Bayonetta 3 hands-on: Delightfully weird

bayonetta 3
(Image credit: Nintendo)

We’ve been waiting eight years for Bayonetta 3, and from what I’ve seen so far, it should be worth the wait. Just like Bayonetta and Bayonetta 2, Bayonetta 3 features tight gameplay, a killer soundtrack and an unmatched sense of style. This is a game where the titular witch will dance her way through a horde of demons, juggling them in midair with bright-purple guns embedded into her high heels, before she stops time to pummel her foes with punches and kicks. Then, all of her clothes will fly off as she takes on a building-sized monster, with a techno remix of a big band standard playing in the background.

Whatever else you can say about Bayonetta 3, it’s extremely hard to play the game without a huge smile plastered on your face.

In fact, having gone hands-on with the game for a good 20 minutes or so at a Nintendo press event, my only complaint about Bayonetta 3 has nothing to do with the game, and everything to do with its hardware. The five-year-old Nintendo Switch simply does not do justice to the sassy Bayonetta, her fashionable weapons or her grotesque foes.

Fly me to the moon

bayonetta 3

(Image credit: Nintendo)

If you’ve never played a Bayonetta game before, it’s difficult to explain what the series is about — or why it’s so much fun. At its core, Bayonetta 3 is a cinematic action game, where you string together combos of punches, kicks and gunshots as you fight off a variety of angels and demons, each of which requires a slightly different strategy to overcome. The intense, rhythmic combat elevates the Bayonetta series over a number of similar action games, as does the catchy soundtrack and cheeky humor.

Bayonetta herself is also a big draw, as she’s not quite like any other protagonist in gaming. On paper, she sounds like a sexist caricature, with long legs, high heels, skintight catsuits and librarian glasses. She uses her hair to summon gigantic monsters that devour her foes, and she does so mostly nude. She restores her health by sucking on comically undersized lollipops, and dances mid-battle to taunt her foes.

But in practice, Bayonetta is a positively delightful character, with an offhand attitude toward saving the world and a clever quip for any situation. The game’s tone strikes the perfect balance between “epic adventure” and “total farce,” and playing as a character like Bayonetta is the perfect way to experience it.

In my Bayonetta 3 demo, things kicked off with Bayonetta squaring off against a host of demons in a subway car. It wasn’t long before she was leaping from track to track, chasing down her enemies in a high-speed pursuit as a cheery pop tune played in the background.

Combat here feels similar to the first two Bayonetta games. I strung together punches, kicks and gunshots, and ended long combos by summoning one of two demons to dish out additional damage. Getting to choose which demons augment your combos is a big selling point in Bayonetta 3, although the storyline will sometimes restrict which ones you can use.

Dodging enemy attacks at the last minute still opens up “Witch Time,” which gives you a few seconds to pummel the enemies without worrying about counterattacks. And Bayonetta still sports a chic set of handguns: a shiny purple matched set called Colour My World.

As the demo progressed, I had to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. Bayonetta summoned Gamora, a giant demon, to square off against an equally monstrous foe that resembled an angular rhinoceros. Gamora used a pair of boats as waterskis and jetted under bridges to pursue the monster. The Japanese army stormed the fashion district of Shibuya to fight the beast, just like in an old Godzilla movie. Bayonetta 3 has clearly not lost the series’ signature sense of humor.

The game is also full of delightful little details that make a big impression. When Bayonetta stands still for more than a few seconds, she’ll pull out a compact and start admiring herself. At one point, she wanders into a store that references another Platinum game, The Wonderful 101. While it’s impossible to say how Bayonetta 3 will measure up to the first two games, it at least seems to possess just as much heart.

And let me play among the stars

bayonetta 3

(Image credit: Nintendo)

However, during my demo, there was one issue that I couldn’t quite get past: the game’s appearance. The Switch was a little underpowered when it debuted five years ago, and now it feels positively archaic in comparison to the PS5, the Xbox Series X and modern gaming PCs. The resolution caps out at 1080p, which makes the game look a bit indistinct on big-screen TVs. The frame rate caps out at 60 frames per second, when Bayonetta’s balletic combos could look more fluid than ever at 120 fps. The color palette feels muted without HDR support.

In the game’s defense, I didn’t encounter any slowdown or visual glitches during my demo. But I also wonder whether that will remain the case for the game’s full runtime (which may be somewhere between 10 and 15 hours, based on the previous titles). Even taking full advantage of the Switch hardware, Bayonetta 3 looks dated, and that’s a shame for a game with such a dynamic art style and colorful world.

Bayonetta 3 will be out on October 28, and Tom’s Guide will have a full review closer to launch. Until then, we can say that action game fans are most likely in for a treat — even if they’ll have to give their eyes some time to adjust.

For more information, read our full Bayonetta 3 review.

Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.