As I touched upon in my preview, Bayonetta 3 marks an important stamp in contemporary Nintendo output. Few Switch-exclusive franchises are this willing to be outright violent, raunchy, and adult, and the time I spent with Bayonetta 3 prior to this review affirmed that. As such, it's always heartening to see resources poured into games that buck your expectations, and add a new notch to Nintendo's belt of first-party output.
Therefore, it's a pleasure to tell you that Bayonetta 3 more than lives up to the hype, and warrants the eight-year wait for this latest entry. The combat is as fluid as ever, the story is engaging, and newcomers to the series like myself can dive in without worrying about getting lost in all the mayhem. You may occasionally feel exhausted, but Bayonetta 3 is quite unlike any other action game on Switch.
If you've spent the best part of a decade yearning for this third entry, curious as to where the series can go and up the ante even further, you won't be disappointed. It's bombastic, relentlessly action-packed, and crucially, bloody fun to play.
A witch across worlds
If you've never played a Bayonetta game before, the first few hours can be disorienting. That was the case for me, as PlatinumGames throws you straight into the deep end, with a barrage of set pieces that constantly up the ante. The moment you've taken down a hulking boss, something new emerges for Bayonetta to tackle, and it really is an initiation by fire.
Things settle down in the first few chapters, as the nuanced multiverse plot starts to unravel. This time around, Bayonetta has to tackle an army of gloopy slime monsters called the Homunculi, who are hopping across universes to merge them all into one Alphaverse and destroy it. Multiverses are all the rage in contemporary media right now, and while it's not the most original setup, it does allow Bayonetta 3 to present a number of inventive locales for you to visit.
A good amount of your time is spent as Viola, a newcomer to the series in Bayonetta 3. She's far less proficient with her magical abilities than the eponymous witch, and the game takes her a lot less seriously as a result. Viola's often stumbling through combat or even just bumbling around, with her hulking cat sidekick, Cheshire, providing witty but slightly terrifying comic relief.
But of course, the focus is still on Bayonetta herself. She plays a more experienced role this time around, hopping across universes to collect the five Chaos Gears required to prevent the collapse of the multiverse. It's a swashbuckling adventure across spectrum-hopping worlds, that also digs a little more deeply into Bayonetta as a character.
That isn't to say that Bayonetta 3 is a character-driven, plot-focused odyssey. It isn't. The combat and set pieces are far and away the focus here, and the plot mostly functions as the connective tissue to string these scenarios together. However, long-term fans of the series will enjoy how it deconstructs Bayonetta as a character in its latter stages, with some truly touching moments and surprisingly engaging narrative turns that'll keep you playing.
Hack and slash
Ultimately though, Bayonetta 3 players are here for one thing: the combat. As stated in our preview, it's expertly crafted and refined perfectly for Nintendo Switch, and combat never gets dull during the 11 hours it'll take you to complete the game.
Melee combat is the primary focus, with Bayonetta punching and kicking her way through the gloopy Homunculi and near-endless cast of bosses. Combos come in thick and fast, and in between levels you can practice new combinations and moves in a training hub. One downside here is that each different move type is mapped to a different face button, but the game shows you an icon representing the move, rather than the input button itself. Therefore, it can be frustrating to remember which icon correlates to which button. I often ended up not bothering to learn new combos given how unclearly they're communicated.
But if you want to go down the button-mashing route, that's a more than adequate approach. I played on normal difficulty, and never found myself especially stuck on a section or boss fight, even though they don't all go down in the same way. Newcomers to the series may feel intimidated by the range of upgrades, skills, and weapons, so Bayonetta 3 is wise enough to accommodate those players by crafting combat that's as deep or as accessible as you want it to be.
As mentioned in my preview, it's the new Demon Slave mechanic that shakes up Bayonetta 3's combat the most. These are special beasts you can conjure up during battle, great hulking monsters that do far more damage than Bayonetta herself. There's a dazzling range of demons on offer, from an enlarged version of Madama Butterfly to a train. Yes, an actual locomotive.
These new abilities add so much variety to the gameplay, and add a sheen of tactical nous to your approach in each fight. It can be the difference between whittling down a boss' health bar or being crumbled and having to respawn - not to mention just how cool they are to watch eviscerate enemies.
Sadly, the same can't be said for the gameplay of Viola, who you control for a few chapters throughout the game. It's the same third-person action gameplay, but her skillset is far less rewarding and engaging than Bayonetta's. Instead of guns and fists, she wields a sword that's much more cumbersome, with a smaller variety of attacks. She also doesn't dodge, instead attempting to deflect attacks with her blade, reducing the momentum of the combat quite drastically.
Showing its hand
This may sound like a common complaint for graphically ambitious games on Nintendo Switch, but running Bayonetta 3 isn't the most seamless experience out there. The game performs fine enough, without any notable issues with frame rate during my 11 hours or so with the game.
However, from a graphical perspective, it definitely reveals the limitations of Nintendo's five-year-old hardware. Some cutscenes really don't look great, with occasions where one would load in at a blurry resolution before eventually levelling out to a higher definition. Character models also look fairly pixelated in handheld mode, and it does make you wonder how impressive this game, especially some of its giant monsters and ambitious landscapes, could look on a more powerful platform.
That's the price PlatinumGames is willing to pay for Nintendo exclusivity, and it's somewhat vindicated by just how attuned to the Switch hardware this game is. It's staggeringly impressive how steadily the game maintains its frame rate, even while playing in handheld mode with a screen laden with slimy enemies. You won't be blown away by the graphics, but stick it on a nice TV and Bayonetta 3 will look adequate enough.
But you probably won't even notice the graphical shortcomings while enveloped in the near-ceaseless ream of combat that Bayonetta 3 lays out for its players. No other action games go quite as balls-to-the-wall adrenaline-fuelled as Bayonetta, and this third entry will no doubt satisfy the expectations of fans who have been waiting for so long.
Don't expect a game-changing story, and don't expect seamless visuals, and you're in for a tale that's twisty, planet-hopping, and occasionally quite tender. Most of all, though, it's an action-packed romp that re-establishes the eponymous spectacled witch as one of gaming's most iconic action heroes.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch. A code was provided by the publisher.