What's the greatest pure action game series of all time? Is it Ninja Gaiden? Max Payne? Devil May Cry or something else entirely? Whatever your own personal preferences in this regard, one certainty is that there are only a handful of franchises which have truly managed to knock it out of the park with regards to serving up a nigh-on perfect parade of absolute bangers. With Bayonetta 3, PlatinumGames' series gets to take its place very high up this most exclusive of lists, as this latest outing for their unstoppable Umbra Witch makes for a pretty much untouchable hack-and-slash trilogy.
It's been a very long wait, eight whole years in total, since we last stepped into the gun-strapped shoes of everyone's favourite angel hunter, but she's finally back and faster, better, and stronger than ever. We didn't dare believe that Bayonetta 3 could live up to the showstopping highs of its superlative predecessors, but within just the first hour or so of this third helping of absolute chaos, we knew we were in for something truly special.
What PlatinumGames has served up here is a threequel that takes the delicious core combat of the first two Bayonetta games, that finely balanced masterwork of considered combos and carefully timed dodges, and adds a bunch of new mechanics that raise the whole thing up to an entirely new level without the slightest negative affect on what makes this series feel so fantastic in the first place. We had our concerns that Bayonetta 3's Infernal Demons, those great big showy monstrosities you can now summon to fight by your side, could shift the balance away from the fantastically tight combos and Witch Time magic that's made these games such an endless joy to return to repeatedly over the years, but we're actually getting to have our cake and eat it here as this is the best this series' combat has ever been.
The screen-shaking side-kicks you can now call on to assist you in battle are such a fantastic fit, such a perfectly realised addition to the madness, that we honestly can't imagine a Bayo game without them going forward. Summoning a great big Godzilla-style reptile, sexy demon butterfly lady, enormous hell spider, poison rain-spewing frog, or charging crimson war train to cut through your enemies with the touch of a button takes a moment or two to get used to, that's for sure, but once you've got the hang of it you'll never look back.
Each and every infernal demon in the game has its own set of moves to get to grips with, they all imbue Bayonetta with new weapons and methods of traversal to add to her already generous array of tricks and skills, and they've been layered into the combat in such a way that you can't just spam them willy-nilly, you need to consider when to deploy them — during Witch Time is always a good shout — lest your enemies tear them to shreds and you temporarily lose the ability to summon them in a tight spot.
Bayonetta 3's biggest new additions add a delightful new wrinkle to core combat that was already deliciously deep stuff, and they fit into the general mood of this third adventure perfectly, too. Everything about this game is extreme, as you would hope. It's no-holds-barred stuff; crazy, camp, OTT mayhem that flits from one massive battle to the next, throwing new mechanics into the mix here, there, and everywhere for one-off sequences and never resting on its laurels as its blasts you across the globe and through a multiverse of massive enemies, returning characters and surprises aplenty.
You've then got multiple playable protagonists to add to this delirious mix. Again, we weren't sure about this at first. Do we really want to relinquish control of the sublime Bayonetta to spend time as Jeanne or Viola? As it turns out, absolutely we do. Viola plays a significant part in the plot here, a plot we'll be spoiling absolutely none of in this review, and she's a surprisingly different proposition to Bayo, a hard-hitting fighter who's not as quick on her feet, she makes up for her lack of grace with some ferocious combos of sword attacks that see her absolutely whaling on enemies, her lack of discipline and experience showing through in how she completely loses it during extended flurries.
The biggest difference in taking control of Viola, though, is that her version of Witch Time is activated not by dodging, but by blocking with her sword. It sounds like a small change, but those slinky Bayo dodges are baked into our brains at this stage and so it takes a little time to remember, you may find yourself getting battered as you struggle to get to grips with it — and these early moments are when you'll question the wisdom of having Viola take control for entire chapters — but stick with it and it all clicks into place.
Jeanne also gets her own series of side missions, stages which switch the action to a side-scrolling perspective for stealth-centric segments of Mission Impossible-styled espionage. Again, we weren't sure when the first one of these side sorties kicked off, but the sheer style and confidence in how they've been added to the mix sells it all and the narrative strand here feeds back nicely into the main campaign as the game reaches it's absolutely off-the-wall climax.
There are smaller tweaks to the action here, too, with more streamlined switching out of weapons being one of the most welcome changes. There's no more need to consider each of Bayo's limbs individually, you can simply place your favourite weapons as sets in the pause menu and then switch them out on the fly as you batter your way through battles, mixing up your guns and your traversal options as needed depending on the challenges you're currently facing. There are so many moving parts; the multiple protagonists, infernal demons, weapons, traversal methods...absolutely tons of stuff to get your head around, and it's incredible really that it all fits together as wonderfully as it does.
Level design has also seen a noticeable shake-up this time around, with much bigger and more open spaces to investigate. You'll get locked down into arenas as combat sequences get underway, but the rest of the time you've got plenty of real estate to investigate at your leisure using your various new traversal methods and skills to find the many collectibles, combat challenges, secrets and hidden battles the game has in store for you. There's tons of variety here, too. This is a game that blasts you around the globe and through multiple versions of reality and, without spoiling any surprises, almost every chapter has some crazy new gimmick or unique aspect thrown into the mix to keep you on your toes.
Of course, one of the main draws of the Bayonetta series is the depth that the combat offers to those of us who wish to really dig deep, to replay levels, perfect sequences, and earn platinum trophies for every single battle and chapter in the game. Bayonetta 3 doesn't lose sight of this amidst the chaos. There are tons of awards to earn here, from platinum medals to chapter-specific challenges. Each Infernal Demon — every playable character — has their own skill tree full of unlockable moves, there's a practice arena to jump into, and countless dizzying combos to get your head around. Even towards the very end of the game you're still having brand new demons, weapons, and traversal options thrown at you, right up until the very last encounter in fact, which speaks to an experience that's designed from the ground up to be replayed incessantly. Your first run through Bayonetta 3 is honestly just preparation for the real challenges that lie in store when you return to crank up the heat.
With tougher difficulty modes (and a bunch of other stuff we can't mention) to unlock, and online leaderboards for every single chapter, this is a game we're going to be pressing and prodding at for some time to come. It's also a blast for more casual action fans who just want to jump in for the spectacle. There's a casual mode that makes even the biggest fights properly approachable, and you can even turn the semi-nudity off if that's not your cup of tea, either. Of course, you can jump down to the Gates of Hell too, where Rodin hosts a fine selection of items to tweak, toughen and simplify to suit your play level. Want to make big combos easier to pull off? There's an accessory for that. Fancy making things even harder for yourself? Rodin has got your back.
It's equally impressive, too, that all of this chaos, all of the fighting up the sides of skyscrapers, explosive chase sequences, monstrous Kaiju battles, tsunamis, out-of-control cruise ships and so much more besides, has landed on Switch in a package that's surprisingly solid in terms of performance. Yes, the camera can lose its way a little bit on rare occasions when ferocious battles happen in tight spaces, and yes, there's some noticeable resolution scaling in handheld when things get ultra-crazy, but it's all perfectly acceptable and understandable in order to keep that framerate smooth enough to let the action flow. This really is a fantastic-looking game for Switch too, easily one of the flashiest experiences on Nintendo's hybrid console, and we've enjoyed our time with it equally split between our TV and in handheld.
We guess we should also mention the voice-acting at this point. It's certainly been the cause of plenty of discussion in the build-up to the game's release and, whatever the full story happens to be with regards to Hellena Taylor's exit from voicing the lead role, you can rest assured that Jennifer Hale does a top-notch job with a performance that's instantly recognisable as Bayonetta, hitting all the right notes whilst bringing just enough new elements to the party that it feels like a character refreshed and renewed. The rest of the crew do a great job too, we should add, and Enzo, Rodin, Luka, and more all return in fine form for a proper party here.
Overall then, the eight-year wait has been more than worth it. Bayonetta 3 is the best game in the series. Yes, we just said that. This is a third entry in one of the all-time great action franchises that improves the already top-notch core combat, takes the series' level design and exploration aspects to new heights and gives us a cracking story to dig into that's topped off with one of the best...one of the absolutely maddest and goofiest endings to a game we've ever seen. It's a pure celebration of all things Bayonetta that everyone with even the slightest interest in this genre needs to check out at the earliest opportunity. It's not often we get emotional at the climax of an all-out action game, but this one brings all the feels with a great big dollop of delightful nostalgia to send us dancing on our merry way. The witch is back, baby, and she's better than ever.
Bayonetta 3 cranks up the chaos, improves the combat, polishes the level design, and adds a ton of new mechanics to the mix, making for the very best entry in this storied series to date. PlatinumGames has absolutely nailed it this time around, carefully layering on more ways to engage enemies, piling on the OTT gameplay sequences, and giving us multiple protagonists without upsetting the balance of what makes these games amongst the very best examples of their genre. With solid performance in docked and handheld modes, impressive visuals, non-stop action, and a hugely replayable campaign that's a joy from start to finish, this really is a huge celebration of everything we love about Bayonetta, an action all-timer and one of the gaming highlights of 2022 so far, on Switch or any other platform.