Review – Bayonetta 3
When was the first time Bayonetta 3 was announced? Was it 2017? I honestly do not remember at this point. I feel like it has been so long ago now, to the point I had already given up on Platinum Games delivering it for the current hardware it was designed for, especially after the announcement of multiple other projects which were released beforehand, like Astral Chain and (urgh) Babylon’s Fall. But Platinum, despite suffering from some legendarily poor internal management, wasn’t going to can Bayonetta 3 just yet. The franchise is their main baby, and Hideki Kamiya’s pride and joy. The first trailer for the game proper was shown in late 2021 and… it worried me. Yeah, not gonna lie, I wasn’t impressed with that initial reveal.
The problem lied on the game just not looking as shiny and impressive as Bayonetta 2, a game that, despite being designed with the freaking Wii U in mind, looks excellent to this very day. Bayonetta 3‘s first reveal showed gray levels, less saturated visuals, and an overall sense that the game was trying to be a bit darker than its predecessor, looking more like the first Bayonetta game when you think about it (not a good thing in my opinion). It felt like the Nintendo Switch’s underwhelming hardware was going to limit the potential of yet another exclusive, after what had happened to Pokémon Scarlet and Violet. But the game was finally released, and I wanted to try it out regardless. An underwhelming Bayonetta would still be better than the myriad of action games out there, so I still had hopes. These are my thoughts.
Making a sequel for something so over-the-top as Bayonetta 2 is no easy task. How to build upon the sheer nonsense that game offered back in 2014? In this case, there are usually two options: space (what Saints Row IV did) and multiverse (what Rick & Morty has been doing since, well, ever). Bayonetta 3 opted for the latter, with the game basically being centered around Bayo, Jeanne, and rookie Viola (a Virgil wannabe without the swag) travelling through various dimensions in order to stop your typical universe-destroying mega-powered supervillain. Storytelling isn’t exactly the reason I play Bayonetta games for, but sadly, the game wants you to pay attention to its plot, which isn’t very good.
Bayonetta 3 is filled with super long cutscenes. It’s no exaggeration: the first chapter of the game has a worse cutscene-to-gameplay ratio than most Metal Gear Solid games. It didn’t do a good job to impress me from the get-go, namely because cutscenes are locked to 30 frames per second, and also because Hideki Kamiya REALLY wants you to take this nonsense seriously. It’s a multiverse plot, and at this point, we’ve been there before, and we’ve done that before. What really matters is when the bulk of the gameplay is finally available to you, and this is where Bayonetta 3 truly shines… with caveats.
In theory, same as always: the same fast-paced, clearly influenced by Devil May Cry combat system that made Bayonetta a household franchise in the first place. It takes what worked in Bayonetta 2, and adds more to the pile. This is both good and bad. There are new gameplay mechanics, such as new playable characters, but that doesn’t mean they are as fun to play as as Bayo herself. Jeanne is mostly relegated to small, Elevator Action-esque minigame sections, which are fun at first, but boring after a while. Viola plays like a discount Devil May Cry character. Bayonetta is still the star of the show, and her brand new superpower is being able to summon kaijus at will to deal with gargantuan-sized enemies.
In previous Bayonetta games, she’d summon gigantic monsters in cutscenes, in order to finish an enemy off. Now, as long as you have the magic needed to summon them, you can bring them over whenever you want. It’s amusing at first, but I will be honest with you: I didn’t find this to be as fun as intended. Bayonetta 3 loves to throw massive enemies at you at a staggering pace, meaning that, for a good chunk of the game, instead of dealing with foes just like you would in a hack ‘n’ slash title, you’ll be there, spectating a big Pokémon fight between two Pacific Rim rejects. All hampered by the framerate, of course.
This is easily the biggest issue with Bayonetta 3: its performance ain’t great. It’s all due to the Switch’s ultra-dated hardware limitations. We have yet another victim. Unlike Bayonetta 2, which bolstered a lightning-fast framerate, Bayonetta 3‘s is very inconsistent. The more particles and elements onscreen, the less stable the framerate. Given how two kaijus will constantly be onscreen, the framerate tanks just as frequently. Most of the game’s setpieces revolve around these summonable beasts, which highlight Bayonetta 3‘s issues even more.
One thing that’s worth noting as well is that Bayonetta 3 is much uglier than its predecessor, especially when it comes to its level design. It’s a lot more drab, a lot less colorful, a lot more “yeah, this is basically an Xbox 360-era game at best”. Let me preface that the game gets a lot more pleasing to the eyes the more you play it, but it makes a terrible first impression with its first few levels. All due to the underwhelming power of the Nintendo Switch: Platinum tried to punch above the console’s weight, and the results were decent, but faulty as well. The game doesn’t take advantage of the Switch’s specifications, portability aside; in fact, it feels more like it’s being held hostage on the Switch.
I feel like the fact that this game came out AFTER Devil May Cry 5, even though it was announced before it, did it no favors. Capcom’s magnum opus is the closest to perfect a hack n’ slash will probably ever get, and while you can argue “apples and oranges”, it’s hard not to compare the two games whenever possible. Bayonetta as a whole oozes an atmosphere of Kamiya trying to one-up his 2000’s franchise whenever possible, and while its predecessor sure managed to one-up Devil May Cry 4 and even DmC, Devil May Cry 5 took the genre to a completely new level of quality and expectations. Bayonetta 3 just cannot compete, always feeling like a shadow of a much better game that offers way more bang for one’s buck.
If there is one thing where Bayonetta 3 still excels at, however, is its sound department. Yeah yeah, we’ve all witnessed that pathetic drama centered around Bayonetta’s former voice actress, Helena Taylor, but to be fair, she has never done a stellar job to the point of being considered iconic, irreplaceable. Case and point, Jennifer Hale replaces her in this game and does an equally classy job. The only disappointing instance of voice acting in this game is, once again, with Viola. I blame the character more than the actress, however. The music is not as amazing as the one in Bayonetta 2, but still pretty good. A great rendition of “Moonlight Serenade”, the country classic, is the game’s main battle theme, and it never gets old, surprisingly enough.
Don’t get me wrong, Bayonetta 3 is still an excellent action game. If you like the franchise, you’ll still have a great time with it. It still retains the dumb fun vibe the franchise is known for, and the fact you can play this over-the-top nonsense anywhere you want to is a major plus. But I cannot ignore the fact it feels more like a game being held hostage on a console which cannot run it like it should. Being a Nintendo Switch exclusive is a detriment to its potential, and, as a result, we’re getting drab visuals, less impressive level designs, and serious framerate and resolution issues. A remaster for whatever the Switch’s successor is going to be called will be more than welcome, that’s for certain.
Bayonetta 2, somehow, looked sharper than Bayonetta 3. While boasting great designs, the game suffers from the constraints of the Switch hardware, with terrible particle effects, ugly levels, and framerate issues.
The core gameplay from previous Bayonetta games is still here, but a few things bring it down a notch: the aforementioned framerate issues and the overreliance on kaijus, which make battles a bit too trivial and boring. There are camera issues as well.
Voice acting is still pretty good (and Jennifer Hale delivers it all), with the exception of Viola’s VA. The music is also top-notch, though not as amazing as what Bayonetta 2 had to offer.
Fun Factor: 8.0
By being overreliant on long (and uninteresting) cutscenes and suffering from being a Switch exclusive, Bayonetta 3, while still tons of fun, is nowhere near as excellent as its predecessor.
Final Verdict: 7.5
Bayonetta 3 is available now on Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.