A spin-off prequel that strips away the sexuality of the Bayonetta series in favour of wholesomeness definitely wasn’t something that was on my Nintendo bingo card for 2023, especially since Bayonetta 3 just launched in October of last year. Sure enough though, Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon was announced at The Game Awards 2022, bringing about a bit of understandable confusion amongst fans. Not only are we getting a new Bayonetta game so soon after the last one, but it features an entirely different gameplay style, art-direction, and overall tone from what we’re used to with the notoriously risque franchise. After having now played the first five chapters of Bayonetta Origins, I was quick to learn that you should never underestimate the extraordinarily talented developers over at PlatinumGames.
Before Bayonetta was the sassy badass we would come to know her as, she was Cereza, a young girl born from the forbidden love of a witch and a sage. With her father exiled and her mother locked up in prison, Cereza was taken into care by Morgana, a tough-loving witch who would teach her the ways of the dark arts. One faithful day, Cereza awakens from a recurring nightmare where she tries, and fails, to save her mother. This time however, the dream ends differently, with a mysterious boy telling her she can gain a fantastic power by following the guidance of a white wolf through the forbidden faerie-filled Avalon Forest. Ignoring the warnings from Morgana, Cereza bravely ventures into the forest unknowing what may await her inside.
Bayonetta Origins has a heavy focus on story, told in chapters with a fully narrated and beautifully illustrated picture-book artstyle. Seeing as she’s only a child during this time, Cereza’s personality is a complete one-eighty from her adult self in the mainline games. She’s naïve, fearful, caring, and humble, unafraid of being vulnerable and showing her emotions. This also means her ability to accurately execute magic spells is deeply flawed, but thankfully, she is wearing a special brace she got from Morgana that makes things easier. In an attempt to perform a summoning spell during a dire situation, Cereza accidentally summons a demon spirit that possesses her sentimental stuffed cat, Cheshire. In a fortuitous turn of events, the giant, heartless demon reluctantly helps Cereza, as he knows it’s his only chance to return to his home of Inferno.
As for the action-adventure gameplay, you take control of both Cereza and Cheshire simultaneously, each with the left and right halves of your controller. This means that theoretically, you could play co-op by using two Joy-Con, but that’s not the intended way to play, nor was the game designed with that in mind. The left-stick controls Cereza, while the right-stick controls Cheshire, with the corresponding triggers acting as the action buttons. During moments where using both characters at the same time isn’t necessary, you can revert Cheshire back to plush toy size for Cereza to carry around with her. Since Cereza has yet to develop the signature magical transformation powers of her hair, and guns are obviously not an option like in other Bayonetta games, Cheshire is your main method of combat. His moveset and abilities will grow even stronger as you find all four of the “Elemental Cores” through natural progression, and they can be swapped between with the press of a button.
Cheshire is the one that does most of the physical damage, but Cereza has her own set of useful skills as well. She can not only interact with objects, she can also perform a few basic spells such as; Witch Pulse, a magical energy that can be distributed to a target by rhythmically tilting the control stick, and Thorn Bind, temporarily freezing an enemy in place with thorns to allow Cheshire to more easily attack. In addition, while Cereza is holding Cheshire (known as “Hug Mode”), she can extend him forward to launch herself from platform to platform or collect hard to reach items. Hug Mode also allows her to throw Cheshire onto certain high-up ledges, a useful tactic when rosemary is in your direct path, as Cheshire has a strong distaste for the herb’s smell. You have to be quite careful though, as the duo is unable to be too far apart for too long.
Progressing through the story is a mostly linear experience; solving puzzles, defeating enemy faeries, and following the clearly laid out tracks of brightly blue-coloured wolf paw prints. However, there are many hidden paths and trails to find secrets, and as you start to unlock new areas, access to much of the forest becomes intertwined. Some subsections require an Elemental Core that you won’t acquire until later on in the game, so you’re much encouraged to explore and revisit places you’ve already been. Plentifully spread all throughout the forest are different items, ingredients to concoct items, and Onyx Roses / Avalon Drops, which can be used to upgrade the skill trees of both Cereza and Cheshire respectively to gain new abilities. The act of upgrading your skill tree can only be done at sanctuaries; reoccurring checkpoints where you can also save your game, and eventually instantly travel to the other sanctuaries that you’ve found.
Something else that you’ll semi-frequently encounter as you venture through the forest are “Tír na nÓg” stages. Tír na nÓg translates to “Land of the Young,” and in Irish mythology, is described as “an island paradise and supernatural realm of everlasting youth, beauty, health, abundance and joy.” These stages are the source of the faeries’ deceptive illusions that Cereza witnesses in the forest. While inside a Tír na nÓg stage, you’ll go through various puzzle challenges to earn treasure, including Vitality Petals to increase your maximum health. Upon completion, you can revisit them from sanctuaries to gather anything you might have missed, and compete in new time trials to earn special collectables.
As the Nintendo Switch approaches its sixth anniversary, the hardware is undoubtedly starting to show its age with some of the more graphically intensive software, but fortunately, games like Bayonetta Origins are a saving grace. When a game has stylistic creativity and a good artistic direction, it doesn’t always need high-end hardware to reach its maximum potential. This is the reason why indie titles often sell the best on Switch, because you don’t have to majorly sacrifice performance by choosing to play the Switch version. Bayonetta Origins has the charm of an indie game with the budget and quality of a AAA title. The watercolour fairytale-book aesthetic is a visual anomaly, and doesn’t noticeably hinder framerate. PlatinumGames made Bayonetta 3 and Bayonetta Origins each impressive in their own right.
I’m very much looking forward to playing Bayonetta Origins through to the end to give my final thoughts, but as first impressions go, it certainly exceeded all expectations. So far, the narrative seems to be in-depth enough to satisfy the already established Bayonetta fans, while also opening the door to potential newcomers by being easy to follow along with its wonderful storytelling method. Although quite different, the gameplay mechanics are on-par with the mainline Bayonetta series, with enough similarities to make its uniqueness also feel familiar. Make sure to keep an eye out here at My Nintendo News for our final review before Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon launches for Switch on 17 March 2023. If you can’t wait and want to see more, you can unlock a short demo of the game that’s hidden within Bayonetta 3.
A copy of Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon for preview purposes was provided by Nintendo UK.