Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon review – A spellbinding storybook adventure

A screenshot from Bayonetta OriginsPlatinumGames

Arriving just five months after the show-stopping Bayonetta 3 stomped its way onto Nintendo Switch, surprise prequel Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon takes an unexpectedly cozy approach to everyone’s favorite Umbra Witch.

This is a whimsical storybook adventure that blends gorgeous watercolor art, page-turning cutscenes, and narration from a Julie Andrews-style voiceover that feels like a warm hug. It’s a far cry from the bombastic demon-slaying action that fans have become accustomed to.

That’s not to say that Bayonetta purists won’t find anything to love here, as there are still semblances of the franchise at large; there are skill trees to work through, collectibles to discover, and plenty of monsters to rough up – although this time they’re mischievous faeries rather than angels or demons.

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It’s undeniably a different kind of Bayonetta game, one that feels suited to a more casual or younger-skewing audience, but there’s so much to love if you’re able to slow things down to match its pace.

Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon key details

Developer: PlatinumGamesPrice: £49.99 / $59.99Release Date: March 17, 2023Platforms: Nintendo Switch

Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon trailer

Once upon a time…

Bayonetta Origins takes us back to where it all began, with Cereza still a timid Umbra Witch-in-training who’s yet to become the tour de force she is in her grown-up games. With the promise of power and a way to save her imprisoned mother, the young Cereza ventures into the faerie-filled Avalon Forest against her mentor’s stern warnings. She’s not alone, though, as she’s just managed to summon her first demon, a grumpy thing who’s taken the form of her toy cat Cheshire.

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The big gimmick of Bayonetta Origins is that players control both Cereza and Cheshire at the same time. With the Left Joy-Con, you can move the nimble Bayonetta and use her magic to slow down enemies or alter the environment; with the Right Joy-Con, you’ll control the lumbering Cheshire and unleash powerful attacks on any faeries that get in your way. Actions are primarily relegated to the L/R and ZL/ZR shoulder buttons, which helps keep what could be a complicated control system relatively simple.

A screenshot of Cheshire's Wood Form in Bayonetta OriginsPlatinumGames

Cereza can hold Cheshire in her arms using ‘Hug Mode’, which is best for simple exploration, but you’ll regularly need to separate the two to complete environmental puzzles like stomping on switches, dragging platforms, and launching into the sky from bouncy mushrooms. A huge chunk of the game is dedicated to exploring Avalon Forest, so you’ll spend a lot of time figuring out how to get both characters from A to B. It’s never challenging in the way that a series like The Legend of Zelda is, but it’s enough to keep you engaged while discovering new areas of the map.

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The other time this dual control scheme becomes essential is during battles, most of which follow the same format: Cereza uses her magic to temporarily stop a faerie in its tracks, Cheshire swipes and chomps them up, then onto the next one. It’s nowhere near as thrilling or chaotic as the main Bayonetta games, but the dual control scheme keeps it satisfying. As the game progresses, we do get a little more variety with these enemies – some are surrounded by fire that can only be extinguished by Cheshire’s Water form, while others hold shields that need to be yanked away by Cheshire’s Wood form.

Cheshire fighting faeries in Bayonetta OriginsPlatinumGames

There are four of these elemental forms to discover for Cheshire: Wood, Earth, Water, and Fire. Each one is assigned to either the A, B, X, or Y buttons, and once you’ve got them, you’ll be able to go back and open up new paths or unlock chests that were previously off-limits. For example, Wood form lets Cheshire use his vine-like tongue to pull distant switches, while Earth form lets him ground pound cracks in the floor. With Cereza lacking in power, mastering Cheshire’s forms is essential.

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A tale of two Joy-Con

It took me a while to get used to controlling two characters at once – it’s a bit like swapping your knife and fork into opposite hands – but eventually I grew to enjoy the novelty of it. This control scheme is largely what makes Bayonetta Origins such a memorable experience, as without the duality between Cereza and Cheshire I think the gameplay itself would run the risk of feeling a bit generic.

Bayonetta Origins is also perfectly suited for the Nintendo Switch. I tried playing it in docked mode, and it did look wonderful on a big TV screen, but the game just feels right in handheld mode. This is partly because of the unique control scheme, and partly because it’s the kind of game that makes you want to get comfy under the blankets on a cold winter’s night. Cozy games are having a moment right now, and Bayonetta Origins does fit the bill, although it’s got enough action and mystery to keep fans of traditional games engaged too.

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A screenshot of Bayonetta OriginsPlatinumGames

My main criticism of Bayonetta Origins is how long it takes to reach its full potential. In retrospect, the first five or six chapters of the game sort of feel like one extended tutorial, where Cereza and Cheshire are slowly introduced to their powers. It makes sense in the context of the game – this is an origin story, after all – but with limited abilities, the gameplay loop can feel repetitive, and it’s only after around six hours of gameplay that it feels like Bayonetta Origins really ‘gets going’.

This shift in the game is marked by an excellent boss battle against a giant faerie dragon known as the Jabberwock, which was the first time I felt challenged during my playthrough. Unlike every other enemy up until this point, who could be defeated by mashing the attack button or using just one of Cheshire’s skills, the Jabberwock requires you to properly master all of the Cheshire forms – as well as Cereza’s magic – in unison to fight back and win.

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Not only is this the first truly ‘epic’ moment in Origins – one that’s almost reminiscent of the massive boss battles in the mainline Bayonetta games – but Cheshire also gets access to his third (and best) form directly afterward: Water. Using this, Cheshire can blast enemies across the screen, sail around lakes with Cereza on the back of a floating leaf, or even jump in and go for a swim.

The game feels like it properly opens up once Cheshire gets his Water form, with some great environmental puzzles involving changing water levels and enough battle skills that combat finally starts to get some of that Bayonetta edge – especially when you unlock the ability to switch between Cheshire’s forms mid-way through a vicious combo.

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Cheshire's Water Form in Bayonetta OriginsPlatinumGames

Every now and then you’ll enter a Tír na nÓg, which are illusionary dungeons that suck you in and task you with completing puzzles or defeating waves of enemies. Gone are the wistful woods of Avalon Forest, instead replaced by futuristic visuals and jeweled hues. Just when you thought the game couldn’t get any more stunning, it does just that. These dungeons are a real treat each time they appear and do a great job of putting everything you’ve learned to the test.

Ultimately, though, the star of the show in Bayonetta Origins is the presentation. Whether it’s the stunning visuals, the delightful voiceovers, or the sounds of pages turning when you pause, the whole game feels like you’ve stepped right into a Brothers Grimm fairytale – complete with faeries who feast on children’s souls. It’s a joy to play, and while it might not rewrite the rule books or offer a huge challenge, it doesn’t need to when it looks and feels this great.

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The Verdict – 4/5

Bayonetta Origins is a lovely adventure puzzle game that’s perfect for snuggling up on the sofa with your Nintendo Switch in handheld mode. It might not have the show-stopping set pieces and over-the-top drama that the main Bayonetta trilogy has, but it’s still capable of inspiring awe with its unique control scheme, a captivating coming-of-age story, and one of the best visual identities the Switch has ever seen.

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch