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Bayonetta 3 Review: Mistress Bay in the multiverse of madness

Wibbly-wobbly, spacey-wacey.

I’ll be honest: Bayonetta has always been a series that, I assumed, I was neither straight nor horny enough to be a part of. I’ve gone so far as to borrow a copy of the original from a friend — and even put it in my Switch one time — but never actually played it. Bayonetta 3 has proved me wrong, leaving me to wonder if I’ve been missing out this entire time.

For the uninitiated, the third title in the series has absolutely no interest in explaining itself or anything that happens in its opening scenes. We find Bayonetta on the verge of defeat by an unknown enemy, only to have the scene jump to a completely DIFFERENT Bayonetta, in a cuter outfit (AND voiced by the one true Commander Shepard, Jennifer Hale). New witch-in-training Viola drops in out of the blue, and whisks our favourite Umbra Witch on the Citadel away to an all-new adventure, facing down the mysterious (and very goopy) army of Homunculi invading the multiverse. That’s right, we’re doing universes on top of universes in Bayonetta now!

From the mysterious nexus of Thule, Bayonetta and Viola travel the multiverse searching out alternate versions of the witch with legs for days, to help take down the mysterious Singularity – an unknown enemy controlling the Homunculi and tearing the multiverse apart for his own ends.

The first impression on starting up Bayonetta 3 is that everything it’s doing has been scaled up. From the first fight, with its impressive Doctor Strange Mirror-Dimension-esque fractal backdrop, it goes all in on visual spectacle. Levels are HUGE, with plenty of paths and hidden corners to explore, in between epic setpieces that fill most every moment. Thankfully, clicking the left stick at any time will point you towards the story goal, so you’ll never be completely at a loss. This is particularly helpful as levels grow vertically as well as horizontally – looking over the edge of a cliff only to find a hidden treasure or door is so much fun, and you’ll soon be scouring high and low for any spot you even THINK she could get to.

To help in traversing these bigger worlds, Bayonetta also has new Demon Masquerade skills involving her selection of weapons and the demons they’re tied to. Your active weapon gives you access to a kind of hybrid form, adapting the abilities of that demon to Bayonetta herself. As an example, her default demon Madama Butterfly’s weapon, the iconic four pistols, transforms Bayonetta into a winged creature that can quickly flit across great distances, as well as gliding to cross greater distances where needed. Other demons let her climb walls, or launch herself into the air explosively. Each ability gives you a new way to interact with the world around you, opening up ever more paths around the world as you replay levels with new abilities in tow. New weapons and demons are added constantly, as Bayonetta meets alternate versions of herself and is gifted their tools in her quest.

The new Demon Slave mechanic also brings Bayonetta’s infernal friends into the real world in full, unlike previous titles where a giant foot might just stomp through a portal. Here, Bayonetta can bring them into combat to fight on her behalf, controlling their movement and attacks directly – but she has to dance on the spot to maintain their presence. This adds a great risk/reward element to fights, as your demons can wipe the floor with a lot of enemies – provided you can keep their mistress safe in the meantime. Finding the right spot to post up and summon your bestial besties, while splitting focus to fight AND keep an eye on Bayonetta’s safety does limit your time in Demon Slave mode, but it feels rewarding to knock enemies about with Madama Butterfly, only to break the summon to defend Bayonetta at the last second.

You didn’t misread: it turns out the only way to give an Infernal Demon a foothold in the real world is to do the samba, with a frenetic energy that would put Dancing with the Stars to shame. This is where I warmed to proceedings; everything Bayonetta does is tongue in cheek, rather than being explicit for the sake of it. Watching her jive on the shoulder of a demonic horror as they take down waves of Homunculi is always goofy, and it’s always funny – not to mention great fun to do. With all the different systems in place, combat gets more and more enjoyable (and flashy) as you gain more tools to fight.

At the outset combat did seem intimidating, with so many combo options to memorise from the “Colour My World” pistols alone, but by the time the full repertoire was unlocked I found myself swapping back and forth with ease. For those who just want to have a good time without memorising the controls though, an “Immortal Marionette” item is available to automatically execute combos just by hitting the one attack button. It’s great to see this kind of accessibility function for those who aren’t twitch-gamers, but still want to feel cool as they beat the stuffing out of the best that Heaven, Hell and everything in between has to offer.

Alongside Bayonetta, newcomer Viola brings a slightly different flavour to the game. Her goofier, punk-rock vibe is also a great contrast against the more unflappable nature of Bayonetta – Viola is capable but not confident, always scrambling to keep up with the chaotic events playing out around her. While she’s regularly the butt of a slapstick joke as the story plays out, it’s not cruel – she’s just a kid trying to keep up with a 500-year-old magic demigod, and her over-confident façade is quickly stripped away.

As she hasn’t fully come into her witch powers yet, Viola’s magic isn’t quite so powerful as Bayonetta’s – she uses a grappling hook to traverse where Bayonetta can just utilise her Demon Masquerade skills, but her version of Demon Slave allows her to summon the giant cat Cheshire without having to be locked in place – but at the cost of her weapon, leaving her to fight with fists alone. Her access to slow-motion Witch Time is also achieved by blocking enemy strikes, rather than evading them. It’s a small change, but I did find it regularly threw me when switching between the two characters from chapter to chapter.

In my experience, the most impressive thing about Bayonetta 3 is just how much visual juice it squeezes out of the Switch. The game is gorgeous, with expansive areas and a level of fidelity on Bayonetta and company; that’s surprising, given it’s a five-year-old piece of hardware. Bayonetta especially has a level of expressiveness that works well in concert with the depth of Jennifer Hale’s voice acting, and the environments she moves through are expansive and vibrant. It also means that when alternate Bayonettas make their appearances, we can see a huge amount of detail in their costumes that lets us know more about their unique version of our central heroine.

It is unfortunate to note that some of this richness is lost when playing in handheld mode. Close-up cutscenes still look great, especially on the OLED screen, but wider shots and gameplay devolve into a bit of a pixelated soup – meaning that those playing on a Switch Lite might have a bit of a rough time here. That said, I’d recommend this as a TV-based experience regardless if at all possible, to take in the full scope of the spectacle Platinum Games have laid out.

At the end of my time with Bayonetta 3, I find myself surprised at how much fun I had, and excited to go back and experience the first two titles of the series as well. The whole story is bombastic, loud, and just there to have a good time – just like me. What could be an extremely male-gaze-y perv-fest is instead played out with attention to the internal workings of its characters and their relationships, while always asking itself, “What’s the MOST fun thing to do right now?” It’s an approach that pays off handsomely, which is not something I thought I’d say about a lady wearing her own hair as a skirt – but here we are. Thanks for the good times, Bay – let’s hang out again soon.

I need you to teach me how to stomp the runway like you do.

 

9 out of 10

Bayonetta 3 was reviewed using a promotional code on Nintendo Switch, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.



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About the author

Matt Gosper

aka Ponk – a Melburnian gay gamer who works with snail mail. Enthusiastically keeping a finger in every pie of the games industry. I'll beat you at Mario Kart, and lose to you in any shooter you can name.