The witch of the Umbra is finally back after 8 years of absence to serve us action and humor on a silver platter. Test.
Everything comes at the right time to who knows how to wait, and Bayonetta will have kept us waiting for quite a long time. “It looks like I’m particularly late” she said in the first trailer of her new adventures. The enchantress known for her time-slowing bewitching ability has obviously put her powers to good use. Indeed, the third game featuring the witch of the Umbra was announced at the 2017 Game Awards, before being discreet for several years. Here we are five years later, and Bayonetta 3 is finally coming to Nintendo Switch on October 28, 2022. The franchise signed Hideki Kamiya and PlatinumGames has made a condensed action its trademark. Thanks to its quirky tone addressing pagan and religious themes, the universe of Bayonetta quickly established itself as a cult.
Breaking the face of angels and demons with the help of a sexy witch who wears gun heels is not given to just any game. It is moreover to this charismatic character that the license owes its hit. Bayonetta as a super-powered fighter, imagined by a woman and brought to the fore at a time when that was rarely the case (2009 for the first episode) makes her a protagonist like no other. The importance of her identity has also been at the heart of a scandal between the original actress and the studio PlatinumGames. Despite these few blunders that were resolved in time for the title’s release, it’s time to tackle the content of Bayonetta 3 and to judge whether it lives up to its legacy.
A witch who hasn’t aged a bit
Still as strong, still beautiful and still as “slay” (as we young people say), Bayonetta does not do things by halves in this well-deserved sequel. The witch saga was able to stand out not only for its visual identity, but also for its action-packed gameplay. Fans of the series know this very well: embarking on an adventure alongside Bayonetta means fighting hard. The tables are linked to offer confrontations against more or less large enemies, and sometimes even bosses of a surprising scale. After a passage on PS3 and Xbox 360 in 2009, the series came to stay on the side of Nintendo in 2014 with the release of Bayonetta 1 and 2 on Wii U.
Since this reissue also came for a spin on Switch in 2018, the license has enjoyed surprising stability in comparison with the technical capabilities of the hybrid console. The wobbly frame rate of the Wii U and Xbox 360 versions (not to mention the poor performance of the PS3 version) is corrected to a near-constant 60fps: a real treat for such a nervous game.
Bayonetta 3 no exception to this rule and pushes the Switch to its limits by offering a fluid gaming experience with graphics that are superior to the latest episode. The resolution sometimes suffers, but like the Xenoblade, the whole is so beautiful that we almost ignore this visual loss. We will still regret some framerate drops in scenes that are very resource-intensive, which are nonetheless impressive.
The completely quirky humor and the colorful characters that the regulars know well are all back, also sublimated. Jeanne, Luka, Enzo and Rodin have far from aged badly and even look in top form. The new additions to the cast (which will be discussed later in this test) also come to serve the universe of the game.
From the first moments, Bayonetta stays true to herself and throws magic punchlines among other fight choreographies worthy of the best drag queens and cabaret artists : What a pleasure to finally find her. Jennifer Hale, new interpreter of the witch, does honor to her prize list as an actress by offering a performance that is both original while remaining faithful to the character. Gameplay-wise, Bayonetta’s skills are put to the test as she faces off against a new threat in the form of the Homunculi.
Bayonetta in the Multiverse of Slayness
After the events of Bayonetta 2, the balance between angel and demons being established, the doubt hovered over the narration of a third episode. Unsurprisingly, new villains are introduced to give a hard time to the witch who has already got her hands on the minions of Paradiso and Inferno. The Homunculi represent no realm from the afterlife and appear out of the blue, taking Bayonetta and the entire clique by surprise. The tone is set from the first moments of the game: this threat comes straight from a parallel universe. For some time now, the principle of multiverse begins to take its hold on pop culture, already creating a feeling of redundancy that can chill more than one.
Since the title has been in the works for several years now and has suffered a significant delay, it is probably a question of unfavorable timing. Whether Bayonetta 3 had been released a few years earlier, the reception of this scenario would undoubtedly have been different. However, despite the weariness that this kind of scenario can already inspire, the title manages to make this narrative work without too many worries..
Although the universe of the license is extremely well constructed, the narrative unfolding remains secondary to give way to a grandiose and sometimes crazy spectacle. It could all be summed up as “an overpowered witch who breaks everything that moves to save the world from angels and demons” and this simplicity works. Bayonetta is synonymous with extravagance, and the multiverse that is offered to us is just as much, giving it its own identity.
The levels are expressed in different places and times taking the surrealism of the franchise to the extreme. The witch encounters its variants that are sometimes more flashy and burlesque than the one we know. It’s a perfect pretext for action scenes that are as theatrical as they are colossal, where we take pleasure in controlling new powers and demons. The gameplay is also reinvented to be centered around these entities that the witch can control.
New weapons directly inspired by monsters offer versatility never before seen in the series for ever more varied combat options. Exit the anecdotal weapons to be equipped on the hands or on the feet, these are complete sets completely modifying the movements of Bayonetta in combat as in exploration which come to bring a significant breath of fresh air.
A real makeover
Like the passage from Bayonetta 1 at Bayonetta 2, this third episode once again improves the gaming experience to make the title even more enjoyable to play. From the structure of the levels and chapters to the fights themselves, the license recipe is revisited to make it a one-of-a-kind iteration. Each game in the franchise uses the same base, but offers gameplay that’s different enough to make for individual experiences.
In Bayonetta 3, the fast-paced chapters of the second episode give way to deeper storytelling through larger levels. The areas to explore are full of secrets and side paths even offering exclusive battles. The pleasure provided by these discoveries encourages you to wander around more and more, and indirectly extends the life of each chapter.
The average play time per chapter is 30 minutes, completely changing the dynamics of the title. Yet there is still no time to get bored. The walks and the more or less open fights contrast with more scripted sequences, but just as charming. We think in particular of the chases on the back of demons giving a whole new dimension to the usual action scenes on motorcycles.
Speaking of size, enemies also rank up, and not just on the boss side. Some Homunculi dominate by their size, but Bayonetta does not let it go by introducing a new power: the Dance of Submission. This replaces the Apotheosis of the Umbra from the previous episode and also draws on the magic gauge.
The large spaces of the levels then serve as a playground for the demons that Bayonetta is able to summon and control.. In addition to these fights of a new order, the arrival of Viola the apprentice witch in the cast also brings its share of novelties. The handling of this character is so satisfying and original that one would almost prefer to embody it as a priority.
The new skill tree makes upgrading Bayonetta and Viola much less trivial than in previous episodes. The build-up is felt and adds to the charm of the action-packed fights. Other small phases of unpublished gameplay (in Interludes in particular) will have their good effect of surprise on the regulars of the series.