Let's hit the climax.
Many games struggle with the balance between style and substance, but Bayonetta 3 has an abundance of both. One moment it puts you into a combat sequence where you'll be pulling off combos and maneuvers that feel straight out of a fighting game, and then the next moment you'll be on the back of a giant spider demon, swinging from building to building across a collapsing city. 'High-octane' barely begins to describe it, and few games manage to offer as much mechanical depth or as much over the top spectacle as the latest entry in Platinum Games’ flagship series.
Keeping with series tradition, Bayonetta is a particular type of action game that many have taken to calling 'character action'. In this kind of game, a heavy emphasis is placed on giving playable characters deep, varied movesets that allow the player to experiment and practice combos in order to have unique strategies and approaches for a wide range of situations. It's possible to get by with basic button mashing - and in fact there's even an equippable item that can boost the power of single-button combos if that's the kind of thing you'd prefer - but the real meat of game comes from its scoring system that awards you medals at the end of each combat encounter based on your performance. The score considers your longest combo, how much damage you took, and how quickly you completed the encounter in order to grade you, and earning the best medal across every encounter in the game is a feat reserved for the most dedicated players who sit down in the training room and get to know the ins and outs of every combo available to them.
The biggest addition to combat in Bayonetta 3 is the ability to use Demon Slaves, which work similarly to the Legion monsters in Platinum's previous Switch game, Astral Chain. Like the Legions, Demon Slaves aren't directly controlled so much as they are given commands. Your character cannot move while you're commanding a Demon, but both can be active in a fight at once by being mindful of the downtime you have between attacks. The Demon Slaves tend to have big, lethargic animations, so once you've given a command you'll have time to get some hits in with your combos before stopping to issue the next command. With enough practice you can even start to find downtime in your own animations in order to maintain a non-stop barrage of damage between two fronts. Demons aren't able to act infinitely though; they consume magic power in order to be active, and if they sustain too much damage from enemies they'll be placed on a cooldown where you won't be able to summon them.
Bayoneta’s moveset has also been augmented by an ability called Demon Masquerade, which transforms her entire body into a form similar to the Demon Slave that matches the weapon she's currently using. In practice this doesn't change too much about gameplay since the weapon you use (and therefore the form you take in Demon Masquerade) isn't tied to the Demon Slaves you have equipped, but it does add an extra layer of uniqueness to the various weapons at your disposal, giving a lot of opportunities to customize the combat to fit your playstyle.
Outside of combat, Bayonetta 3 keeps things exciting with a hefty dose of spectacle. I can't reveal many details (I wouldn't want to spoil most of them anyway), but there are times where the game practically changes genres and turns into something else entirely. It's the kind of thing you'd expect from a bad licensed game trying to brag about how many experiences they have on the back of the box, but each of these moments in Bayonetta 3 is frankly so awesome that I don't care if they're a little under-baked, and most of them are polished enough that they aren't frustrating or boring to actually play. These brief genre shifts punctuate the traditional combat encounters to create an unforgettable experience that almost defies description.
Of course when I say "most of them" aren't frustrating, naturally I mean that there are a few duds. The most blatant failure in my eyes is the Side Chapters, which have you take control of Bayonetta's close confidant Jeanne in a side-scrolling stealth mission. These chapters are clunky, lacking the effortless fluidity that ties the rest of the game together, and despite the name they are mandatory to progress through the story. The side chapters are mercifully short, but they serve as a good reminder that while Bayonetta 3 hits more than it misses, things can be especially frustrating when it does occasionally miss.
Bayonetta 3 is the kind of game that makes you wonder where a series could possibly go from here, because I can't imagine a sequel being bigger or better than this. Platinum Games pulled out all the stops for this one, both expanding on the Bayonetta franchise as it was and learning from other games they made in years between to bring the franchise to a new peak. The game is constantly swinging for the fences, and while it may strike out a few times it manages to hit plenty of home runs in the process. It’s been nearly five years since Bayonetta 3 was first announced, and after years of silence it finally seems that it was absolutely worth the wait.