At Japanese developer Platinum Games, the phrase “dress to kill” is taken very literally. Armed with pistols attached to her platform heels, summoning demons from her luscious locks with a suggestive wink, Bayonetta’s fetish-baiting ballet of blood and bullets is as unselfconsciously bonkers as video games come. The brainchild of Devil May creator Hideki Kamiya, this demonic series has always combined combo-building combat with a weirdly satanic layer of sexuality.
This third outing, however, has been overshadowed by a dispute with its former star. With the pound scrabbling out of freefall and our third prime minister in the space of four months being inaugurated, you’d be forgiven for missing the #boycottBayonetta controversy, but the long and short of it is that the actor who gave Bayonetta her voice in the first two games did not reprise her role because she was offered an insultingly low fee for the job. Twitter exploded. Fans squabbled. There has been an ugly back-and-forth over the details of her pay. It’s hardly the fanfare that anyone would have wanted, and the drama will sour this game for many.
In Bayonetta, angels take on their truly twisted biblical forms, levelling cities of innocents in order to destroy dark-arts-dabbling dissidents. Luckily for us, our platform-heeled heroine delights in banishing them to the next world in distinctly un-family-friendly explosions of gore and double entendres. This is bizarre stuff – and at first glance, hardly what one would expect from a Nintendo-published game. From sequences where you pummel enemies with a demonic train, to showdowns that seamlessly segue into side-scrolling shoot ‘em ups, to palate-cleansing, 2.5D side missions that pay homage to Metal Gear Solid, no two levels are ever the same. Bayonetta 3 is a reverent hymn to video games in all their glorious silliness.
It’s comfortably the weirdest game you’ll play this year. Setpieces veer from disintegrating flying demons with a furry demon-cat to suggestively riding a Godzilla-sized Gomorrah across ever-shifting interdimensional skyscrapers. It veers from a New York-set brawl aboard a flooding yacht, to something akin to a horny anime directed by Christopher Nolan. The storytelling is marginally more coherent this time around, but still largely serves as a threadbare excuse for the next screen-filling spectacle.
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.
Unleashing demons has always been a favourite hobby of Bayonetta’s, but now players finally get to command them in battle. Once resigned to show-stopping cutscenes, a squeeze of the left trigger now lets your witch call upon the aid of her well-trained pets, sending a building-sized behemoth crashing into foes mid-combo. With each completed chapter, you earn the allegiance of a new demonic summon, lending you their power in battle, along with a shiny new weapon set. These weirdo summons range from an enemy-grabbing crow that you command from the skies, to a hyper-sexualised butterfly.
As the Umbran Witch’s story reaches its chaotic climax, all the nonsensical nattering about alphaverses, homunculi and singularities starts to grate. But just as your interest begins to wane, the action snaps back into focus, dragging you along for the ride by your hair. It’s not often that after the credits roll, I find myself immediately hammering the start button to play again, but that’s the kind of game Bayonetta 3 is. Fifteen hours in, I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface of the combat’s permutations.
Ever since the Wii U’s Bayonetta 2, this clothes-shedding, gun-toting witch has been the black sheep among Nintendo’s flock of cutesy mascots. Where many western games yearn to be seen as the height of sophistication, craving the critical kudos of an HBO drama, Bayonetta 3 stands defiant in its absurdity. Like its predecessors, this is destined to go down as a cult classic – a dizzying dance of demon-dicing delight. Its crude, whiplash-inducing narrative means it certainly won’t be for everyone, but the best things in life rarely are.