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Bayonetta 3 review – a messy melange that just about retains PlatinumGames' magic

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Bayonetta goes big for the series most stupendous adventure yet, but also its scrappiest.

Since its inception as part of Osaka studio Platinums first wave of games, Bayonetta has been many things – sexy, stylish and most of all brilliantly stupid – but reserved is not one of them. This is an action game in which you press a button and then watch the screen explode in flashes of orgiastic action, where climax is piled atop of climax. It’d be exhausting if it wasn’t quite so exhilarating.

Bayonetta 3 doesn’t change any of that; indeed it’s as bombastic, overstated and over-the-top as this series has ever been, and by extension perhaps the most outrageous thing PlatinumGames has produced yet. It’s also, though, perhaps its most unrefined, because for all its considerable charms Bayonetta 3 is a mess. A charming, frequently dazzling mess, but a mess all the same.

Maybe that’s inevitable in a sequel that throws everything it can at the player, piling on one idea after the other until the whole thing buckles. There’s a story here, but I’m not going to try and make too much sense of it (if you have been keeping up with the Bayonettas, though, youll be rewarded with face-offs with old favourites and a whole host of cameos I wont spoil here, not least because some incredibly restrictive review guidelines prevent me from doing so). Whats important is that theres a multiverse under threat, meaning there are multiple worlds to save and meaning that theres no shortage of new surroundings to tear apart in a series of spectacular setpieces.

Once more there are restrictive guidelines stopping me from telling you the real highlights, though thats probably for the best to ensure the sense of surprise is kept intact, so Ill keep it to broad strokes; there are rooftop chases across the rapidly deforming skyscrapers of Tokyo, shootouts that take place atop skittering demon spiders and kaiju fights that introduce a new level of scale and spectacle to Bayonetta. Given the amount Bayonetta 3 fits into its dozen hours of action I could go on indefinitely, but the best way to describe it is indescribable; these are setpieces to be savoured first-hand and that have to be seen to be believed.

Much has already been said about the murky circumstances involving the situation around Bayonettas voice actor, and too much to dive into any real detail here though I will say this – Jennifer Hales take is noticeably different to Hellena Taylors, and while it took some time to adjust Id say its no better or worse.

Beyond those frequent setpieces the fundamentals have been tweaked far more drastically for Bayonetta 3 than they did between the first two games. The most profound change is the ability to directly control the demons Bayonetta has traditionally been able to call upon in battle, the introduction of Demon Slaves playing to that increased sense of scale and spectacle thats the thrust of Bayonetta 3. In terms of ramping up the ridiculousness of the action, the Demon Slaves are an absolute triumph; theres the towering Madama Butterfly whose fists are the size of Bayonetta herself, or the fearsome Gomorrah, a 30-foot-tall dragon who fills the screen and makes it shake with fury upon being summoned.

Theyre outrageous, though none of them more so than Wartrain Gouon whos not so much a demon and more of a full-sized steam train that can be called upon. An Infernal Demon tied to all-new weapon the Dead End Express, Wartrain Gouon is perhaps Bayonetta at its most ridiculous and therefore its most sublime, as you clobber enemies with a hefty locomotive engine before transforming into a train and quite literally steaming into mobs. This is Bayonetta: Choo Choo edition, a premise as delirious as it is delightful to play.

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Bayonetta makes a lot more sense in motion (and in motion it keeps mostly to 60fps, though given how murky it looks Id advise playing handheld rather than docked – Digital Foundry will be along with their own more informed verdict in due course).

And is that a Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks reference as Wartrain Gouon is summoned for some light puzzle solving, as the Demon Slaves repeatedly are in some of the Zelda-lite dungeons that you explore in Bayonetta 3s campaign? As ever in a series thats disarmingly literate when it comes to the world of videogames theres a litany of nods and references, from chase sequences that ape Star Fox and Panzer Dragoon to fully-fledged side-scrolling levels that emulate arcade classic Elevator Action (Im sure I spotted a shout-out to obscure Dreamcast launch title Pen Pen Trilcelon, though maybe Im just losing my mind). Its this breathlessness that makes Bayonetta 3 such a blast.

That breathlessness can come across as straight-up wheeziness in parts, though. Controlled chaos has always been Bayonettas calling card, but Bayonetta 3 frequently loses a handle on the action; when playing as Bayonetta the cameras more distant than in previous games to help accommodate the Demon Slaves that are a foundational part of her new arsenal, but the result is combat thats often illegible. Press a button and the screen explodes, as is the series credo: in Bayonetta 3, though, it can be too easy to lose sight of yourself in all that colourful noise.

The Dead End Express might be a personal favourite of the new weapons introduced in Bayonetta 3, but the brilliantly tactile Ignis Araneae Yo-Yo comes a close second.

Bayonetta 3s more than just noisy, though. Too often its a downright mess. Its tempting to put some blame on the ageing hardware PlatinumGames is tied to, and the ambition here certainly isnt helped by technical limitations of a device that wasnt exactly blessed with processing power when it first came out some five years ago, but just as often it seems to be undone by fuzzy implementation and murky visual design. Sometimes, just as criminally for a series defined by its effervescent fizz, it falls flat.

Take new addition to the cast Viola, a katana-wielding witch-in-training who fights alongside a cat big enough to earn a place in the Macys Parade, and who offers a stripped-back moveset which presents an interesting counterpoint to the heady excess of Bayonettas sequences. Which would all be well and good, if Viola wasnt such an under-written, under-designed absence of a character, her wardrobe of leather jacket and tartan trousers melange of second-hand offcuts and her second-hand punky attitude delivered in half-arsed quips. Viola feels like shes been beamed in from another, lesser series, and never really fits in Bayonettas fantastical world.

Homunculi present a new type of foe to fight, the human-like form of lower ranked making for some deft encounters while the bigger bosses have gloriously squishy bellies to pummel.

Being in close proximity to Bayonetta, as close to video game royalty as it gets, was always going to be a challenge, but the mediocrity of Viola extends out to some underwhelming passages of play full of clumsy platforming and fuzzy puzzling in environments that look distinctly second-rate. It undermines a recurring feeling that Bayonetta 3 might simply be attempting too much, a notion underlined by the existence of three separate currencies in Bayonetta 3, with one for items, one for unlockable cosmetics and another that powers the skill tree that lets you unlock new abilities. Or skill trees, even, for everyone gets one in a web of menus thats hardly elegant.

Its that elegance thats missing most in Bayonetta 3, and the sense of overriding style thats held the series together in the past is often in danger of coming apart at the seams with so much going on. If Bayonetta 2 was a refinement of whats gone before, then Bayonetta 3 feels like an uncontrolled explosion, the resulting action attention grabbing but jagged and incoherent.

What a mess it is, though. Bayonetta 3 might not be as consistently brilliant as its predecessors, but when its good its next to godly; playing as Bayonetta with her entire suite of toys unlocked is as electrifying as its ever been, a spectacle of sinewy combat and S&M excess thats uniquely, defiantly video games. Its 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 theres a lot to love here. Bayonetta 3 is overstated, in parts underbaked – but its rarely less than a thrill.

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