A new Bayonetta game is like the circus rolling into town. Bayonetta is the ringmaster, of course, and she shows up out of the blue with boxcars of strange beasts, weird friends, dangerous spells, magnificent clothing and endless promises to impress. Her stories don’t always make sense, but they’re filled with melodrama and action, magic and gunfire, and once Bayonetta enters the spotlight, there’s no looking away. Especially not when she’s dancing her way through a spell in an outfit made of her own hair, while 40-storey monsters fight to the death at her back.
Bayonetta 3 is full of classic Bayonetta madness, all of it amped up by one degree. The stakes are higher than they’ve ever been, the enemies are absolutely massive, Bayonetta’s magic is incredibly powerful, her outfits are outstanding, and the fights don’t stop coming. A loose plot holds the entire game together – an army of man-made bioweapons called Homonculi is threatening the existence of the multiverse – but it’s just an excuse to throw Bayonetta and friends into an endless string of battles in a variety of crumbling cities. In that way, Bayonetta 3 isn’t very different from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, though PlatinumGames’ latest installment has way more witchcraft, silliness and shoe-operated guns than anything helmed by Robert Downey Jr.
Structurally and mechanically, Bayonetta 3 is as rich as its predecessors. Bayonetta acquires new skills and weapons throughout her quest; she collects fragments of fallen enemies to purchase items, consumables and accessories in the Gates of Hell shop, while orbs unlock abilities on her skill tree. Combat is all about performing stylish combos and executing well-timed dodges, and each fight is infinitely replayable if you’re chasing high scores. There are also plenty of challenges and secrets to find in each level.
Bayonetta 3 is a Switch exclusive, and it struggles as much as any fast-paced action game on that console: At times, inputs feel sluggish and it becomes difficult to track which moves are actually lined up. The game does a fine job of providing visual indicators for attacks and there is a rhythm to be found in the fray, but the entire thing runs in Switch Reaction Time (does not adhere to daylight saving).
For fans of the series, there’s nothing missing in Bayonetta 3 – in fact, there’s just more. More weirdness, more one-liners, more swag, and more combat mechanics. For instance, one section puts players in control of Bayonetta’s witchy buddy, Jeanne, for a side-scrolling action sequence with 1960s espionage flair. Another mechanic allows Bayonetta to control time in short bursts, at times reverting to her younger self. Throughout the game, the Demon Masquerade ability adds hellish features to Bayonetta’s weapons and allows her to transform into various demons, while the Demon Slave skill allows her to summon and control giant creatures of hell, each with a specific moveset.
Most of Bayonetta’s demons are inspired by classically spooky animals like moths and spiders, but one of her forms is a literal train. A little over halfway through the game, Bayonetta is infused with the energy of Satan’s choo-choo and she’s able to summon a hellish tank engine during fights. Attacking as the train with Demon Slave slows down time temporarily, allowing players to quickly draw a track and indicate points of damage along the route, ideally in the path of nearby enemies. Let go of the Demon Slave button and the train barrels down the ghost track in real time, dealing hefty damage to anything it hits. Bayonetta also acquires the ability to turn into a literal train-witch hybrid through Demon Masquerade, rushing forward with heavy-duty chainsaw-like attacks. Because of course she does.
By the time the train demon appears, it actually fits into the rest of the game nicely. Bayonetta’s world has always been wacky, and 3 is no exception. If you can handle the idea of Umbra Witches and bartending angels, you can deal with some light locomotive play.
I don’t take Bayonetta games too seriously and this feels like the right move, especially after playing the third installment. The series’ sense of combat is rich and its storyline is incredibly intricate, involving divine wars and parallel universes, and yet it all just feels like an excuse to make Bayonetta dance her way through a spell while massive monsters fight in the background. Thankfully, this is the best part of the series – Bayonetta is powerful and fighting in her (gun)shoes feels great, but her personality is what makes this franchise a cult hit. Bayonetta is confident, sarcastic and always correct; her outfits are stunning and so are her friends; she dances like an angel; she never has a hair out of place and her one-liners never stop. She’s a drag queen in a universe loosely held together by witchcraft, and the chaos of this combination is truly magical.
Bayonetta 3 is ridiculous and slightly disjointed, but that's precisely what makes it so wonderful. It builds on a multiverse of weird and witchy ideas, and it delivers exactly what fans of the series expect – something totally unexpected.