Less than half a year after the release of the critically-acclaimed Bayonetta 3, Nintendo and PlatinumGames are preparing for the launch of Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon, a spin-off prequel that takes the franchise into an unexpected new direction. Was it worth the risk of turning the series formula of explicit violence and sexuality on its head, or does the entire identity of Bayonetta rely too heavily on mature themes, ruining its very essence when it’s stripped away? Let’s explore if Bayonetta Origins is worth your purchase when it becomes available exclusively for the Nintendo Switch family of systems on 17 March 2023.
Apart from the universe and its characters, Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon doesn’t feel like a Bayonetta game. It takes place long before the events of the main trilogy, back when Bayonetta herself was a young, untrained witch known simply as Cereza. The narrative follows Cereza as she ventures through the forbidden Avalon Forest with her stuffed cat Cheshire, who becomes possessed by a demon after an accidental summoning. With a mission that came to her in a dream, Cereza and Cheshire travel together, following a mysterious white wolf through the dangerous faerie-filled forest to gain a promised power that can be used to rescue her imprisoned mother and send the rageful demon back to Inferno.
It’s a story about loss, strength, growth, companionship, and facing your fears, beautifully told in the style of a watercolour picture-book, fully narrated by a talented cast of voice actors. The fairytale aesthetic is really driven home by the use of chapters as its method of storytelling, with pages to virtually turn between gameplay segments. There is quite a bit of substance, taking into account the established Bayonetta lore and building upon it, featuring some familiar faces, and helping us to more deeply understand the strong woman that Cereza would later become. While I was never exactly at the edge of my seat, the narrative held my interest from beginning to end, and there’s a good chance that even those unfamiliar with Bayonetta will enjoy it as well.
The gameplay of Bayonetta Origins has you taking control of two characters simultaneously, which on paper sounds like it would be difficult, but in actuality, it becomes very intuitive after a bit of practice. Cereza is controlled using the left side of the controller, while the right half controls Cheshire. Each character has their own set of abilities that must be used in tandem to solve puzzles and progress through the enemy infested forest. Cheshire is the brawn of the duo, able to destroy almost everything in your path, while Cereza is more passive, using her limited albeit strong magical powers as a witch-in-training to assist Cheshire in battle and exploration.
During exploration, getting lost is not something to worry about, as brightly-coloured wolf tracks are almost always visible to guide you in the right direction. You’re encouraged to frequently stray from the mostly linear trail though, as there are many secrets to find all throughout the forest. Items like Mandragora Roots, Unicorn Horns, and Baked Geckos can be found in chests and bushes, which can then be concocted into tonics, syrups, mists, and cocktails to later be used in battle for an advantage, such as an increase in health. Avalon Drops and Onyx Roses can also be found and collected to build up the individual skill trees of Cheshire and Cereza. There are a large variety of skills for them each to learn, making your moveset more robust.
From the get-go, our two protagonists have pretty standard movesets that are easy to understand. Cereza can interact with objects, jump from ledges, use “Witch Pulse” to affect the growth of plants, cast a “Thorn Bind” spell to briefly lock an enemy encounter in its place, and freely (with a few caveats) swap Cheshire back and forth from “Hug Mode” to “Unleashed Mode.” While in Hug Mode, Cheshire reverts from a horse-sized monster down to the size of a regular plush toy, allowing Cereza to carry him around, extend him outwards to grab items, and throw him up to platforms she herself can’t reach. Unleashed Mode is exactly as you’d expect it to be, having you control Cheshire independently to attack enemies and destroy barricades. These mechanics create some very interesting puzzles as you travel onwards through the forest, and while they’re never anything super overly complicated, they’re always fun to figure out.
As mentioned earlier, most of these abilities can be greatly expanded upon by growing a skill tree, but only while in Sanctuaries; save-station checkpoints spread throughout Avalon Forest. That’s not all there is in terms of upgrades though, as there are also four very important Elemental Cores (wood, stone, water, and fire) within the forest that provide Cheshire with even more unique and powerful attacks that can be used against specific enemy types, or to unlock areas that were previously blocked off. Once at least one of the Elemental Cores are acquired, you can swap between them with the simple push of a button, transforming Cheshire into an embodiment of the corresponding element. While using these elements, a dedicated Magic Gauge will begin to decrease, but you can gradually recover magic by temporarily putting him back into Hug Mode. This creates for some very intense and engaging combat situations. There are also a good, surprising amount of accessibility options in the settings of the game, allowing you to adjust the strength of enemies, the amount of damage taken, choose whether or not the Magic Gauge is always full, and even set Cereza’s Witch Pulse ability to be fully automatic.
Illusions from the enemy faeries of the Avalon Forest are a fairly (no pun intended) common occurrence, causing the environment to suddenly turn all purple and wonky. Cereza can navigate through these illusions by shining a light in front of her to dispel them, but in order to properly get rid of them entirely, you must complete what’s formally known as “Tír na nÓg” stages. These stages can either consist of puzzle-solving platforming, or straight-up boss battles. Either way though, the Tír na nÓg segments feature some of my favourite parts of the entire game, as they can be quite gratifyingly challenging at times. After completion, you’ll find a Vitality Petal/Blossom to increase Cereza’s maximum health. While resting at a Sanctuary, you can even retry the stages to earn extra rewards by attempting all the heart-pumping time trials.
It’s hard to properly express just how consistently gorgeous the visuals are in Bayonetta Origins. In the same way that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse felt like the perfect cinematic adaptation of a comicbook, Bayonetta Origins really feels like you’re immersively playing an age-old fairytale. Compressed trailers and screenshots of the game don’t fully do it justice, as seeing it natively running on the Nintendo Switch OLED had me gawking in awe again and again. Almost every frame is a bright and beautiful watercolour painting worthy of being hung on a wall, and load-times and framerate are about as good as you could ask for. If my utmost praise still doesn’t fully convince you, a demo is available now on the Nintendo eShop for you to see for yourself.
Without a shadow of a doubt, Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon is an unexpected contender for Game of the Year. Already established Bayonetta fans are sure to be more than satisfied with its unique storytelling, tight controls, engaging combat, vast exploration, and fantastic visuals, while also being a great entry point for series newcomers. It even opens the door to those that may not have enjoyed the explicit sensuality of the mainline games, as its overall tone is more wholesome and inviting. As someone who really loved Bayonetta 3, I thoroughly enjoyed Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon equally as much, if not more, but for entirely different reasons. Don’t let this one slip under your radar!
A copy of Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon for review purposes was provided by Nintendo UK.
Thanks for the review. I admit I was not interested in this game since I played bayo 1 and it’s a bit too action heavy for my interests. But after your review I think I’ll purchase when I get the chance, it sounds like my kind of game.
Glad you enjoyed the review 😊
I was already excited for this game, but after seeing all the 9/10 reviews from numerous outlets… now I’m mega hyped to get it on release day.