I can see why people love her.
Even when flying head-first into a kaiju’s roaring mouth, the Umbra Witch Bayonetta exudes beauty, grace, and impeccable fashion sense. In Bayonetta 3, each button press and flick of the joystick translates to an attack that looks straight out of a dance number. In this case, one final kick triggers a glorious combo that stomps through the boss’s body with a demon’s foot. My final score adds up with a satisfying chime, flashing silver and gold medals on the screen. “Not so bad!” I think, especially when I spent the last two phases of this boss battle drowning in a vat of lava.
Bayonetta 3 delivers on its promise of a magical action RPG with sophisticated combat. Even with frustrating mini-games and objectives, it’s one of the best action games of 2022 thanks to its style and depth — whether or not you’re familiar with this absolutely bonkers universe.
The end of the world(s)
Viola, a witch-in-training from a collapsed reality, comes to Bayonetta and her fellow Umbra Witch Jeanne with a request to collect five Chaos Gears so that they can take down an omniscient being called Singularity that wants to condense the multiverse into a single reality.
Bayonetta sets out to find these Chaos Gears while Jeanne looks for a scientist named Sigurd who can harness their power. Meanwhile, Viola is put in charge of tracking down Luka Redgrave, yet another character with mysterious connections to the drama unfolding. All of it culminates in a mission to save the multiverse chock full of charming action sequences and comedy.
Bayonetta splits the spotlight with Viola and Jeanne, but she and her “Infernal Demons” star as the playable characters in most chapters. Shout out to Viola, an absolute scene stealer with an earnest personality who provides much of the game’s comic relief. She won me over immediately. Her theme songs also rock, and I look forward to hearing them every time she walks into a fight.
Series newcomers will probably have a hard time understanding the mystical connections between characters and cosmic stakes at play, especially when the plot setup feels as grand and sweeping as Avengers: Endgame. But it’s easy to still enjoy the witty banter and unique personalities that feel like something out of a B-movie. The schlockiness jives with the over-the-top action, but it’s not for players looking for a serious story. It’s colored by the series’ iconic and irreverent humor, particularly how Bayonetta teases and flirts her way through most fight scenes. Bombastic action is the focus amid an easy-to-digest, even if absurd, plot.
Best action RPG of the year
Bayonetta controls her Infernal Demons during battle alongside their matching weapons. For example, her signature Madama Butterfly demon comes with Colour My World pistols that enable her to quickly combo enemies. Then there’s Gomorrah, a slow but heavy hitter. Weapons also help hurdle environmental obstacles with their related Infernal Demon’s abilities, like flying over ledges with Madama Butterfly’s wings. It’s a smart design choice that incorporates an alternate purpose for these battle buddies in overworld puzzles.
Battle combos build up like you would see in a fighting game, and you do more damage and add more points to your score as successive hits land. Some of these combos are super intuitive, like pressing A and B multiple times in a row, but there’s a wide variety of other options that help Bayonetta 3 avoid becoming too much of a button-masher. And, like most fighting games, Bayonetta 3 is easy to learn but difficult to master as a result.
Thankfully, you’re given ample time to experiment with everything in Bayonetta’s toolkit. I focused on mastering Madama Butterfly and Gomorrah, only occasionally using others as needed, like the spider monster that helps you swing through a cluster of buildings. A skill tree adds even more complexity to the combat with unlockable bonuses, skills, and combos. It’s a welcome addition for those that want to customize their playstyle and master all the weapons, but not necessary for those that want to keep it simple. (Full disclosure: I don’t even know what half of mine do.)
Viola wields a katana and magic darts, so like Bayonetta she has options for close combat and ranged attacks. But her fighting style is more aggressive and encourages you to close in on enemies. For example, she parries attacks with her sword to activate Witch Time rather than dodging. She doesn’t control her demon Cheshire like Bayonetta does, but that just means letting him run free while Viola does her own damage.
Combat offers just the right amount of challenge. It helps to memorize the most optimal combos and figure out how to summon monsters mid-combo without getting hit. If all else fails, you can scum through any boss fight by snacking on healing and invincibility lollipops. It’s still not going to be easy, but it helps struggling players live long enough to beat the boss and progress to the next part of the chapter. Some may opt to replay chapters to chase higher scores and better combos.
These mini-games ain’t it
Even with its thrilling combat, Bayonetta 3 falls short when it comes to the “mini-games” in each chapter.
Some of the better ones involve racing in the body of a demon through the rubble of a devastated Tokyo. Meanwhile, kaiju fights sound exciting on paper but aren’t actually that satisfying when your big monster attacks with the speed of a sloth. More experimental mini-games will leave you scratching your head. Figuring out what you’re supposed to be doing in one of these sections often takes longer than blasting your way through a boss battle to earn a gold medal. Vague hints often don’t do enough to lead the player in the right direction. At one point, I was left staring at a purple goal marker on the other side of an unopenable door for 10 minutes before realizing that my frog demon needed to jump on top of the platforms in the room to open it.
Also, my god, the camera. The Bayonetta franchise historically has an issue with chaotic cameras, and it’s as bad as ever here. It’s not fun when the camera randomly zooms into a monster’s armpit, especially when you need to time your dodges. The few camera options available don’t help, either.
Bayonetta 3 delivers everything that franchise devotees and action game lovers could possibly want. You get a responsive, layered combat system and entertaining cutscenes. Unintuitive mini-games and obtuse challenges muddle the overall experience, but still, I’d be hard-pressed to name another game from this year with more in-depth and satisfying real-time combat than this one.
Bayonetta 3 launches on October 28, 2022, for Nintendo Switch which Inverse played for this review.
INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: Every Inverse video game review answers two questions: Is this game worth your time? Are you getting what you pay for? We have no tolerance for endless fetch quests, clunky mechanics, or bugs that dilute the experience. We care deeply about a game’s design, world-building, character arcs, and storytelling come together. Inverse will never punch down, but we aren’t afraid to punch up. We love magic and science-fiction in equal measure, and as much as we love experiencing rich stories and worlds through games, we won’t ignore the real-world context in which those games are made.