Bayonetta 3 reviews are in, and we finally get to find out if Platinum Games has done its titular protagonist any justice. The high-octane action series is known for its over-the-top combat and its aggressively sexualized, superpowered dominatrix hero, and the third entry of the series delivers more of that. But some reviewers were left cold by the ending of Bayonetta 3, the details of which are currently under publisher embargo. So although we still don’t know what it is about the ending that some dislike so much, it poisoned a few reviewers’ impression of the entire game. But if you don’t play games for this silly thing called “plot” then you might still have a pretty good time with its flexible and stylish combat system. Meanwhile, a few critics also felt that the Nintendo Switch doesn’t bring out the graphics’ maximum potential. Which is a shame, because the spectacle sounds like a big part of the game’s appeal.
There are some incredible leaps of character development that we’re supposed to just take on faith while the game abandons two whole games’ worth of established motivations and relationships all in service to the game’s true villain: compulsory heterosexuality. [...]Bayonetta leaned so hard into those old stereotypes of the male-gaze-defined video game heroine that they became her strength. Her sexiness makes her powerful. It’s right there in the text, because the harder she fights, the more naked she becomes. She delighted in this empowerment and so delighted me for a whole decade before the last 30 minutes of Bayonetta 3 erased all of that to fit her into the box she once stomped on in four-inch, gun-strapped heels back in 2009.
Bayonetta 3 is a leap forward from 2—particularly in terms of how Bayonetta and the main party look—and it makes good use of the Switch’s hardware capabilities. Unfortunately, there are noticeable deficiencies, too, and as newer titles hit current-gen consoles, it becomes increasingly clear that the Switch is struggling to keep up. In the case of Bayonetta 3, this results in often barren locations, and NPCs that look severely outdated. The game does a lot to ensure your eyes are focused on the action, where it looks vibrant with colors and detailed with particle effects. However, allow yourself to look at the background and you’ll be met with simple geometry, crude textures, and dull tones. Based on my playthrough, this seems to be a tradeoff that Platinum Games has made to ensure the game runs well regardless of if players are using the Switch in handheld mode or docked, but it’s one that comes at a very visible cost.
For what it’s worth, Bayonetta 3's story is the most comprehensible in the series. Which is to say it’s not largely gibberish. Bayonetta is charming throughout, as is most of the cast of returning characters, such as Jeanne, Luka, and Rodin, but the larger narrative is a rote multiverse story. [...] For the most part, though, the narrative is largely forgettable beyond surface entertainment value.
Bayonetta 3 delivers everything that franchise devotees and action game lovers could possibly want. You get a responsive, layered combat system and entertaining cutscenes. Unintuitive mini-games and obtuse challenges muddle the overall experience, but still, I’d be hard-pressed to name another game from this year with more in-depth and satisfying real-time combat than this one.
Like its predecessors, the action-focused gameplay underpinning Bayonetta is the main attraction – and it’s deceptively deep. What initially feels like button mashing slowly reveals itself to be a beautifully bespoke brawler. Frustrated with the feel of a weapon? Swap it out. Struggling to nail slow-motion parries? Just equip an amulet that blocks attacks with the analogue stick. It’s this versatility that makes Bayonetta 3 endlessly exciting.
I don’t know what to tell longtime Bayonetta fans about this game, let alone the newcomers hoping to come aboard with this installment. If all you care about is button-ramming combat that’s similar to Devil May Cry, you’ll have a ball. But if you ever wanted to believe that there was something deeper to Bayonetta’s story — some grander statement about femininity and sexuality and power dynamics — you’ll find the truth to be quite a disappointment.
In all of the best possible ways, Bayonetta 3 is leaning into the parts of itself that are more earnest than ever—all while going harder than ever on doing whatever it takes to simply be cool as hell. If you’re looking for a strong, coherent storyline, this was never the series for you. But if you are a fan of flashy spectacles, a varied and creative arsenal, and larger-than-life characters, Bayonetta 3 more than delivers.
What a mess it is, though. Bayonetta 3 might not be as consistently brilliant as its predecessors, but when it’s good it’s next to godly; playing as Bayonetta with her entire suite of toys unlocked is as electrifying as it’s ever been, a spectacle of sinewy combat and S&M excess that’s uniquely, defiantly video games. It’s so over-the-top that trying to make sense of it would be a mistake, and while the rough edges are a disappointment if you embrace the chaos there’s a lot to love here. Bayonetta 3 is overstated, in parts underbaked - but it’s rarely less than a thrill.