Mario, Kirby, Zelda, Donkey Kong, Samus Aran, Bayonetta. The witch has made it to the upper echelons of the Nintendo elite with Bayonetta 3, and any doubt about her status as mascot character for the House of Mario has been dissolved in a cauldron, fizzing with demon blood, keratin, and rocket fuel. With the chant of an incantation and the click of a delicately gloved finger, Bayonetta 3 secures the Umbran Witch as a Nintendo icon – maybe even usurping some of the more… family-friendly… faces in the roster in the process. Bayonetta 3, Switch owners, is essential.
And it starts not with a bang, but with a whimper. The introduction to the game is slow and irritating; making you trudge, as Bayonetta, through a world that’s being torn apart by some unknowable entity of chaos. You can’t run, you can’t jump, you can’t fight – you just stumble around as the life gets sucked out of this world you once called home. A ragtag band of heroes lays dead around you, and you’re forced to watch as a spunky young upstart of a witch tears through the barriers of reality, desperate to save… something.
Welcome to Bayonetta 3, one of the most pleasingly nonsense games you’ll have the pleasure of playing this year. Hell, maybe even this generation. That languid intro seems intentionally placed to show you just how fast and furious the actual game is. Once you’ve cleared the prologue and the stakes (read: the multiverse) have been made clear, you cut to your hair-powered, sassy witch, mincing down the streets of LA like a femdom en route to a gala. The proverbial s**t hits the metaphorical fan, and it’s time to fight – and right away, PlatinumGames shows you that it’s back in gear and ready for business.
Melee is fast, reactive and empowering. Enemies are designed to get hit hard, and respond well to you serving them a naughty backhand, or stamping on their necks with a stiletto. Throughout the game, combat is laid down rhythmically and tuned to last no more than a few minutes per go. The result is that even boss fights feel quick and punchy – nothing outstays its welcome, and the breakneck pace of it all makes you feel like the Hell-powered witch you’re supposed to be.
From the off, before you’ve got any of the dumb and over-the-top weapons and demons you later possess, you still feel impossibly powerful. It’s like continuing on from Bayonetta 2, right out the gate – how many games manage to give you that god-like power fantasy right out of the gate? More impressively, Platinum has managed to thumb even more mechanics into the already-brimming cup for the sequel, with the highlight being your Demon Slaves – hulking monsters you can summon on a whim to inflict ludicrous amounts of damage on your foes, the world, and anything that gets in your way.
Somehow, Platinum has made Bayonetta excel in both the micro and the macro. Kaiju-like butterfly women, living trains, frogs, spiders… commanding them to do your bidding as you writhe and twerk feels incredible, and when you need to switch back to your guns and hammers and more traditional weapons for some nitty-gritty melee, you never miss a beat. Even 30 hours in, this whiplash from monster moshpit to Bayonetta ballet never gets old.
And that’s likely because there’s so much to do in between these spontaneous, violent, flash dances. Each weapon you acquire gives you the ability to ‘masquerade’ as a corresponding demon, giving you unique ways to get around the massive zones that make up Bayonetta 3’s world. Secrets, challenges, and mega-hard fights have been squirrelled away throughout the world – and even the sealed-away realms of Inferno and Paraside find a way to break through here and there.
The result is downtime that feels like uptime; exhilarating exploration and knowing little secrets that make you grin and say “you bastard” when you finally find them – even if it took you about 20 minutes of slipshod platforming. There are niggles with the camera (especially in some of the harder ‘the floor is lava’ challenges) and the lock-on sometimes leaves a lot to be desired… but when you can just summon a demon made of hair and rage at the entire arena until you win, you soon forget about these little quirks.
When you’re not pressing on through alternate realms, scratching your head whilst trying to understand a story that’d make even JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure seem comprehensible, you can play spy-action platforming sections (yes, really) or engage in mega-boss fights in alternate reality versions of levels you’ve cleared. The spy bits aren’t amazing – I mean, they’re funny, and fun, sure – but they’re not on the level of everything else in the game. But when you’re blasting down a highway with the afterburner on for hours at a time, sometimes it’s nice to coast for a bit, right?
Bayonetta 3 feels like a proper old-fashioned Nintendo game; the sort you’d excitedly tear open at Christmas, slot into your console, and never take out. In an age of service games and microtransactions, it’s gratifying and thrilling to get a game with so much stuff ‘on-disk’. Every level teems with secrets, the replayability value is through the roof (I can’t talk too much about that yet), and even just repeating levels to try and get Platinum rank for each bit feels like it’d tide you over until your next hit of dopamine and adrenaline.
As a game, and as a tonic for people sick of buying season passes and DLC, Bayonetta 3 is an essential romp; a love-letter to classic Nintendo games that delight in making you laugh, smirk, and feel like an absolute badass. PlatinumGames has misfired a little lately, but with this fitting conclusion to the original Bayonetta trilogy, the studio proves it can still fire on all cylinders and then some. This might just be one of the best games on the Nintendo Switch.