Yusuke Miyata proves that Cereza's hack-and-slash witchcraft could get even more excessive by embracing the multiverse trend and by paying the best homage to Kaiju video games we have ever seen.
Hundreds of enemies to smash and cut through? Check. Some of the craziest shit you'll see and play this year? Check. A true apotheosis of an ending for both the game and the trilogy? Check.
One could say that, once you've ticked those boxes, there's no way a new entry to the Bayonetta series could go wrong, but we have to keep in mind that this is a pretty unique franchise by a truly special studio that is stubbornly stuck to the good 'ol hack-and-slash formula it once perfected, despite spanning several generations. In other words, it's been exactly 13 years since Hideki Kamiya's original landed on PS3 and Xbox 360, and eight years since Yusuke Hashimoto's sequel debuted exclusively on the Wii U. With so much at stake for a seemingly-troubled PlatinumGames, and with the silence surrounding the project for several years suggesting some form of development hell (though perhaps the wording would mean otherwise here), Yusuke Miyata had to be up to the task on the Nintendo Switch given the series' reputation and the fans' demands.
And he and his Team Little Angels were, I can tell you. They had to be very careful not to mess with the core gameplay mechanics that built the whole experience, which had always been based on timing and precision as per the genre's rules. But at the same time, they had to expand and innovate, which basically meant tearing the witch's corset apart. The risks the team took in both regards make the game better and different, but also push it to the edge of the abyss in a few occasions.
Starting by that core gameplay, which basically means combat. The main shoot, punch, kick, jump, and dodge moves you would expect are there no matter your loadout, so it will feel like home for fans of the series. Nail your dodges and you'll activate the slow-mo Witch Time, then combine different attacks and unlock new moves to vary and expand your combos. That's Bayonetta for you, isn't it? Well, the key here, and the main innovation, is the potential loadout within levels and the playable characters you'll alternate between levels. Because you no longer buy new weapons at Rodin's Gates of Hell, you obtain them from the Infernal Demons you encounter, which you will also have to summon in-battle as spectacular Demon Slaves.
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As such, pairs of weapons and demons share a bond, but that doesn't mean you have to stick to an specific combination, giving for an incredible number of possibilities in the ultimate evolution of the formula. Think your regular Colour My World guns have to work with Madama Butterfly, whereas the Ribbit Libido BZ55 mic-staff comes with Baal the singing toad? Not quite, you can switch between two weapons, but summon from up to three demons, and both weapons and demons have their own skill trees. And if I tell you that the current weapon of choice changes the way Bayonetta moves around the stage (think flying like a butterfly or jumping like a frog) it might sound too complicated on paper, but believe me you'll get acquainted to the system, and I can't think of many games giving this freedom in terms of customising your playstyle. Which is amazing, as there are dozens of enemy types and hundreds of enemies to deal with, many of them so big that you'll only see their feet. And I can only talk about six weapons and demons today...
The first toll the game pays given the added mechanics is that it has to sacrifice a couple of previously button-mapped shortcuts. No longer can you quickly consume a lollipop with the D-Pad, and having to pause the game amidst a hectic combat feels like a climax interruptus, if you know what I mean. Pressing the right stick to lock on enemies isn't optimal either, but I could live with that. However, I have to say that the whole interface has been revamped and now looks incredibly clean and useful, both the in-pause menus and elements such as the triptych-like information before side challenges, for instance.
The other problem with the gigantic creatures is that they can make some of the combats a bit too confusing, and yeah I know Bayonetta is all about dancing with the chaos. Sometimes you basically can't see where you, or certain enemies are, when these beasts are summoned, or if you're performing the right attacks instead of just button-mashing your way (though it gets better and better from the point you can use them as part of an ongoing combo). However, and this is the biggest however, the whole demons aspect changes the Bayonetta 3 experience completely in the long run, becoming the epicentre of incredible battles and sequences. I don't want to spoil them here, but suffice to say that PlatinumGames has successfully implemented probably the best tribute to the Japanese Kaiju culture, honouring the monsters and their battles in an astonishing, playable way.
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It takes time to get to where everything flows so smoothly and where the different situations truly surprise keeping in mind all the imaginative things the previous games brought to the table. The more generic urban environments don't help with this (grey debris in NYC or Tokyo might be a nod to the previous games but end up looking like Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance), and there's one specific attempt at a more open, desert environment in Egypt, which doesn't work out when outdoors, especially with the annoying quicksand sections, and more so coming from epic China.
The level design in general is pretty classic and old-fashioned with its invisible walls and all, but it manages to keep you searching for the many different secrets hidden around the map, including the aforementioned combat challenges, the Umbran Tears of Blood (Crow, Cat, Toad this time around), and other type of platforming trials. For both the Tears and the platforming sections you have to choose the best weapon or Slave Demon, as the former changes the way you traverse and the latter are able to deal with blocks and mechanisms in their creature form. But some of these are just too irritating in the way they were designed, as you feel like you're a bit too clumsy or relying on a staggering camera.
However, and this is the second biggest however today, no matter how mad you get at one of these poorer designs, the game quickly turns things around to not only amuse you, but also to impress you again and again with its many stellar moments, and you'll end up trying to complete the game as much as possible. History has it that one plays a PlatinumGames title's first run as a training session only to go for real on the second playthrough, when the many systems have been mastered. This isn't as true with Bayonetta 3 as it's quite long and full of content for a first run (I spent 20 hours with just a few retries), and the number of ways you can complete it are just overwhelming, including each mission's medals (there are online scoreboards) or the three currencies to unlock skills, collectibles, customisation and cosmetics.
I mentioned playable characters earlier and by those I didn't mean the Demon Slaves themselves when you gain control of them in some sections, but actually witch apprentice Viola and witch sidekick Jeanne. The former is pretty interesting, more so when you've unlocked some of her fancier abilities, as it feels more grounded and closer to more traditional hack-and-slash, as she bases her move set on both the katana and parrying instead of dodging, while her demon Cheshire is more autonomous. She was growing on me as time passed, which also plays along well with the storyline.
Then Jeanne has taken a completely out of the box approach with her own side-scrolling spy action levels, which are surprisingly well executed and, together with Viola, add a welcomed change of pace and style coming from the already multi-styled Bayonetta. In fact, the game flirts with several genres in a clever and humorous way, which makes me think it's taking a page or two from Grasshopper Manufacture's book. Again, I can't get into specifics as to how crazy this gets in the second half.
Speaking of the story itself, which is all about fate and compassion, and seeing its multiverse premise (which is after all a means to create different characters, weapons, stories, enemies, worlds, designs and even fantastic music), it ironically turns out to be easier to follow than its time-leaping prequels. Even if it's a bit predictable, it knows how to pull off the dumb trademark jokes, it has several memorable sequences, and it ends on a really high note for both the game and the trilogy, including some serious fan service and emotional load. By the way, voice acting is top-notch, which helps some of the best character models you'll see on the Nintendo Switch come to life in jaw-dropping choreographies. It also seems to push the hardware to its limits (it looks a bit blurry and full of jaggies on handheld), as it keeps consistent, smooth framerates no matter how many things and effects are on screen at a time, a must for the genre.
With all this being said, Bayonetta 3 is just great news. PlatinumGames needed to deliver such an outstanding game, and it's just amazing value added to the formerly fruitful genre. Don't be put off by some of its ancient or overwhelming designs at first, as the rest will quickly compensate with stylish, sexy solutions, and the final third of the game then pays off with an absolute roller-coaster ride. In other words, Bayonetta 3 makes both the genre and the franchise better, it's just incredible in terms of pure combat freedom, and it's ridiculous amount of fun.
9 / 10
Means new innovation for the core gameplay was possible. Ends the trilogy on a high note. Manages to surprise and entertain thoroughly despite the iteration. Flirts with genres in the best way. Crazy art effort with enemies.
Jaggies cut more than Viola's sword when in handheld. A couple of environments are boring. Platforming challenges can get annoying. Infernal Demons may confuse.