Review Date: 12/3/22
"It seems that I'm unfashionably late, but I'm ready to give you everything you want."
After spending eight years in development and coming out three years late, "Bayonetta 3" arrives as a bit of a hot mess. A being known as Singularity is spreading throughout the Multiverse with the intent to wipe out all existence and become all-powerful. A young woman named Viola escapes from her world right before it's destroyed and seeks out Bayonetta and Jeanne in another universe, with Singularity hot on her heels. Singularity's soldiers are man-made bioweapons called Homunculi that require different tactics to defeat, as neither the creatures from Paradiso or Inferno find them appealing or appetizing. Armed with a new set of guns called "Color My World," Bayonetta and Viola hop through various alternate universes trying to stop Singularity's reign of destruction, while Jeanne searches for a scientist named Dr. Sigurd who may give them the upper hand.
As you would expect from a Bayonetta game, it's completely bonkers, but not always in a good way. Time travel and multiverses invite lazy and convoluted writing, and the story is completely impenetrable. This is made even worse by dropping important plot points in the heat of battle, and I simply don't have the mental capacity to read subtitles and process conversations when I'm engaged in life-threatening combat. "NieR: Automata" (2017) was notoriously guilty of this as well. Like a good murder mystery, all of the cues and clues are in plain sight, but unless you take the time to perform a deep literary and symbolic analysis of every scene, everything will likely go right over your head. This means that most people will be forced to take the story at face value, which is a bleak, depressing, disappointing, and occasionally rage-inducing experience. On the surface, the game ends on a hard note of finality, which evidently caught Platinum Games by surprise. Only three weeks after its initial release, producer Hideki Kamiya made a statement that the ending of B3 wasn't conveyed correctly and that "Bayonetta 4" was already in development.
Even if you find yourself going down the rabbit hole of fan theories and critical analyses to try and make sense of things, the game frequently stumbles and is full of missteps. The game world is considerably larger and more expansive than the previous entries, but at the cost of detail. The game favors performance over visual fidelity, and that combined with the Switch's processing power results in sterile looking environments, ugly and repetitive low-res textures, simplistic geometry, graphical shearing and tearing, distracting LOD pop-ups, and laughably unsophisticated NPCs. Some of the water textures are appallingly bad and I saw numerous frogs simply floating in the air as opposed to sitting on nearby rocks. Overall, it's an unattractive game that looks disappointingly last-gen. It also has an unmistakable classic Sega look, if that makes any sense.
Sadly, the characters suffer as well. Bayonetta's new look is overly girlie and favors a gothic Lolita aesthetic with long double braids that morph into the fabric of her outfit. This is a visual hook to Cereza from the original game, which implies that the protagonist is a grown-up version of her and not the original Bayonetta. That said, it's not even clear what universe this Bayonetta is in, and suggests that the first two games took place in different universes with different instances of Bayonetta. It really messes with your head. Jeanne looks hideous in her 60's mod outfit and green eye shadow, and Rodin's facial tattoos are even more obnoxious this time around. Viola has an appropriately cute wardrobe that matches her punk attitude, but her blue lipstick is repulsive and the pink and blue streaks in her hair don't quite work. Luka (or some form of him) is back and he's annoying as ever, although a late game twist made me extremely upset. And Enzo is just Enzo. Not much to be said about that.
Since you spend your time visiting different universes, you encounter different Bayonettas and can access their costumes and weapons. While the costumes are interesting and incredibly ornate, they're not particularly attractive, so there's little point in changing outfits. You also have the ability to change hair color, but all of the options look awful, so it's best to just stick with the defaults. There are no silly or cross-branded costumes this time around, which is a little disappointing. The "Bayonetta" and "Bayonetta 2" costumes are also available after you finish the game, or if you have existing save files from those games already on your Switch. Interestingly, I found the game considerably more enjoyable when I equipped the original Bayonetta costume, which is a strong testament to how impactful that aesthetic design was.
Similarly, except for the instances where you're required to use specific weapons, I didn't find the extra weapons to be interesting or particularly effective. Many of them are also so large that they take up half the screen and you can't see where you're going, so I found myself sticking with Bayo's default guns. While combat is essentially the same as in the previous games, her guns don't deal much damage and I ultimately ended up just spamming the punch button, since it was the most effective attack. Witch time works the same, but torture attacks are triggered differently. Sadly, they're both difficult to pull off and visually uninteresting, so there's little incentive to try. The biggest change is that instead of summoning demonic finishers, you have the ability to summon and control Infernal Demons, which results in enormous kaiju-scaled battles. These demon slaves deal extra damage, but they're extremely slow and difficult to control. The Wartrain demon is especially infuriating, but thankfully you're only required to use it a couple of times. They also drain magic power, so you have to pay attention to your resources before conjuring them. There are also times when Bayonetta goes into full kaiju mode by merging with extra large demons to take on extra large end bosses. These battles tend to be tedious and confusing because you have no idea what's going on. Also, as the opponents become larger, it becomes nearly impossible to tell where you are and what you're doing because Bayonetta is so small. There were several fights where I fell to my death simply because I couldn't see where I was on the screen. And I was playing on a 60" TV. I can't even imagine what it would be like playing on the Switch's built-in screen.
The game introduces a few other gameplay mechanics by having you switch characters throughout the story. There are several chapters where you control Viola, whose moves and abilities are slightly different than Bayonetta's. She can't summon and control Infernal Demons, but she can bring forth a powerful familiar named Cheshire that lives in her sword. Additionally, she can only enter witch time by parrying, rather than dodging. A more radical departure in play style are the chapters with Jeanne, which are timed 2D platforming levels where you can transform into a lynx and a centipede. The spy-themed intro is entertaining, but the gameplay itself isn't particularly enjoyable and the time constraints add unwanted stress. And finally, there are certain puzzles in the game that can only be solved by a young Cereza, which offers another clue that the main character is actually the grown-up Cereza and not the original Bayonetta. The controls for winding time back and forth are frustrating and unclear, which makes these puzzles seem harder than they should be. I had other control issues as well, and some of Bayonetta's demon masquerades were exceedingly imprecise and difficult to handle. However, the biggest nuisance is the L3 control which locks the camera onto the next waypoint and plays an irritating sound clip. It's far too easy to accidentally press this during the heat of battle or when you're simply moving around, which makes you lose track of where you are and what you're doing. The button is super sensitive and it took me several hours to realize that I was even pressing it.
Confusion is what I experienced most often while playing the game, and the overly complicated plot seems to be intentionally vague, forcing the player to come up with their own conclusions. But like I mentioned before, it seems like that approach backfired on Platinum as most players ended up missing the point. While there are extensive tutorials and manuals in the game, they're confusing and difficult to parse. It was never clear what was going on, and I often fell victim to analysis paralysis with too many choices available to me.
Surprisingly, the music isn't very memorable and recycles a lot of the previous music. Only a handful of new songs caught my attention, and the lack of a moon-themed action song didn't escape my notice. That, combined with the lack of any moon powers is another clue to who the protagonist really is. It's also surprising that the soundtrack isn't available on CD or any music services. In fact, the complete lack of ANY merchandise for the game is a bit of a shock. When "Bayonetta 2" came out, I had the soundtrack, art book, and strategy guide before the game was even released. It's almost as if Nintendo has lost all faith and interest in the franchise. Or maybe it's just a sign of the times. Maybe fans don't buy merch like they used to, or there's simply no money in it as natural resources become more scarce, and labor shortages and supply chain issues make things prohibitively expensive.
Since we're talking about sound issues, I should probably mention the voice acting, which is a prickly subject. In a controversial and unpopular move, series veteran Hellena Taylor was replaced with Jennifer Hale, and while Ms. Hale is an excellent actress, it becomes increasingly apparent that she's trying to impersonate Taylor with various degrees of success, which sounds just a tad off. It's like listening to a cover band play your favorite songs - no matter how good they are, it will never be perfect. It might have worked better if she'd been given more free reign, but I'm afraid it's a no-win situation. Still, she does a great job as long as you can let go of your expectations, prejudices, and preconceptions. And again, it's not clear that the protagonist is even Bayonetta in the first place. Jeanne, Rodin, Luka, and Enzo all sound like you'd expect, and they give excellent performances. However, the real standout is Anna Brisbin, who gives a phenomenal performance as Viola. She perfectly embodies the character and all of her vulnerabilities and quirks. Fantastic work all around. The only real complaint I have about the voice acting is that the characters are all a bit too chatty and repeat the same lines over and over. That, and Viola's constant heavy breathing is irritating. I understand it, but I just don't like it.
As far as difficulty is concerned, the game offers casual, normal, and expert options. The casual setting was perfect for me on my first playthrough as it gave me a better opportunity to experience and process everything that the game has to offer. If you're just playing straight through, it doesn't offer much challenge, but optional verses and Umbran tears can still be infuriatingly difficult. The Umbran cats and crows are especially difficult to catch, and I had to refer to online walkthroughs for tips on every one of them. Even after knowing what to do and how to do it, executing the moves often required dozens of maddening attempts. Time trials are also consistently difficult, and I eventually gave up on those whenever I'd run across one because the rewards just weren't worth the effort. According to the Internet, it takes 10-12 hours to finish the game, but that's a complete lie. I don't know who these people are or how that's even possible, because my first playthrough took me 38 hours. The game also offers a "Naive Angel Mode" which supposedly tones down the nudity and gore for more sensitive viewers, but I found it to be a laughable exercise in futility because the action is so frantic that you can't see anything in the first place. Unless you're stepping through youTube videos frame by frame hoping to catch a glimpse of a butt crack or side boob, the mode is utterly pointless. It feels more like a joke, added by the Platinum Games team to poke fun at the easily offended American market.
Once you finish the game, you're treated to an abysmally depressing credits sequence, followed by a surprising final boss battle with Viola, a mind-blowing epilogue that makes absolutely no sense and seemingly invalidates the entire game, and a goofy "Let's Dance" musical number reminiscent of the original game. It raises a lot of questions and leaves you dumbfounded in a "What the fuck just happened?!?" state of mind for quite some time. But after that, things got REALLY frustrating...
One of the items you can purchase early in the game is an old photo book, which you can unlock to play a secret chapter. The keys to the book don't appear until after you finish the game, but for me they didn't appear at all. I spent six hours trying to make the keys show up, and every gaming web site I visited simply said that they're just there for the taking. Just not for me. It turns out that in order for the keys to appear, you have to install v1.1.0 of the game, which NO ONE mentioned. Thanks, Internet gaming sites... After installing that and updating my OS, the keys showed up and I was able to access the secret level. It's a charming little storybook tale featuring a young Cereza walking through an enchanted (and possibly dangerous) forest. It's very short and ends on a maddening "To be continued?" note. Maybe that's a teaser for additional DLC? Or an indication that it's not all gloom and doom for the beloved Umbran witch after all? Regardless, I enjoyed that a lot and it rewarded me with another costume, so I ended up putting the game away on a pleasant note.
While I have numerous complaints about the game and its direction, the frenetic gameplay is tight and well-crafted, and I loved being able to revisit the world(s) of Bayonetta. Its goofier moments are pure joy, whether it's a cameo by "Astral Chain's" Lappy, Viola getting attacked by a scorpion, Luka slamming into a wall like a cartoon character, Jeanne taking a shower to lure enemies, zombies breaking into a dance number, Rodin operating a food truck, a bubble bath battle, or a giant singing frog. I'm very curious to see where the series will go next, and even though B4 is supposedly already in development, I can't get too excited because that's at least five years away.