Bayonetta 3 review: Brutal, stylish combat pushes Switch to the limit

Bayonetta 3 is an ambitious and refined action game, let down by aging hardware

bayonetta 3
(Image: © Nintendo)

Tom's Guide Verdict

Bayonetta 3 takes what worked about the first two games and continues to refine it, from the balletic combat, to the diverse assortment of wacky characters, to the snarky sense of humor. Aging Switch hardware means that the performance is uneven, however, and the difficulty curve can sometimes swing a little too far toward “punishing.” Still, if you’ve been eager to join the titular witch on her latest adventure, you probably won’t be disappointed.

Pros

  • +

    Slick, action-packed gameplay

  • +

    Lots of variety

  • +

    Charming characters

  • +

    Robust character customization

Cons

  • -

    Visual and performance issues

  • -

    Occasionally punishing difficulty

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Bayonetta 3 is probably not the kind of game you’d associate with the Switch. This is not a family-friendly platformer about a beloved mascot character, or a pick-up-and-play multiplayer title where a single Joy-Con can control all the action. Rather, Bayonetta 3 is a tough-as-nails action game with an expletive-laden script, a subversive sense of humor and provocative protagonist. This is a game where a mostly naked woman devours demons with her hair, then slams down Biblical angels with a gigantic high heel. And when it’s firing on all cylinders, it’s incredibly fun.

Fans of the first two games have waited a long time for Bayonetta 3, as it’s been eight years since Bayonetta 2 came out. By and large, the game was worth the wait. While Bayonetta 3 doesn’t do anything radically new with the established series formula, it’s still a stylish action game with a weird story, an eclectic cast of characters and a general sense of cheeky fun. Say what you will about Bayonetta 3, but you’re probably not going to find another game quite like it this year.

However, Bayonetta 3 is a Nintendo Switch exclusive, and as such, it’s shackled to a piece of hardware that can’t fully deliver on its balletic combat and distinctive art style. The game is also incredibly difficult — sometimes in a way that feels satisfying, but sometimes in a way that feels exhausting.

Nonetheless, unless you count the first two games, there’s nothing else quite like Bayonetta 3 on the Switch, and that’s a strong selling point in and of itself. Read on for our full Bayonetta 3 review.

Bayonetta 3 review: Gameplay

bayonetta 3

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Like the last two games in the series, Bayonetta 3 is a cinematic action game, where defeating the multitude of enemies onscreen is arguably secondary to racking up stylish combos. You take control of the titular witch as she punches, kicks and shoots her way through a variety of angels, demons and “Homunculi” — partially human foes that can traverse dimensions. When you’re not pounding enemies into submission, you can also explore levels for hidden upgrades and collectibles, buy items and gear from an interdimensional shop, or spend orbs earned in battle to buy new skills.

Bayonetta 3 review: Specs

Platform: Nintendo Switch

Price: $60

Release Date: October 28, 2022

Genre: Action/adventure

Combat is at the core of Bayonetta 3, and it’s usually delightful. You can string together punches, kicks and gunshots (Bayonetta wields two guns in her hands, and two more in her high heels) to damage enemies, both on the ground and in the air. You can also equip a variety of weapons, from the gigantic, unwieldy G-Pillar gun, to the oddly satisfying Ignis Araneae Yo-Yo, which means there’s something for heavy hitters, agile fighters and everyone in-between. The combos themselves often have flashy finishing moves, with giant wings, firebolts or energy explosions to liven up the battlefield. If you complete battles quickly, with elegant combos and without taking much damage, you’ll get a better rating at the end of the stage. Most of the time, Bayonetta 3 feels intuitive and satisfying.

However, Bayonetta and Bayonetta 2 both had high difficulty curves that occasionally veered into frustation, and Bayonetta 3 follows suit. Dodging enemy attacks at exactly the right moment triggers “Witch Time,” which stops time for a few valuable seconds so that you can get in a few free hits on the enemy. But dodging has almost no margin for error, and you’ll often dodge too early, which is useless, or too late, which will still get you pummeled. While you can buy plenty of healing items, taking a lot of damage ensures that you’ll end the stage with a pretty dismal rating. Later on, when you play as another witch named Viola, you’ll have to parry for Witch Time rather than dodge, and this requires even more severe timing.

There’s also no great way to see enemy attacks offscreen, so you’ll often take damage from attacks you can’t even see — unless you’re willing to micromanage the camera every few seconds, which is also no fun. Some of the optional combat scenarios put nearly impossible restrictions on you, such as fighting in midair with a bottomless pit underneath you, or maintaining a single combo for an entire battle.

That said, even if you’ll sometimes be frustrated with Bayonetta 3, you’ll never be bored. The game has a tremendous amount of variety, and switches up your objectives frequently. In addition to playing as both Bayonetta and Viola (who wields a katana and chargeable throwing stars), you’ll also take control of series regular Jeanne for side-scrolling stealth missions, solve environmental puzzles, take control of giant monsters to fight other large monstrosities and experience a few other mechanics that I can’t discuss quite yet. They don’t all work equally well, but Bayonetta 3 is a game with a lot of interesting ideas, and it's usually worth playing just to see which new feature you’ll find next.

Bayonetta 3 review: Customization

bayonetta 3

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Another area where Bayonetta 3 succeeds is in its robust customization. Both Bayonetta and Viola have upgradeable skill trees, and you’ll earn more than enough orbs to unlock new abilities frequently. You can also change their outfits, color schemes and hairstyles, which doesn’t have any effect on gameplay, but is still fun if you enjoy the series’ fashion sense.

The more substantial customization element comes from the various demons that Bayonetta can equip, however. As the game progresses, Bayonetta will befriend various summonable spirits, including the sultry Madama Butterfly, the draconic Gomorrah, the arachnoid Phantasmaraneae and more. Each demon comes with a different weapon to equip and skill tree to advance; you can also summon these creatures in battle for as long as your limited magic pool lasts. While I wish controlling the demons felt a little smoother (you’re still vulnerable to attack, so they’re often not worth the trouble), choosing and upgrading your favorites can help your Bayonetta build feel unique.

The only major downside here is that health and magic upgrades are few and far-between, and Bayonetta and Viola don't share them. This often leaves one character feeling underpowered, and if you’re stuck in a tough session, your only choice is to bring plenty of healing items and power through. It’s a frustrating aspect of what is otherwise an enjoyable two-character system.

Bayonetta 3 review: Story

bayonetta 3

(Image credit: Nintendo)

After grappling with the forces of heaven in the first game and a wayward god in the second, Bayonetta takes on a new foe called the Singularity in her latest outing. A powerful force has been tearing apart the Multiverse, and our world seems to be the entity’s next target. By teaming up with her steadfast allies Jeanne, Luka, Enzo and Rodin, as well as a newcomer witch named Viola, Bayonetta travels the Multiverse to gather five powerful Chaos Gears and take on the Singularity directly.

The story in Bayonetta 3 is a pretty standard “gather the doodads” yarn, but it works well enough as a showcase for the strong cast. As always, Bayonetta is one of the more interesting protagonists in modern gaming. Sassy, snarky and sarcastic, Bayonetta is withering without being mean, and titillating without being sexist. From her endless supply of one-liners to her signature sashay, Bayonetta is perhaps one of the only protagonists who could carry a game this bizarre.

In fact, since the game takes place throughout the Multiverse, one joy of Bayonetta 3 is seeing different versions of the character, from a Japanese hip-hop Bayonetta who fights with yo-yos, to a Chinese steampunk Bayonetta who conducts a demonic train. Viola, too, is a worthwhile new character, combining a punk rock aesthetic with a sometimes-sweet, sometimes-vicious personality that adapts to fit the situation.

Bayonetta 3 review: Visuals and sound

bayonetta 3

(Image credit: Nintendo)

My biggest issue with Bayonetta 3 is that the Nintendo Switch doesn’t seem fully equipped to handle it. The art style and color palette are striking, with bold characters, outrageous outfits and a pervasive purple aesthetic that ties together most of the characters and battle effects. But the actual graphics themselves look jagged and grainy, and even the most densely populated levels have only about a dozen characters onscreen at once. While Bayonetta 3 targets a 60 frames-per-second frame rate, the game drops below that frequently on a big screen; even cutscenes stutter frequently. Handheld performance is a little better, and to be fair, combat usually works fine. But it’s easy to imagine just how gorgeous Bayonetta 3 would look on a more powerful system — and just how well it would run.

The music and voice acting, however, are up to usual series standards. The big-band battle theme this time around is a remix of Glenn Miller and Mitchell Parish’s “Moonlight Serenade,” but the other tracks sound equally catchy and inspired. Viola’s battle theme in particular is a Joan Jett pastiche for the ages.

Hellena Taylor does not reprise her role as Bayonetta here, and there’s been some controversy behind the scenes around that. While Jennifer Hale is a perfectly serviceable replacement — and one of the best voice actors in the business — Taylor’s absence is still palpable.

Bayonetta 3 review: Verdict

bayonetta 3

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Compared to Bayonetta 2, Bayonetta 3 Is not quite as slick. The battles feel a little more punishing, the technical performance isn’t as strong, and the villain is not as charismatic. 

Bayonetta 3 wasn’t exactly worth waiting eight long years for. But taken on its own merits, it’s still quite a good game. The combat is strong, the characters are charming, and the art style is striking, even if the Switch can’t quite make the most of it.

Bayonetta 3 is an easy recommendation for fans of the first two — but if you’ve never played those, they’re also available on the Switch, and well worth a look. Bayonetta isn’t a perfect series, but it has a distinctive sensibility and a protagonist who’s not quite like anyone else in mainstream gaming. Bayonetta 3 — like Bayonetta herself — is imperfect, but positively overflowing with style.

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.