Bayonetta 3 (2022)

Developer: Platinum Games
Publisher: 505 Studios
Release Date: October 28th 2022
Platform played on: Nintendo Switch / PC via Yuzu Emulator
Time to complete: 11 Hours

When the original Bayonetta game released in early January of 2010, the style captured the crazy arcade feeling of Sega games so perfectly well, that I felt there was going to be a new genre that emerged from this game. Platinum Games was a development studio that started churning out a ton of what everyone was considering “Great” games. They were the studio on the rise and to watch to see what they would make next. It was odd when Bayonetta 2 came out and was locked down to the underwhelming, underpowered and basically dead Wii U. Making sure most people wouldn’t even know it existed. Then the bigger bombshell dropped when Bayonetta 3 was announced as a Switch exclusive game with Nintendo publishing it themselves, which again meant that it was locked to the Switch’s underpowered hardware. Then we waited 5 years.

Bayonetta, the oddly mis-proportioned sexy witch who battles demons and angels and has her clothes made out of her hair and guns for shoes and can summon demons by dancing and getting naked sounds so stupidly absurd that the premise should be laughed off immediately. However, the game itself works on a level that combines over the top combat encounters and bullet time dodging and levels that defy normal physics that its preposterous setup is dismissed in order to see what happens next. Maybe it was the time that I played it in my life, but I was enthralled by not only the action, but the character of Bayonetta, a woman who knows what she wants and knows how to act to get it. But it’s been 8 very long years since I played Bayonetta 2, and I have matured, grown as a person and my tastes in gaming have changed quite a bit. Bayonetta now feels off, something feels different and I am no longer impressed by a single character that really doesn’t have much else to go on other than looks.

Playing through Bayonetta 3 was the biggest disappointment in gaming this year by an extremely large gap. It’s not impressive, it doesn’t make sense, and it’s just unintelligible in a way I don’t understand why.

That thought needed its own paragraph, to emphasize why I dislike this game so much. I honestly have nothing really that good to say, and I am not sure why I thought I did. So I’m going to just retell my start with this game. Emulators are always the best way to play games once the software catches up and can run the games it’s emulating well. The reason is because it allows for the games to go above and beyond the internal resolutions making the games look infinitely better than on its original hardware. Bayonetta barely runs on the normal Switch. And when it does, it looks unbelievably awful. Every character has no anti-aliasing which results in jagged edges and the slowdown is unplayable and the hardware tries to push out the lowest resolution possible to continue playing the game. I hate the Switch hardware, and I always have, because it holds back games developed for it. Bayonetta 3 employs a dithering effect, which is basically a checkerboard pattern to give off the illusion of transparency, because the hardware can not do it on it’s own. It’s something the Sega Genesis used to great effect because of the 1989 hardware. But since the switch isn’t able to muster up the power, the game itself suffers on every moment that it isn’t in a cutscene.

To speak of the story for a brief moment, Bayonetta 3 follows the witch and her cohort Enzo, who is just basically in the first cutscene and disappears from the entire game. She jumps on a cruise ship that starts a tidal wave which proceeds to flood and destroy New York City. One of the oddest things about the game is the fact that all these bombasict things that happen have zero meaning or context. If New York City was destroyed it would be global devastating news for years. The world at large would probably never recover. But in this game, the world goes on like someone sneezed somewhere and no one noticed or cared. There is no weight to the actions the game displays.

On top of the game not caring about itself, it’s a multiverse story because that’s what’s popular, and every game has done a multiverse story at this point, so when Bayonetta 3 comes along after 7+ years in development, it isn’t as novel as it could have been. However, I will say the way they tie in the multiverse angle at the end, to explain why the heck Bayonetta looks different in all three games makes more sense than just saying she changed her hairdo. It’s also a “passing of the torch” story, as the game involves a brand new character, Violetta, who guess what? Is Bayonetta’s daughter. But Bayonetta doesn’t know. It’s another cliche story trope that feels so tone deaf to the series, Along with the fact Violetta is just as annoying and worthless as the British kid from 2. While she seems like she is in her mid 20’s, she is written and acts out as an eight year old.

The animations for the characters, along with the very weirdly stilted cutscenes feel like they are placeholders. It feels like a game developed around 1999 or the early 2000’s with how characters wave their arms and go into wired pouting animations with no sense that they are in a world with sound effects or breathing noises. Everything feels very artificial and fake. It’s kinda hard to describe without showing some form of example.

The gameplay itself is very similar to the other two games as it’s mainly hallway and combat area encounters. If the game was more opened up with the allowance to not be locked into a small circle to fight enemies, the game would feel much better. There is one part, where Bayonetta travels to the desert (I believe it’s egypt) and it has a much larger area to play it, and the was the only time I was enjoying myself, but I still didn’t feel the game was worth spending more time in, so I kinda powered through the part as much as possible, without going off the beaten path.

The laundry list of things wrong with the game is too long to write down, and dwelling on it really just makes me regret playing the game more. However, there are a couple moments that I actually did enjoy myself while playing the game. When I first loaded the game up, the initial opening level I was smiling ear to ear, because of the crazy nature the game brings to the surface. It’s set piece action gaming, where the levels are so over the top that you can’t help but be swept up in the moment. Along with the musical “Moonlight Serenade” track blaring in the background as Bayonetta gets into hectic fights… It's cool. The first couple of times. But it just continues to use the same track throughout the entire game. I would have thought they would have had different songs played at different moments, which would have made every big fight feel more climatic and legendary.

The only other moment that really impressed me was near the end of the game, with one of the summons in her ultimate form, who is a victorian style opera singer and the game switches into a rhythm button pressing mini game with an unbelievable operatic song playing. It’s a perfect meld that brings the grand scope into view in a way the entire game should and has before. Sadly it’s just a 3 minute section and never returns. Apparently there are a lot of moments in the game, where the game introduces new game mechanics for a single use, and never brings them up again, feeling like the development team wasted a lot of time and resources for things that never panned out.

Jeanne, who has been Bayonetta’s friend/rival?, since the first game gets her own side scrolling levels, that feel like they were copied out of Elevator Action, which is a game I absolutely love. But the design of the levels left me to feel like I was being rushed through in a way that I didn’t have time to enjoy at all. It was also reminiscent of the game Gunpoint, where each level is trying to get me to progress while using stealth that wants me to take enemies out without being detected. But again, it’s at odds with the aesthetic of the level. Alarms blaring, lights flashing, timers galore… it feels too chaotic to be stealthy.

And that’s really the whole Bayonetta 3 experience in a nutshell. Every moment the game gives you feels like wasted potential. From a technical aspect with the game locked down to Nintendo’s always underpowered systems, to it’s limitations on the graphical front having to sacrifice it’s artistic style to stay in the boundaries of it’s mobile gaming shell. The story being just another tired and boring multiverse that is barely put together or explained, with a handful of characters that don't interact or behave like real believable people. Along with gameplay mechanics that all feel like they were pulled out of a hat and drawn at random for each section of the game.

I wish I liked Bayonetta 3 as much as I wanted to. I think it’s an incredible series in gaming that showcases why video games can and should be different. But with the myriad of technical limitations, this game looks, feels and is the worst of the series in every conceivable way. The director said just a couple weeks ago that Bayonetta the series can go on forever, but I hope they put a gunshoe bullet in the series, because I don’t want Violetta as the new Bayonetta (By the by, Violetta actually ends the game with “just call me…. Bayonetta!”, which made me want to turn the game off right then and there. Too bad this series ended on such a bad note.