It’s been eight years since Platinum Games released Bayonetta 2, the follow-up to 2009’s critically-acclaimed Bayonetta. The company announced Bayonetta 3 back in 2017 alongside the launch of the Nintendo Switch system, and a full 5 years passed before fans could finally get their hands on the game.
And what a game it is.
Bayonetta 3 doesn’t miss a beat, ushering players right back into the stylish action and over-the-top story of the last Umbra Witch. The title character is still the smoldering icon of beauty that fans have come to love, and the enemies are as outlandish and intricately designed as ever. The Switch might struggle to keep up with the action in places, but that’s to be expected this late in the system’s lifespan.
Of course, it’s hard to talk about Bayonetta 3 without discussing a pair of controversies. One is related to the character’s original voice actress, Helena Taylor, who had a public and ugly split from Platinum Games shortly before the game came out. The other revolves around a pretty big story spoiler that frustrated many reviewers and has soured some players’ perspectives on how the series treats its protagonist.
Helena Taylor and Jennifer Hale
First things first, I’d like to take a moment to talk about the original voice actress, Helena Taylor. She’s almost exclusively famous for her role as Bayonetta, though she has few other notable video game voice credits. She’s primarily a stage actor, and she hadn’t appeared in much wide-release content at all between her 2014 role as the title character in Bayonetta 2 and when Platinum Games contacted her to reprise her role in the 2022 sequel.
Taylor initially reported on social media that Platinum insulted her by offering a measly $4,000 for her role as Bayonetta in the game. This turned out to be a bald-faced lie: Platinum had offered her as much as $20,000 for her role in the game, comprising four or five sessions. That’s far above the industry average and would be a huge windfall for any working-class actor, but Taylor reportedly balked at the total and went on to publicly drag Platinum Games in general and director Hideki Kamiya in particular.
Further, Taylor had the audacity to claim some form of ownership over Bayonetta and urged fans to boycott the games. Jennifer Hale, the voice actress who replaced Taylor, was gracious about the whole thing and told fans that she was happy to step into the role and was eager to see fans’ reactions to her performance. The bottom line here is that Helena Taylor made a bunch of easily disproven claims about a company that produced some of the coolest and most beloved games of all time only to have most of the internet turn on her and lose any shred of credibility she had. Whoops!
Alright, with all that nasty business out of the way, let’s talk about what actually is in the game, unlike Helena Taylor. Bayonetta 3 is gorgeous, sporting some of the most eye-catching designs and visually stunning enemies in the entire series. The new homunculus opponents are distinct from the angels and demons of the prior entries, lending an eerie and almost biological look at these superhuman monsters.
Bayonetta’s new outfits are a particular standout, too. Our protagonist’s sensuality and athleticism have always been a focal point of the franchise, and she’s as alluring and deadly as ever in this outing. Her animations are crisp, her fighting style is fluid, and everything about her screams “unstoppable super-powered Witch”. Woe betides any monsters foolish enough to stand between her and her goals.
The game can’t mask the Switch’s aging hardware, though. There are times when the action speeds up to the point where the resolution has to dip to keep a stable framerate. Thankfully, the game does its best to maintain a smooth FPS, but it’s still enough to make me wish for a Switch Pro. This game would look so stunning on the PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X that it’s a shame that it’s shackled to the five-year-old Switch’s underpowered graphical capabilities.
The main attraction in any Platinum outing is the combat, and Bayonetta 3 doesn’t disappoint here. Veterans of the prior entries in the franchise or of Devil May Cry will feel right at home. Stylish, fast-paced action is the name of the game, and players are encouraged to mix things up by juggling enemies into the air, incorporating unique combos into their fights, and avoiding damage with pinpoint dodges.
Bayonetta 3 introduces a new wrinkle to the franchise’s tried-and-true combat: demon summoning. In prior entries, Bayonetta has finished off the biggest boss creatures by summoning one of her demonic servants from the Inferno, like the towering Gommorah or the sultry Madame Butterfly. In this outing, these demons are an active gameplay component: you can summon them to the field for short bursts, and they’re capable of easily wiping the floor with lesser monsters.
This outing also introduces a slew of new weapons. Some of these, like the iconic “Love is Blue” quartet of pistols, should feel familiar to returning fans. Others, like the supermassive G-Pillar, introduce new gameplay patterns that completely rewrite how the last Umbra Witch tackles opponents. Suffice it to say, Bayonetta 3 has some of the most off-the-wall new weapons in the series, and fans will be delighted to discover some of the new entries to the arsenal.
Love Letter to Fans
Everything about Bayonetta 3 oozes with the passion the developers cleared poured into it. A lavish gallery is bursting at the seams with concept art, character models, lengthy bios on each character and monster, and more besides. These fun goodies are players’ rewards for exploring the vast levels on display this time around.
If you’re in a hurry to jump into fights, then you’ll be able to rocket through the main scenario. However, those who slow down and explore will find everything from collectibles to optional fights with monsters from previous Bayonetta games. If you find the prevalence of the homunculus faction is wearing thin, check each level’s nooks and crannies–you’ll likely find a few angels from Paradisio willing to throw down.
Fans of Platinums’ other games will also find plenty of fun easter eggs hiding in some areas. For instance, those who played the company’s last Nintendo-exclusive game, Astral Chain, should keep their eyes peeled when the first chapter veers to Tokyo. A fan-favorite mascot is hiding among the rubble! There are other connections to Platinum’s previous outings, too, such as alternative outfits for Bayonetta that resemble her appearance in the first and second games.
As usual, this game’s plot isn’t exactly its strong suit. The storyline in Bayonetta 3 revolves around the Multiverse–just like every other sci-fi or superhero franchise out there these days, it seems. The game opens with a new character, Viola, watching on helplessly as a new foe named Singularity defeats Bayonetta. Off the bat, it’s obvious that this newcomer is no joke, as he’s able to easily dispatch the last Umbra Witch without breaking a sweat.
Viola quickly uses the final Multiverse gate she has access to and jumps into a new reality–one we’re much more familiar with. “Our” Bayonetta is enjoying her life in New York City after saving Jeanne from the depths of the Inferno when Viola literally falls into reality. Singularity’s minions, the homunculi, pour into this new universe and start destroying everything in sight.
Viola tells Bayonetta that they need to find five MacGuffins called Chaos Gears to defeat Singularity. Jeanne, meanwhile, goes to find a scientist named Sigurd who Viola swears will know how to fight the Homunculi. From there, the game jumps into a Multiverse-spanning storyline that is as hard to follow as a tangle of yarn.
Ending Spoilers and Controversy
Warning: Some major spoilers for Bayonetta 3 follow from here.
Many reviewers have noted their displeasure with the ending of Bayonetta 3, arguing that it undermines the character in some fundamental ways. In short, Bayonetta has always been a fiercely independent character who has been defined by her sensuality, but in isolation. She dominates enemies and dances about in victory, but she’s never seen pursuing anyone romantically. It’s part of her charm, after all–she’s an unattainable, unstoppable witch who can’t be tied down.
Well, she used to be. It turns out, Viola is no random witch-in-training; she’s Bayonetta’s daughter from an alternate timeline! In that timeline, her father is Luka, the bumbling nobody who’s been following Bayonetta around since the first game. In the climax of Bayonetta 3, our protagonist and Luka end up sacrificing themselves to save Viola’s life. It’s a shockingly romantic and heartfelt ending for a character who has previously been aloof and defined by her solitude, not by her relationships with others.
However, this is only a bad thing if you’re really attached to the idea of Bayonetta never “ending up” with someone–or if you really want her to end up with another character, like Jeanne. For those who enjoy these games strictly for the action, or don’t mind a bit of sappy romance tacked on at the end, this is a minor quibble that likely won’t impact your enjoyment of this otherwise-stellar title.