Bayonetta Origins is not what you think it is. I’ve been trying to think now for a few days how to succinctly tell you what Cereza and the Lost Demon actually is, and the best I can come up with is the following: Bayonetta Origins is a tale from Cereza’s youth that is an isometric Bastion-like adventure game, but it’s also a MetroidVania, and it borrows elements from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Succinct? Maybe not; but it is accurate, and incredibly exciting.
The tale so far is that Bayonetta herself isn’t the formidable Witch we know her as. This is Cereza, a young witch who is struggling with her past, and her powers, and not in control of a whole lot. She’s innocent and vulnerable, and it’s only when disobeying the rules she ventures into a forest full of Faeries, which is where the Lost Demon comes in: Cheshire.
Cheshire was in Bayonetta 3, and is a major focus in Bayonetta Origins. A bit like Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, you control both Cereza and Cheshire at the same time, with one on each analog stick. Left trigger and left bumper are Cereza’s actions, and right trigger and right bumper belong to Cheshire. It takes some getting used to, and there’s more added later, but for now let’s focus on the early stages of the game.
You can call Cheshire back and just walk around as the young Witch, but she can’t fight on her own. Combat evolves nicely, but often revolves around keeping Cereza safe, casting spells to lock enemies in place, and then punishing with Cheshire. There’s more to it than that, and there’s skill trees and unlockable moves and abilities that turn things toward your favour, but I’ll save some of that for another time.
What’s impressive is how the rollout of all the mechanical aspects of Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon happens. It was hours before I realised it was a MetroidVania game, with elemental powers becoming unlocked that allow you to travel back on the map to access previously closed off areas. These elemental powers also come into play during combat, and the evolution through the opening hours of Origins is truly brilliant.
Mixed in with all of this is a stunning art style, and a soundtrack that reminds me of some of the best the genre has to offer, while also borrowing from Breath of the Wild’s ambient soundtrack. Lone piano notes will play as you unlock chests, and discover secrets. The world is allowed to breathe, allowing you to take it all in. And the similarities with the best The Legend of Zelda’s game don’t stop there.
The Faeries of the forest are dastardly, you see. They’ve cast spells that form illusions and block your paths, confusing Cereza on the way. Once you push through the fear, you’ll find an entrance to a Tír na nÓg, which they may as well call “Shrines”, because that’s what they are. Short dungeons that offer puzzles and combat, with a treasure chest that rewards you with a magic or health upgrade, and unlock the region further, they are clever and consistently enjoyable.
Combat can be frenetic at first, but you never feel out of control, and it’s worth noting that Platinum has included several accessibility options that can make it easier to handle. For example, you can unlock a skill that is a finishing move for Cheshire, and this requires you to hold the attack button down. If you want, though, you can set it to automatic so when the prompt appears, mashing the attack button will just activate the finisher.
Cereza isn’t useless, either. Her spells form a large part of the early hours, allowing you to magically open flowers to gain ladder access or paths forward. This is basically a short and very easy rhythm game, which again, can be simplified if you prefer. While much of Bayonetta 3 was madcap and furious, Origins feels like Platinum wants everyone to play it, and with the aesthetic looking as good as it does, why wouldn’t you want to?
The voice acting is also terrific, with a narrator enacting Cheshire’s gruff Demon-y voice always bringing a smile to my face. Cereza sounds young, but a mixture of vulnerability and determination is felt throughout, and there’s a level of polish here that, dare I say it, sometimes you don’t even see in the mainline games themselves.
If there is a criticism at this early juncture, it’s that sometimes it does feel a little like it’s spending too long on things. Repeated scenes after finding collectibles, clearing Tír na nÓgs, combat encounters, and the like aren’t skippable, and while right now this isn’t an issue, I can see it being a little bit of a drain when you are wanting to push forward and explore. Chests are hidden throughout, and they contain one a few different things, and even that animation could be sped up after a few hours.
We’ll see, though, because right now Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon is one of the biggest and best surprises of 2023 so far. I went in not entirely knowing what to expect, but what I found is a lovely adventure game with superb combat elements, puzzles, and a whole lot of heart, and frankly, I cannot wait to get stuck in to the rest of the game.
Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon is on Nintendo Switch on March 17th, 2023.