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Bayonetta 3 review: A good game, except when it’s not

By November 8, 2022No Comments10 min read

Bayonetta is one of those franchises that always feels like it’s going up against the current. The first title famously undersold in its original release and left its growing fanbase salivating for more with little hope for that desire to be fulfilled. A shocking Wii U exclusive deal with the generally family friendly Nintendo gave the Umbra Witch a second life that properly established the series as iconic. That deal was announced to continue onto the Nintendo Switch back in 2017 and for a long time that was all fans had to work with. Now, what feels like a reality shift later, Bayonetta 3 has finally graced us with its presence. This time around, with all the stars aligned, the only obstacle really in this franchise’s way is itself – and unfortunately getting in its own way is exactly what Bayonetta 3 decides to do. 

Nintendo/Platinum Games

Witch Time

Before getting into how exactly this game trips itself up it is important to be clear that there is in fact a pretty good game to be tripped up here. Bayonetta 3 carries over the same frantic energy from its previous titles well. Despite not having played the previous two games in at least a year, it only took me a few minutes to get back in the interchange between attacking and dodging critical to success. The Switch is inarguably aged hardware now and while this does impact visual fidelity at spots where particle effects are high, the game is optimized to the max. Not once in my 14 plus hours in-game did I see a dip in frame rate or feel like an input was delayed. When so much relies on timing, consistency is key and it’s good to see that optimization prioritized. 

That focus on performance pays off well. The additions to Bayonetta’s arsenal feel great. Each section of the game’s story grants 1-2 weapons and demon summons that feel distinct and encourage swapping equipment. This time around, demons that are summoned can be remote controlled to land massive areas of effect damage to enemies at the risk of being unable to dodge. Weapons are a blast – new designs like flaming yo-yo blades and a spear that doubles as a microphone are distinct and come with specific transformations that pop off at the end of combos and help keep the fun rolling.   

Swing and a miss

At least, it is fun when you’re playing as Bayonetta. One of Bayonetta 3’s newer gimmicks (yes, one of, more on that later) is a second player character in newcomer Viola. Viola is fine from a design perspective: she takes on a straightforward punk rock vibe and is voiced much less cocky and confident compared to the extreme extra energy that the rest of the franchise’s cast exudes. Even her fighting style is pretty simple: she has a big sword and throws darts, no bonus weapons. Like Bayonetta, she can also summon a demon partner that will always act on its own, but also can’t be changed up just like her weapon. Beyond the limitations, the biggest difference is that instead of dodging to trigger the franchise’s iconic “Witch Time” slowdown mode, Viola has to parry attacks. 

Parries are much harder to pull off than dodges using the existing Bayonetta design and since Bayonetta 3 doesn’t let players take the reigns of Viola until just about the halfway mark, there’s just no wiggle room to get good at it. Ultimately I made my peace with playing less well and stocked up on items, primarily the reviving Red Hot Shots that could step in when Viola got hit too much from my mistimed parries. It’s a system that worked, and I did find myself performing better towards the end, but overall actually playing as the poor girl feels shoehorned. 

Speaking of shoehorned, Bayonetta 3 has a third playable character in Bayonetta’s “gal pal” Jeanne. However, she gets the shortest stick of all. Instead of participating in the main story – something that we’ll get to, believe me – Jeanne is sent on a fetch quest that manifests in an entirely different game. Playing like a Metal Gear fan game, Jeanne’s solo missions see her infiltrating a single building and working her way to a single target. These sections are used to break up the story effectively into acts and are used as breathing room primarily. Like Viola, this idea is interesting on paper, but in practice feels like the definition of fluff. The segments are pretty easy to cheese and I can’t honestly say I could reliably recount how the gameplay actually works in any way, and as of writing this paragraph I only finished playing about an hour ago. For a franchise that generally encourages at least some level of skill, having anything feel like a throwaway is disappointing. 

Missteps or experiments like these are generally forgivable, especially since most of Bayonetta 3 focuses on the good stuff. When the game is about taking Bayonetta through a multiverse and meeting the Bayonettas of other realities across huge action set pieces, things are cruising. The performance of Bayonetta herself has been the source of quite a bit of controversy, but Jennifer Hale is ever a professional and while you can definitely tell that the voice acting has changed, her delivery is exact and helps maintain the campy energy of her character’s animations. In these massive chunks of the game, it’s a blast. It’s a third Bayonetta, at this point the familiar parts are the reasons you would want to pay the cost of entry, and you’ll get plenty even if it’s not enough as a whole. Until the last couple of hours start, anyway. 

You can pinpoint the second my heart ripped in half

Bayonetta 3’s climax and ending aren’t good, plain and simple. It turns so hard out of nowhere that it creates a conundrum. On the one hand, there’s a lot of good fun times to be had even with some weak side segments. On the other hand, this ending is such a mess that it instead highlights the weakness retroactively and even at the ending’s coolest moment can’t salvage things. To explain it more or less beyond that is going to require a relatively detailed set of late game story spoilers and while I’m very disappointed in the ending, I had enough of a good time getting there that I’d feel bad just taking away the ability for people to see for themselves. 

So here’s my solution: I’m going to give you the final thought now, along with telling you the score at the bottom of the a page. I’m giving this a split 5/10. Bayonetta 3 is an excellent Bayonetta game, when it wants to be a Bayonetta game. Unfortunately, that isn’t all that Bayonetta 3 wants to be, and the other things it would like to be cause the game to feel like it is straining against constraints that its developers only put on themselves. Had Bayonetta 3 been a more iterative entry, I would think more highly of it. 

From here on out we are in Spoiler City. 

Spoilers for the ending of Bayonetta 3 after the dodge! 

Nintendo/Platinum Games

What a mess

Frankly, the overall plot of most of the Bayonetta series is mostly window dressing, so a full recap isn’t necessary. The short version is this: the new bad guy has discovered the multiverse and is trying to collapse each universe into one, controlled entirely by him. Viola is a visitor from one of these universes already consumed and sets the plot in motion by recruiting our Bayonetta and Jeanne to her mission to find a scientist studying the multiverse (sending Jeanne into minigame purgatory) and open a gateway to the bad guy’s host universe using MacGuffins from other universes. 

During this adventure, Viola and Bayonetta have a back and forth as they encounter each universe and continue to cross paths with series resident loser journalist Luka. Before long, it becomes clear that somehow, in Viola’s universe Bayonetta and Luka actually got together and Viola is their child.

If you’re a Jeanne/Bayonetta shipper, this isn’t exactly a great turn out, but a painful multiverse twist didn’t turn out to be the dealbreaker for me – on its own. Except the game kept going. Jeanne is killed because – surprise – the scientist is actually the bad guy, it turns out our Bayonetta is also into Luka now beyond her normal flirtations with everyone, Luka has magic wolf powers now, and every version of him and Bayonetta are in fact effectively the anchors for all of the multiverse. These are called, painfully enough, “Arch-Adam” and “Arch-Eve.” 

This all sucks, is barely explained, and would be a bad ending even if 99% of the game was delicious Bayonetta goodness. But then the game drops two more twists – the Bayonetta of Bayonetta 3 is not the same Bayonetta of the first two games. In fact, each Bayonetta game has actually been about a different Bayonetta the whole time. That on its own isn’t bad, and it does lead to a cool sequence where you play as the original Bayonetta, complete with the first game’s UI. However, if you have played the first game, the final twist is the most painful: the Bayonetta 3 version of the character is the same version that appears as a lost child that is encountered in the first game. 

Hideki Kamiya, I just want to talk 

That small little easter egg, likely only meant to be a wink to longtime fans, is what broke me completely. If the Bayonetta of the third game is indeed meant to be the grown up version of the child Bayonetta from the original game, that adds way more uncomfortable context to the heel turn of hers and Luka’s connection. Multiple times during the course of the first Bayonetta, the child version is left directly in the care of Luka while the adult Bayonetta takes care of business. With the context of Bayonetta 3, this young girl has been effectively queued up to have always been meant to be romantically linked to this man who we have only seen as an adult. It puts all of this version of Bayonetta’s agency into question at best and at worst makes me question the decision making process by series lead Hideki Kamiya, who led the scenario writing, as well as the rest of the story staff and director.

What’s more, the game then decides that this is as far as this Bayonetta is allowed to go, sacrificing her (and Luka, but who cares) in order to tee up Viola as the successor to the franchise going forward. That shouldn’t bother me as much as it does necessarily, a chance at a game where Viola gets access to more weapons and time to play her would be an interesting prospect, but with how this has played out it feels more like Platinum Games has become bored of Bayonetta. 

Ultimately, these decisions put the rest of the game into stark contrast. Why is it that this game, announced in 2017 with a teaser that strongly suggested the plot set up we got in the final product, read like it was rushed into production after the staff saw Spider-Man No Way Home? How is it that the most recent Bayonetta game, a series started after developers of Devil May Cry left Capcom frustrated at not getting to make what they were passionate about, ends exactly the same way as Devil May Cry V? Bayonetta 3 plays like it has been worked on passionately from day one, but it has added mechanics and modes that take away from its strengths and in retrospect give the sense they were added to try to justify that ending. It hurts the overall product so much I legitimately do not have enough words to capture my disappointment.

The final scene of Bayonetta 3 establishes a new status quo for the remaining cast, promising a “new generation.” I think I’d rather hop over to the universe where we were still having fun with the old generation. 

Featured Image Credit: Nintendo/Platinum Games

  • Bayonetta 3 - 5/10
Travis Hymas

Travis Hymas is a freelance writer and self appointed Pokémon historian out of Salt Lake City, Utah. Known to be regularly obessive over pop culture topics and gaming discourse, he is a published Rotten Tomatoes critic and has been featured on sites such as Uppercut and The Young Folks

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