Platform: Nintendo Switch
Bayonetta 3 developer PlatinumGames seems to owe a small debt to Capcom's Resident Evil Village. Not in a gameplay sense – the first-person horror of the latter is worlds removed from the stylish, colourful action of the returning Umbra Witch here. Rather, Resi's iconic, towering Lady Dimitrescu introduced the world to a heretofore unrealised giant lady fetish. This is something Bayonetta – always a series to embrace a cheeky sexuality – takes to the next level with Madama Butterfly, a multi-storey-sized anthropomorphic moth woman who seduces and then slays her enemies.
Unlike Lady D, you won't be running from her – she's just one of the many demonic summons at Bayonetta's disposal in this long-awaited sequel. They're the biggest update to the series, and Madama and her ilk make the already fantastic combat the series is known for even better. While Bayonetta herself still packs a punch (not to mention a roundhouse kick and several volleys of ammo from her signature guns in hands and heels), serving up ever-more stylish combos and dispatching enemies while dipping in and out of slo-mo Witch Time, the summons add an even grander sense of scale to Bayonetta 3's battles.
While some, like dark dragon Gomorrah, have appeared in the series before for spectacular set piece moments, Bayonetta can now equip up to three demons at once, and call on them at will in battle, adding a flourish of grandeur to a combo juggling multiple grunt enemies. Alternatively, the demons can be held in place to tackle bigger foes, but at the risk of rendering Bayonetta herself immobile and vulnerable to attack. It's a great system that constantly keeps players on their toes, testing reflexes, and always rewarding style and experimentation.
The sheer, brazen lunacy of Bayonetta 3 is one of its greatest charms.
Other characters – the returning Jeanne, and newcomer Viola, a witch in training – have their own combat styles to master, with unique twists. Viola, for instance, is more of a brawler, with her Witch Time ability triggered by parrying, rather than dodging, enemy attacks. Viola is also aided by Cheshire, a companion demon based on the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland, who has a mouth full of psychedelic shifting rainbows and travels on a flying Penny Farthing – just in case you thought this latest entry in the series might be any less ridiculous than its predecessors.
That sheer, brazen lunacy of Bayonetta 3 is one of its greatest charms, though. The core story sees the multiverse collapsing, with a creature called Singularity aiming to destroy all realities besides his own "Alphaverse", and 'our' Bayonetta being the last one with a chance at saving all existence. It's all a bit "Into The Bayonetta-Verse", but it creates a perfect narrative backdrop for reality-smashing set pieces such as surfing a demon through cities collapsing into dimensional spirals, and chasing down enemies the size of SHIELD Helicarriers, all capped off by Bayonetta herself adding some sassy commentary or a flirtatious wink as she teases and torments her foes.
Unfortunately, such spectacle means Bayonetta 3 pushes the limits of the increasingly humble Nintendo Switch almost to breaking point. Visuals are inconsistent, with core characters beautifully modelled and detailed, but background figures and environments looking barely removed from the Bayonetta series' Xbox 360-era roots. Even the majority of enemies – liquid-bodied Homunculi, where even larger, armoured specimens are based on amorphous blobs at their core – seem to have been introduced because of their general lack of detail.
Quality varies drastically in story scenes, too: all the more noticeable as they are often wearily long. Although usually rewarding players with eye-popping, extremely over-the-top scenes of celestial devastation or outlandish battles, these cinematics come so often and stay so long that they start to feel an impediment to actually playing the game.
That urge to get back to the action is testament to just how compelling PlatinumGames has made this high octane, high camp epic though. It's ridiculous in all the right ways and at all the right points, while also evolving the series' all-important battles in exciting ways. Returning fans will love how Bayonetta 3 expands the series, building on the strengths of the first two games in meaningful and inventive ways, while newcomers will be thrilled by the rush of pure, unfiltered weirdness on screen at any given point. Its dated, sometimes muddy visuals are its biggest failing, but when everything else is so thrilling, it's a forgivable sin.