It’s literally the name of the game.
Bayonetta 3 has finally graced the Nintendo Switch after years of waiting. The hotly anticipated capper to Nintendo and Sega’s witchy trilogy does things a little differently from its predecessors, though. In particular, the game asks you to spend a whole lot of time playing as people who aren’t Bayonetta, the titular gun-toting witch who fans have grown to love over the past decade.
This is, by my estimation, a big mistake that holds an otherwise really fun game back from greatness. With prolonged sections where you play as Bayonetta’s partner-in-crime Jeanne and her new protégé Viola, Bayonetta 3 strays too far away from what made the other games in the series so great.
Starting about midway through its story, Bayonetta 3 suddenly thrusts you into the boots of Viola, a brand-new character introduced at the beginning of the game. Let me just say that Viola, in a vacuum, is awesome. She’s a cool punk lady with a katana that transforms into a giant Cheshire cat, toothy grin and all. Viola’s also perhaps overly invested in impressing Bayonetta, resulting in an uneven power dynamic in which Bayonetta condescendingly refers to Viola as “kitty” for most of the game. It’s an endearing relationship.
There’s just one big problem: Viola isn’t very fun to play.
At first, I was all in on Viola’s presence as a playable character because, again, punk lady with a katana. However, her mechanics differ from Bayonetta’s in a way that just doesn’t work with the way fights have always played out in the franchise.
Allow me to explain. When playing as Bayonetta, hitting the dodge button at just the right moment negates enemy damage and activates Witch Time, a temporary state of slowed-down time during which you can dish out pain (and combos) on your foes. It’s a key part of the Bayonetta formula and it just feels really damn good to pull off.
Viola is more of a defensive character. Instead of dodging to activate Witch Time, you have to press a block button as attacks land to parry into the slow-mo state instead. I’ll fully admit to being bad at this sort of thing in games, but I found that it just didn’t gel with what Bayonetta has always been. It’s a series about constantly being on the move and using the protagonist’s extreme agility to your advantage. It’s not very fun to turtle up as Viola and just wait for enemies to attack.
Unfortunately, you spend a solid quarter of the game playing as Viola. I found it more frustrating than fun, but at least it still mostly resembled Bayonetta. The real problems came when I had to play as Jeanne.
Bayonetta is not a stealth game
Bayonetta’s truest homie Jeanne is a great character. She’s every bit as stylish and cool as Bayonetta herself, so in the abstract, I’m totally down to spend a few side chapters playing as her. Just not like this.
Jeanne has four mini-chapters that take the form of side-scrolling stealth missions. Variety is the spice of life and I can’t blame developer Platinum Games for trying to inject as much of it as possible into the final entry of the Bayonetta trilogy. I even love the jazzy, Cowboy Bebop-ass animated intro that Jeanne’s levels have. I just wish I could say I loved playing them.
The trademark combat that’s made Bayonetta great for so many years is replaced here by super-rudimentary stealth mechanics. If you’re behind an enemy, you press a button combination to insta-kill them. If an enemy sees you, you run and hide until they stop looking. There are some slightly more interesting gun-based battles later on in Jeanne’s adventure, but these can’t save her story from being arguably the worst part of Bayonetta 3.
All of this is a shame because, when you play as Bayonetta, Bayonetta 3 is maybe the best the series has been. She has so many cool weapons to choose from (I was partial to the giant, bladed yo-yos) and a cast of “demon slaves” (a term I wouldn’t have chosen) to enhance her moveset. At first, I thought these demons distracted from the star of the show like Viola and Jeanne did. But instead, those demons simply bolster Bayonetta’s incredible combat sequences, especially when you learn to use them as combo finishers.
I’m not inherently against Viola and Jeanne being major players in Bayonetta 3. But unless Platinum can make their playstyles as deep and rewarding as Bayonetta’s, I’d rather Bayonetta 3 stay true to its name.