Developer: Platinum Games
Few games in recent memory etched a permanent smile on my face the way Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon has. This prequel to the Bayonetta series rewrites its mature-rated stylish combat within the whimsical pages of a storybook, spinning an endearing yarn of a young witch fighting to prove herself while forming an unlikely friendship. The result is an eye-catching, unexpectedly dense adventure that has more charm than it knows what to do with.
Despite arriving only a few months after Bayonetta 3, Cereza and the Lost Demon doesn’t feel like a throwaway side project Platinum Games slapped together. This top-down action-adventure game is a substantial romp that follows a 10-year-old Cereza, still training to become a full-fledged Umbra Witch. She wants to gain enough strength to free her captive mother and ventures into a forbidden fairie forest to chase a tantalizing vision promising power. Cereza can only manage to summon one demon, Cheshire, for protection, whom she binds to her cat doll. However, she doesn’t yet know how to return him to the hellish realm of Inferno. Thus, the reluctant partners are stuck together and must cooperate to survive the forest.
Bayonetta Origins’ story is my favorite of the entire franchise. It’s heartwarming, humorous, coherent (especially welcomed coming off the last game), and it has the emotional depth to provide substance to its eye candy. I loved watching Cereza and Cheshire’s relationship blossom over the course of the adventure as the insecure witch tries to prove her worth to the skeptical monster. The plot takes some unexpected yet well-earned turns, and the performances – Cereza’s in particular – are wonderful. I especially loved the narrator; her warm delivery and smile-inducing impression of the gruff Cheshire rekindled the long-forgotten joy of being read a fun bedtime story. If you combined Bayonetta’s lore with the whimsy and heart of a Winnie the Pooh story, you’re not far off from what Cereza and the Lost Demon offers.
I enjoyed navigating the duo through the well-designed platforming and puzzle challenges. You control both characters simultaneously, steering Cereza with the left stick and Cheshire with the right. It’s unwieldy at first, but it soon becomes second nature. Plus, you can recall Cheshire to the doll at will, so I mostly explored solo until I needed him. The tag-team-focused obstacles challenged my thinking, reflexes, and dexterity without ever becoming too complicated or tedious. Fun challenges and setpiece moments include having Cheshire run on hamster wheels to transport Cereza across platforms or using him to step on blocks that reveal a hidden path for her to cross gaps while pursued by a death trap. These sequences only appear once, making me excited to see what ideas the game would concoct next.
Combat is the centerpiece of Bayonetta, and while you won’t be executing dozen-hit combos and screen-filling special attacks, Origins’ battle system makes the most of its relative simplicity. Cheshire executes single-button combos, while Cereza can only bind enemies in place using magic vines. Navigating two characters on a busy battlefield made me cross-eyed sometimes, but I like the unique strategy of dodging foes to tie them down before tearing them to shreds. Unlocking each character’s skill trees adds small but meaningful layers that deepen combat by adding executions, counters, evades, and longer combo strings that rely on button timing rather than combining inputs. The action evolves at a good pace without going mechanically overboard.
Additionally, incorporating the abilities of Cheshire’s elemental transformations, such as using a grass form’s vine to yank down airborne targets and a water form that fires powerful streams, is a blast. Although I grew weary of the smaller, random encounters, the larger arena battles that throw several enemy types with different elemental vulnerabilities kept me engaged. A sprinkling of grandiose boss battles, including a titanic final bout, evoke the chaos of the main series in a good way without becoming as sweat-inducing. In fact, I rarely used health and magic potions for the majority of the experience. I’m fine with that, as the difficulty has enough spice without compromising Origins’ more relaxed vibe.
Simply looking at Bayonetta Origins is a colorful treat, thanks to its painterly art direction that evokes games like Ōkami. The forest looks fantastic, and a melodic soundtrack filled with lovely tunes, cute sound effects, and Zelda-esque piano jingles makes this world feel even more magical. I enjoyed revisiting parts of the sprawling map to unlock new areas and solving simple yet satisfying puzzles using Cheshire’s abilities.
Getting lost can be easy, unfortunately, but the game compensates by clearly marking collectibles and even guiding lights to save points. Collecting dozens of wisps, the lost souls of departed children, became my favorite pastime due to the cute personal bios that unlocked for each of them. Even smaller interactions, like playing a rhythm mini-game to grow flowers, shattering crystal dandelions for currency, or shaking bushes for potion ingredients, feed into a playful atmosphere that almost makes the forest feel toylike.
Much like Cereza herself, Bayonetta Origins doesn’t look like much on the surface, but I smiled more and more as its potential bubbled up to the surface. This is an exceptional and refreshing change of pace for the franchise, and you don’t even need to be a fan of the series or the action genre to enjoy it. Don’t underestimate what this pint-sized spellcaster and her demonic partner have to offer.[TAG8]