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Bayonetta 3 Preview – The Witch Is Back

Bayonetta 3 is chaos made flesh, or at least made hair. I played both previous games around their release and nothing else has quite scratched that frantic, subversive, entirely unpredictable itch. Like many players who will be jumping into Bayonetta’s third adventure when it launches on October 28, my knowledge of the series is scrambled and faded. I plan to read up on narrative beats I’ve forgotten ahead of the full review, but for this bite-sized preview, I’m relying entirely on vague memories and vibes.

If you’re in my position, you won’t be disappointed. Characters often emerge with a dramatic flair and a couple of times I wondered if I’d seen them before or if they were new, but mostly Bayonetta 3 is happy to have you along for the ride. I can’t touch on the narrative too much at this stage, and have not played enough in any case to offer a full assessment, but I’ve never felt like the game has led me astray or relied too heavily on existing knowledge for it to make sense.

With restrictions on which chapters I can highlight and a reluctance to dive into the plot, the best place to start with Bayonetta 3 is the combat. Perhaps that was always the case – I don’t get the sense people are reading for the articles. Combat is just as chaotic as ever, and initially seems overwhelming as you mash buttons and struggle to work out what combos work best and how to summon demons to fight alongside you.

In time though, you’ll learn how to approach each enemy and the strengths of Gomorrah and Madama Butterfly, the demons at your disposal. Bayonetta dances near naked in a pool of blood when summoning these demons, and it’s great to see the game embrace its own absurdist witchiness. Summoning a giant, spiritual high heel to stomp on opponents from above is always satisfying.

This brings us to one of the central critical questions to Bayonetta – how much is Bayonetta herself in on the joke? Bayo is a highly sexualised character and a woman dancing naked as a core mechanic would usually be cause for concern, as would her taunt mechanic that involves spanking herself. However, the embrace of Bayonetta by female gamers and queer audiences over time suggest there is something deeper than objectification here.

Bayonetta is always in control of her sexuality, always in control of every situation she encounters. She makes sexual remarks and is comfortable in her own skin, but rarely objectified – the camera zooms out and moves away while she is naked, and her sexual comments are always playful attempts to get a rise out of her foes. I wrote a while ago that gaming needed more sluts after the Lollipop Chainsaw remake was revealed, and while I think Bayonetta is too classy to be put in that bracket, watching her dance is like watching a Bella Thorne movie or seeing Kim Petras on stage. You’re left in doubts that Bayonetta is in on it from the ground floor, and that we’re supposed to be laughing with her, not at her.

Perhaps the best example of this comes during Viola’s playable section. If you’ve been following the trailers, you’ll know Viola is the punk girl with short blonde hair and blue lipstick. She’s covered from head to toe in tartan pants and a leather jacket, and is far more aggressive and masculine in her behaviour and movement than Bayonetta. While basic gameplay principles are the same when playing as both characters (summon demons, land combos, dodge, hack and slash), Viola’s attacks feel like heavy thumps where Bayonetta’s are fluid cuts. They’re similar enough that you don’t feel like a whole new game has been forced on you, but distinct enough that it’s a fresh experience.

The only gripe of note I have so far is an all too common one for the Switch. While I have a Pro Controller, I often review with Joy-Con or handheld only, as that’s the way most people play. At the end of boss battles, or when trapped by certain attacks, you’ll need to rotate, wiggle, or steer the left thumb stick. It’s too fiddly and disrupts the game, which is especially disappointing when so much of Bayonetta’s appeal is its fast flowing combat.

Still, as the only major complaint I have, I’d say Bayonetta 3 is in a very good place right now. I still need to make my way through the latter stages of the game, and there will be more points I can dig into in the full review which do not belong in the preview, but the hype train has been given the all clear to leave the station. There are a lot of huge games coming up soon, but Bayonetta is proving that it’s worth your time.

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