With Bayonetta 3 teased as a Nintendo Switch exclusive, it’s finally time for the sassy Umbra Witch to cartwheel a flurry of bullets onto the hybrid handheld hardware in anticipation. Much like Bayonetta 2, the original instalment in the action-adventure series has been retooled for Switch, and while this isn’t first time the franchise has been ported to Ninty machines (both featured on Wii U in 2014) you’re getting the very best version of the game yet.
Yes, technically the PC version runs that bit smoother and looks that bit glossier, but regardless of the specs purring away in your tower, Bayonetta looks, feels and is perfectly suited to Swich’s compact yet versatile platform. The Wii U port was serviceable, but it was prone to some muddy textures and painful amounts of slowdown - a crime for a game as fast-paced and deadly accurate as this. Thankfully, those issues have been resolved and runs so smooth you’d fooled into thinking you were playing it on an Xbox 360, the game's original target platform.
Before we get too deep into the changes, let’s break delve into what makes Bayonetta such a timeless classic - and more importantly, why you should be dusting off those giant, angel-slaying pistols on Switch. As the spiritual successor to the Devil May Cry series, Bayonetta is an ultra-violent action romp crossed with the world’s most acrobatic, hair-related interpretive dance class. With guns in each hand (and strapped to either high heel) the titular witch uses magic, melee attacks and an endless stream of bullets as she carves a path across the palatial streets of heaven and the blackened caverns of hell.
Many see this as developer Platinum Games’ magnus opus - and it’s easy to see why. The sheer depth at hand when it comes to combos is still astounding for a game that originally came out in 2009. With a vast and wonderfully diverse series of enemies and bosses, knowing how to apply these moves and which ones work best strung together turns every battle into a blood-drenched puzzle. You can, of course, dial things down to Easy or Very Easy mode, but the surprisingly challenging Normal difficulty and beyond is where the game’s true heart lies.
It’s a challenging game - one that will reap chunks of health from you should you mistime a dodge or commit too heavily to the wrong combo - but it’s a fair one. While the sequel ultimately made that formula that bit more forgiving, that extra bite in the original makes it something truly special. And there are many variances to empower you; timing your dodges perfectly unlocks Witch Time, a brief pocket of slow-mo for unleashing some wicked punishment. You can even transform into a panther and leap across giant chasms, or conjure hellish beasts - made from hair, naturally - and crush, dismember and eat your foes. From its gloriously grand boss fights to a steady flow of game-changing mechanics, it's a game that consistently surprises and effortlessly empowers.
It should be said that the titular witch isn’t the most PC of characters, especially in the more self-aware age we live in today. Whether you see her as a strong and confident female character that fights her own battles and takes no BS from anyone (even the giant bosses), or as an over-sexualised caricature more akin to a teenage boy’s ultimate fantasy, she’s still one of the most memorable heroines of the last decade. There are, perhaps, a few too many zooms in on her derriere and the sexual innuendo comes in such a constant flow you’d think you were starring in a Carry On film from the ’60s, but Bayonetta is ultimately a mature game aimed at an adult audience. Then again, the buckets of blood and endless violence might have been the first clue.
So, let’s get back to what’s new and different. As we mentioned earlier, the Switch version of Bayonetta runs far smoother than the 2014 Wii U port. With a more powerful GPU and CPU at its disposal you’re treated to a consistent frame rate and minimal screen tearing. The camera is still a little clunky, especially when things get a little heated, but it’s something you simply adapt to the more you play. Quick Time Events, sadly, are still a thing in this version of the game, and they’re just as unfair and utterly redundant as they were in 2009. Thankfully, the Switch version is forgiving with its checkpointing (and impressively swift with its loading times) so while having to retry is frustrating, at least you’re not being doubly punished from a logistical standpoint.
The biggest change are the touchscreen controls. In the Wii U version, the single-touch setup of the GamePad made controlling something as fast-paced as Bayonetta a consistent exercise in frustration. On Switch, this control method has been completely revamped. The system’s capacitive display allows for more precise movements so moving Bayonetta around the screen in handheld mode is breeze, as is swiping back to evade or pressing down on an enemy to automatically attack. More complicated moves don’t translate to the touchscreen so it’s not a full experience, but hats off to the developer for finally nailing the application.
The intense action of Bayonetta does make it a little intense to play in handheld mode, at least to begin with. If you’re switching between portability and a traditional TV, the transition can be a little jarring when shrunk down to Switch’s 6.2-inch screen, but if you’re playing longer sessions in handheld the smaller screen real estate eventually becomes the norm. Even the sometimes muddy textures of this ageing classic look a little crisper in this format, despite the assets being almost a decade old.
If you're buying Bayonetta 2 on Switch (as we imagine you probably are) then you'll get a copy of Bayonetta for free as a digital download. You can also download it separately, but it'll set you back a good £25 so it's worth investing in the bundle if you want to make your pennies go a little further.
After almost a decade Bayonetta is starting to show her age, but that doesn’t stop this hyperactive melee/shooter action mashup from being one of the most rewarding and memorable cult hits of the previous generation. Retooled for Nintendo Switch, one of Platinum Games’ most accomplished titles feels revitalised in both handheld and tabletop modes, serving up a meaty first course in the full witchy buffet to come.