default combos that finish with a massive demon witch’s fist or heel flying out of a portal, sending even the largest foe flying across the screen.

Wild new weapons only add to the fun, offering new mechanics to spice up combat and traversal, while also being linked to new demonic alliances. The first of these is an infernal set of yoyos that also transforms you into a massive fire spider, for crawling through lava and swinging around like Spider-Man. The designs get even more bonkers after that, though it’s probably best for you to discover for yourself.

Combat in each chapter is split into sections called verses, where your rank is then calculated based on your combo, time, and damage received, though those who’d prefer to play on casual difficulty don’t need to stress about rank anymore. Nonetheless, the drive to get a platinum medal is what makes Bayonetta 3 replayable, especially since you’re now able to upload these scores in online leaderboards.

It’s not just a linear series of fights either, since many of these verses are found in optional challenges hidden off the beaten path in some surprisingly large levels. It’s also worth exploring these environments, which contain plenty of puzzles and collectibles, notably upgrades to your health and magic meters. This may sometimes be at odds with a game that’s at best when played at full throttle, but you can at least opt to replay chapters from different checkpoints and even leave and still get any improved ranks updated to the final score.

Bait and witch

Bayonetta 3 would still be a scorcher of a game even had it simply been more of the same, but rather than resting on its laurels, PlatinumGames works in new elements to the formula. It’s a commendable feat, though these additions don’t hit the same bar of success.

Instead of just summoning a demon as a climax to the end of a fight, you can now spend your magic meter and control them in a normal fight. It’s an interesting idea recycled from Platinum’s cancelled action RPG Scalebound, but is messy in execution. For starters, Bayo is vulnerable in this state as enemies can still attack her while she’s rooted to the spot, but the bigger problem is that controlling these demons feel unwieldy and sluggish – not what you want from a Bayonetta game.

Bayo’s absence is also felt in chapters when you’re not playing as her. New character Viola does offer a novel katana-wielding playstyle, but this means she has to parry attacks to activate Witch Time, which takes some muscle memory adjustment, especially as the parry button is different from dodging. Meanwhile, former frenemy Jeanne’s literal side chapters, set in side-scrolling stages with stealth elements feel very much like a sideshow, though it does have a fun spy-caper intro sequence.

But even with the Umbran Witch taking centre stage, there’s another pointed absence, given that Bayo’s original voice actor Hellena Taylor has not returned to the role – the reason behind which aired in rather public and ugly circumstances ahead of the game’s launch. Whether or not these disputed allegations impact your enjoyment of the game itself, it nonetheless sadly taints what should have been a triumphant homecoming for gaming’s best witch.

Bayonetta 3 verdict

As the undisputed queen of character action games, we would have been perfectly content had PlatinumGames given us a conclusion to the trilogy that was 100% Bayonetta, especially when the witch has so many delightful toys and beasties in her arsenal. That’s before we talk about the ways you can also unlock new colours for her outfits, and even her hair.

We just wish we were more enamoured with the new characters and mechanics, that while not without merit, feel like an uneven case of feature creep to make this sequel bigger and better. Nonetheless, being the runner-up to its predecessors, the two very best games in the genre, is hardly a poor consolation. Even if its new ideas aren’t always successful, Bayonetta 3 remains an excellent polished experience on the Switch that’s been worth the wait, and a thrilling ride through the multiverse.

Stuff Says…

Score: 4/5

The best action game of the year, even if its new elements don’t hit as high a bar.

Good Stuff

– Unmatched over-the-top fast-paced action and set pieces

– Plenty of secrets and challenges to keep replaying for

– A colourful range of customisation

Bad Stuff

– Some new character playstyles take some getting used to

– Controlling demons feels unwieldy

– Not the same Bayonetta voice