Bayonetta 3 preview - A magical return to form

Image of Bayonetta in Bayonetta 3.

Image of Bayonetta in Bayonetta 3.

It's hard to believe that it has been almost a decade since Bayonetta 2. PlatinumGames' hack-and-slash behemoth has fast become one of Nintendo's most popular first-party franchises, with the eponymous witch stacking up nicely alongside stalwarts such as Mario and Kirby. A more bloody and violent alternative, yes, but a bona fide Nintendo icon nonetheless.

But the spectacled hero has been missing since the Switch landed, aside from re-releases of the first two games to give Nintendo fans a handheld dose of magical action on the go. In December 2017, Bayonetta 3 was announced at The Game Awards as a Switch exclusive, but in the years since, news went dry. That is until September 2021, when the game was reintroduced to the world as a bombastic return for one of Nintendo's only grown-up franchises.

It's within that context, of the character being absent for eight years, that Bayonetta 3 finally lands on the horizon. I've had the chance to play through a good amount of the game so far, and while I won't reveal too much in this preview, it's shaping up to be yet another action-packed and riveting entry in the series.

Image of Bayonetta fighting Homunculi on a train in Bayonetta 3.
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Supernatural battling

Of course, the crux of any Bayonetta game is the combat. If battling feels sluggish or floaty, you're just not going to envelop yourself in the high-octane action and increasingly wacky scenarios found within the series. Fortunately, from what I've tried out PlatinumGames has nailed it once again. Bayo's punches, kicks, and gunshots from the iconic Colour My World pistols feel weighty and powerful, and ever so moreish. Equally, the game employs excellent coordination with the Joy-Con to provide constant haptic feedback, with detailed vibration both during action and cutscenes, that makes the action even more engrossing.

The combat is tighter and more rewarding than ever before, with so many combos and special moves to help Bayonetta wipe through wave after wave of gloopy enemies. The handiest mechanic by far is Witch Time, where she slows down the passage of time if you perform a dodge just before being hit. It lets you cram in coveted extra hits against hulking enemies, and adds a layer of skill to combat that could otherwise boil down to button-mashing and hoping for the best.

Importantly, Bayonetta 3 knows exactly how to use that water-tight combat system to its advantage, by dishing out a constant barrage of set pieces that truly never let up. In this preview I experienced fights with gloopy grunts in a rapidly speeding train carriage, being chased by a kaiju-sized demon tearing apart the city, before transforming into a Demon Slave to ride along falling buildings within this crumbling metropolis. That's followed by a separate sequence a few chapters later, where you clamber across a battle-ruined ancient castle to find an old friend. The action truly never lets up, and while it can get slightly exhausting, it's vintage, unfiltered Bayonetta.

Image of Viola battling Homunculi in Bayonetta 3.
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A new face

One of Bayonetta 3's big swings is the introduction of a new playable character, the novice witch Viola. She's far less refined in her skills than Bayonetta, and comes with a completely different set of moves. It's an ambitious attempt to diversify the spearheads of the franchise, but so far Viola just isn't as fun to play as her spectacled counterpart. Looking like an intergalactic Avril Lavigne, she's full of wide-eyed whimsy on a writing level, but lacks the same fluid movement and sharp combat. She does, however, add a new dimension to the game's tone, with plenty of silly moments to keep things light. On top of that, she plays a key role in this entry's story, but I'll keep tight-lipped on that for now.

But none of this is to say that what I've played so far was without flaws. The Switch isn't the most powerful console on the market and Bayonetta 3 truly pushes it to its limits, with performance occasionally stuttering as a result. The frame rate tends to hold steady, even when the screen is packed with adversaries, but pop-in is a problem in the larger hub areas you'll explore. It's less noticeable in docked mode, but something to be aware of nonetheless.

At its core, the main thing a Bayonetta game needs is punchy combat and both a world and story interesting enough to prevent sensory overload from the ceaseless action. So far, Bayonetta 3 is managing exactly that, yet again establishing itself as one of the most action-packed and combat-laden games on the market. Fans will have to see how the final product turns out, but it's great to see this brand of wacky, balls-to-the-wall action marking its stamp on Switch.

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