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Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon review: charming spinoff has room to grow

Cheshire stares down Cereza in Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon.
Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon
MSRP $59.99
“Even with some tricky controls, Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon offers a charming adventure with surprisingly satisfying solo co-op combat.”
Pros
  • Striking art style
  • Charming tone
  • Clever environmental puzzling
  • Tons of reasons to explore
  • Surprisingly deep combat
Cons
  • Odd as a prequel
  • Tricky solo co-op controls
  • Overly intricate world design

With Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon, developer PlatinumGames has inadvertently set out on a noble, but complicated quest: transform an aging series into something more timeless.

The Bayonetta franchise has always garnered critical acclaim, but it has always come with a heap of baggage that gets heavier with time. That’s largely due to its hyper-sexualized hero, a witch who gets fully naked to summon demons, who has always been hard to fully detach from the misogynistic history of the video games. While queer gaming communities have long tried to reclaim the character, Bayonetta 3’s polarizing romantic conclusion made it clear that the series’ fans and creators may not be on the same page.

Considering that the threequel reopened some heated conversations about the series’ artistic intent, Bayonetta Origins is perhaps the image makeover the Umbra Witch needed — even if it’s not a game anyone asked for. Rather than serving up another ultra-violent beat-em-up full of blood and butts, PlatinumGames has thrown the character into a wholesome Zelda-like that’s presented like a children’s fairytale. It’s enough to give you a case of tonal whiplash, but if any game franchise needed a spine adjustment, it’s this one.

Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon is both a delightful surprise and one of the oddest uses of video game IP imaginable. Enchanting visuals, rewarding exploration, and a surprisingly deep combat system make for a lovely adventure with a classic feel, even if some complicated systems leave room for the little oddity to grow.

Origin story

Bayonetta Origins acts as a prequel to the action series, putting players in control of a very young Cereza. After wandering into a forbidden forest that looks like it grew from a funhouse mirror, she teams up with Cheshire, a demon that possessed her stuffed cat toy, to find her way out. The idea here is to tell a charming coming-of-age story about a young girl finding her voice and self-confidence. It may be a tale as old as time, but that’s a natural fit for a game that builds on a timeless Zelda structure. If you separate the series out and meet the story on its own terms, there’s something sweet and empowering here that could resonate with kids.

I feel like Alice tumbling down into an unfamiliar, yet inviting rabbit hole …

Its role as an actual chapter in an existing franchise’s story is a little less clear-cut. As a prequel, Bayonetta Origins feels so far removed from its predecessors that I’m left to wonder why PlatinumGames didn’t just create a new IP. Since the exploration and combat systems here are entirely new, Cereza and Cheshire learn a slew of powers that never appear in later games. Returning characters are developed through typical children’s media arcs that make them feel inconsistent with their older counterparts. That makes the story’s opening hours especially hard to settle into as it’s initially unclear whether it’s trying to be part of the series or a playful digression within it.

A lot of that confusion can be written off by its fairytale construction, though. Cinematics and dialogue play out as illustrations in a storybook, setting up the idea Cereza is so ubiquitous that her heroism has even made its way into bedtime stories. That creates a clever bit of self-mythology, building a fictionalized version of Bayonetta’s universe within itself. It’s a cute, sanitized way for parents to introduce their kids to a series that means a lot to them, though I’m not sure where that relationship goes from there. Good luck introducing your kids to the naked sex witch game after they grow to love Cereza.

Cheshire and Cereza look out at a forest landscape in Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Putting that tension aside, the presentation gives the adventure a distinct charm that takes me back to Okami and The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker. When I look out at one of its detailed forest landscapes, it almost feels like I’m staring at a sea of stained glass windows. Early biomes are bathed in cool blues and purples rather than green and brown Earth tones. Later areas put me in intricately designed locations like a moss-covered playground or carnival-like train station that feel plucked out of a fable. I feel like Alice tumbling down into an unfamiliar, yet inviting rabbit hole, which is the exact tone you likely want to hit when your hero’s sidekick is quite literally a Cheshire cat.

Those playful visuals pair perfectly with a whimsical score that builds on PlatinumGames’ previous compositions. One section, in particular, transports me back to Nier: Automata’s amusement park set piece, with a small symphony of glockenspiels and toy pianos teasing me as I trek through a twisted environment overrun with faeries.

It all keeps me coming back to the word “classic,” as I can feel PlatinumGames trying to create a game that carries the same warmth as a canonical work of children’s literature. Is Bayonetta the appropriate series to accomplish that with? That’s questionable, but something I eventually got over the more I got lost in its forest. The witch world’s lore is rich enough that I fully believe its heroes and monsters would have been turned into a tale that parents tell their kids to keep them from wandering off into the woods alone.

The Legend of Cereza

The narrative setup and actual gameplay fit together nicely here, as Bayonetta Origins plays like a traditional Legend of Zelda game — something that feels canonical to video games in the same way fairytales do to literature. In it, Cereza travels through the woods hunting down different elemental doohickeys, obtaining new powers that solve environmental puzzles, and opening a whole bunch of treasure chests. That tried and true formula is as good as gold, but PlatinumGames still brings its own unique stamp to it.

If the idea of controlling two characters at once sounds a little tricky, that’s because it is.

The primary twist here is that Cereza and Cheshire can be separated and controlled independently with the press of a button. The left Joy-con controls Cereza’s movement and powers, while the right handles Cheshire. That opens the door for clever solo co-op puzzling that freshens up some old ideas. Both characters have their own specific abilities that intersect with one another in a variety of ways. Cereza’s primary mode of puzzle solving revolves around Witch Pulse, a somewhat repetitive rhythm minigame that can grow plants, open doors, and more. Cheshire, on the other hand, gains multi-functional elemental forms that let him interact with the world in a variety of ways. Those two ideas might make for a run-of-the-mill adventure game on their own, but they come together to create a wealth of satisfying navigation puzzles.

In one area, for instance, I need to safely get Cereza onto a wooden platform in the middle of a lake. To do that, I place the duo onto a lily pad and activate Cheshire’s water form on the fly by pressing a face button. I use the cat’s water stream power to steer the makeshift boat and get Cereza to dry land. Then, I use Cheshire to swim onto a platform across from her and shoot another stream of water to swing her platform around, uniting them on Cheshire’s side. Moments like that are plentiful, which had me excited to hunt for secrets every time I gained a new power.

If the idea of controlling two characters at once sounds a little tricky, that’s because it is. In faster-paced puzzles that require timing, I often find myself needing a few tries to wrap my head around doing two things at once. It’s the same problem I’ve experienced in co-op-focused games like Blanc and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons that support solo play but aren’t really meant to be experienced that way. The difference is that Bayonetta Origins actually is meant to be a solo experience, though I suppose a multiplayer workaround is possible thanks to its control scheme.

Cheshire jumps up wooden platforms in Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The excellent design and art direction can add to the confusion too. Rather than sending the duo across flat fields, biomes are intricately woven spaces built from crisscrossing flora pathways. Traversal is a visual delight on first pass, but it can make backtracking for hidden items a little tricky. Bayonetta Origins is loaded with collectibles, like wisps and upgrade materials, which are marked on the map after clearing shrine-like Tír na nÓg challenges (some of which contain the game’s best puzzles and most psychedelic visuals). Those markers are more confusing than they’re worth, though. I’d often trek to an area to get a secret I missed, only to find the path to it isn’t there at all and that I’d have to backtrack to a different biome to take an obtuse back route. There were moments when I was too sheepish to move off the main story path because I feared I’d get lost in the complex world design and struggle to get back.

Though issues like that deflated some of my late-game collection drive, I still walked away charmed by the adventure’s creative spirit. Exploration offers a constant string of surprises, with its mysterious forest always opening up via well-designed puzzles. When my adventure begins, I’m a helpless little kid lost in the woods without any witch powers. By the end, I know its entire natural language like the back of my hand.

Two to tango

A child-friendly adventure game may sound like a foreign concept for developer PlatinumGames, but the studio’s signature is most apparent in its unique combat system. Like exploration, battles have players juggling both characters at once. Cereza can use Witch Pulse to bind enemies in thorns, while Cheshire dishes out damage via basic attacks and each of his forms’ special perks. The system feels basic at first, as Cheshire can only really attack by hammering the right trigger initially. The more everything opens up, the more it resembles the kind of action game the developer is known for.

By the six-hour mark, combat becomes an immensely satisfying tango …

Each Cheshire ability brings another layer to battle. When I get his grass form, I can press the right bumper to snatch a far-off enemy with a vine, stunning them, or pry a child off an enemy and toss it back at them. Later, his water form allows me to break fire shields from a safe distance. By the six-hour mark, combat becomes an immensely satisfying tango with Cereza locking enemies in place and Cheshire comboing together abilities to wipe out waves of faeries in an instant. A surprisingly robust skill tree adds additional twists through the very end too, getting a ridiculous amount of mileage out of what’s essentially a one-attack system.

There are tons of opportunities to test those skills too. Aside from general encounters in the world, many of the Tír na nÓg challenges revolve around clearing a multi-enemy battle with a caveat, like only being able to damage vine-bound enemies. Each shrine can be revisited in a time trial, emphasizing how fast and furious players can get with the system once it’s mastered. There are a handful of excellent boss battles as well, which pepper in a few cinematic moments that feel a little more in line with the Bayonetta series’ spectacular fights. Platinum’s ability to create something entirely outside of its comfort zone, but still seamlessly deliver what sets it apart from its peers is just another one of the adventure’s best surprises.

Cheshire attacks an enemy in Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon.
Nintendo

Yes, once again, controlling two characters at once will take some getting used to. Even when I got comfortable with it. I’d still find Cereza naturally wandering off to the edge of a battlefield because my brain instinctively wants to control both sticks at once. The system most closely resembles Platinum’s excellent Astral Chain, though the execution isn’t always as elegant. The more I sit down to dig into Bayonetta Origins, the more those nitpicks come to the surface. There are plenty of moments that bugged me and I wound up bouncing out of the end-game item clean-up earlier than expected because of it, but I still find myself delighted by the full experience. It’s always exciting to see a creative left turn that’s carried out with this much care and confidence. I went in expecting a five-hour side-story and came out with a 15-hour adventure that fulfilled me as much as The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening.

If anything, the missteps almost add to the experience. Bayonetta Origins tells a cute coming-of-age story about an initially powerless girl discovering herself. The game itself almost mirrors that, beginning with some simplistic, repetitive play but slowly evolving into something complex with its own distinct identity. It’s not just an origin story for Cereza, but for a new spinoff series with promising potential. The little witch we see in the game’s final moments isn’t the fully formed angel of death we meet in Bayonetta; there’s still some growing she needs to do to fully get there. Bayonetta Origins ends in the same place, leaving me excited to see where the adventure goes from here.

Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demonwas tested on a Nintendo Switch OLED in handheld mode and on a TCL 6-Series R635 when docked.

Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
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