Bayonetta 3 represents a fork in the road for developer Platinum Games. After the fallout of live service disaster Babylon’s Fall, I worried that the team might be at the start of a downward trajectory.
Within the first twenty minutes, Bayonetta 3 crushed my fears into dust under its enormous, demonic heel. Though it was first teased five years ago – character action games like Astral Chain and Devil May Cry 5 stealing the limelight in its absence – the time’s been used well.
As ever, you are the titular Bayonetta, a centuries-old witch often tasked with protecting the world from vicious angels and demons alike. The third entry differs quite considerably, though, with Bayo hopping between different worlds and timelines to stop the Homunculi – half-human monstrosities hell-bent on destruction.
Bayonetta 3 looks, plays and feels like a game that would take over half a decade to make. Pushing the Nintendo Switch to its absolute limits, every single set piece is an involving thrill ride that makes Call of Duty’s penchant for the ridiculous seem utterly tame in comparison.
Bayonetta frequently warps between starkly different worlds and dimensions, often in rapid succession. It can feel like you’re seeing more variety here than other games would stretch out over an entire campaign.
Within the first two hours, you’re exploring a mysterious, fairy tale-esque island named Thule. Minutes later, you’re suddenly in control of Bayonetta’s kaiju-like Gomorrah form, literally surfing across Tokyo buildings that are bending under you in real-time. In another moment, you’re fighting on trains packed with foes as the camera seamlessly swoops around to reveal the devastating destruction of the city around you.
In short, Bayonetta 3 goes all out. Between the frenetic combat, bombastic set pieces and joyous performances from its flamboyant cast of misfits, Bayonetta 3 is a game that has me smiling ear to ear like its demonic, tricycle-riding take on the Cheshire Cat.
Stylin' on 'em
Bayonetta 3 doesn’t shy from its roots. Combat is tough, but fair. Every hit Bayonetta takes is visually marked by a rose breaking apart, and I wince slightly every time it happens, thinking “I could’ve dodged that.”
But as has always been the case in Platinum’s games, the best defense is a good offense. Bayonetta’s exhaustive combo list wouldn’t look out of place in Tekken, and you can combine punches, kicks and ranged attacks with her pistols. You’ll be introduced to more weapons as you progress, like the devastating G-Pillar artillery cannon, which completely changes Bayo’s move set.
Arguably her most iconic maneuver (and the bane of all Super Smash Bros. for Wii U players), Witch Time – a powerful dodge that briefly slows down time for everyone but Bayonetta herself – returns. And as ever, it’s wildly satisfying to perfectly dodge an attack and wail on an enemy while they’re doomed to move at a fraction of their normal speed.
Bayonetta 3 also adds an all-new mechanic: the Demon Slave dance. Bound to ZL on the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller, it lets Bayo summon demons like the hard-hitting Gomorrah and sultry, support-based Madama Butterfly, briefly making them controllable in battle.
Summoning renders Bayonetta immobile, but the demons can pack a serious punch and lend support in a pinch. At first they can feel like a get-out-of-jail-free card. They hit hard, and can ward enemy attention to them and away from Bayo. But with a little skill you can weave demon attacks into Bayonetta’s combos and vice versa. It’s a skill you’ll need to employ on some of the tougher bosses. Ultimately, though, it’s fantastic to see Bayonetta’s move set expand so dramatically.
Bayonetta 3 can almost leave you breathless as you dart from combat to set piece to exploratory area and right back into combat. On the Nintendo Switch, this means it’s punching above what the console can comfortably handle when it comes to performance.
Bayonetta 3’s abundance of mayhem means that it can’t quite hold its 60fps target. Bombastic set pieces often dip to around the 30-40fps range, which (charitably) lends them a cinematic flair, but can be extremely jarring when you’re launched into one right after a combat encounter.
Combat itself fares better, sticking close to that silky smooth 60fps. I noticed that it still has a habit of dipping when there’s a lot of enemies on-screen, though. Hopefully Bayonetta 3’s framerate issues can be smoothed out come launch, as it’s the area that definitely needs the most work. It’s far from ‘PS3 port of Bayonetta 1’ bad, but noteworthy all the same.
Thankfully, the rest of Bayonetta 3, so far, has been phenomenal. I’ve loved this series since the start and it’s familiar in all the best ways. Dodgy framerates aside, the game’s polished to a mirror sheen and refines the series’ excellent combat with new abilities, weapons and over-the-top set pieces that have so far left me speechless.
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Rhys is TRG's Hardware Editor, and has been part of the TechRadar team for more than two years. Particularly passionate about high-quality third-party controllers and headsets, as well as the latest and greatest in fight sticks and VR, Rhys strives to provide easy-to-read, informative coverage on gaming hardware of all kinds. As for the games themselves, Rhys is especially keen on fighting and racing games, as well as soulslikes and RPGs.