The best Bayonetta game in years.
When Bayonetta 3 came out a few months ago, there was a secret chapter you could access that was like 10 minutes long and had a zoomed-out, kid version of the series’ titular protagonist doing a couple light puzzles in a colorful art style. It was slow, not very fun, and lacked context. What was this thing…DLC?
As it turns out, no, it wasn’t. It was actually a playable teaser for the full-price puzzle-action-adventure game Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon. If that wasn’t surprising enough, get this: the final product is really good! It’s a clever take on both Bayonetta and Zelda that represents developer Platinum Games at its most creative.
The spin-off is notable in that it shows a side to Platinum’s iconic protagonist rarely seen: her early life. As the introduction explains, Cereza’s conception (Bayonetta’s given name is Cereza) is the result of a forbidden tryst between her mother, an Umbra Witch, and her father from the opposing Lumen Sages tribe. Because of the romance’s nature, Rosa was imprisoned and Cereza was, after a failed rescue attempt, banished to a nearby forest. She was then raised by fellow witch outcast Morgana.
One day, Cereza is told in a dream to follow a white wolf in order to gain the power to reunite her with her mother. Along the way, she manages to summon a demon that takes residence in a doll her mother made for her. The demon, which Cereza names Cheshire, isn’t particularly fond of the young witch. Cereza wants to gain confidence in her witching abilities and save her mother, while Cheshire wants to go back to the underworld. Destroying four elemental orbs, apparently, would give the pair the power to accomplish both of their goals.
I can’t say enough good about how evocative the atmosphere here is. Inspired by Alice in Wonderland and Grimms’ Fairy Tales, the game’s bright colors pop like you’re playing a living story book, and the dark whimsy seen in its apparent inspirations shows up in full force. It’s visible in the writing, the soundtrack featuring a full instrument ensemble, the cutscenes told via story book pages, and even a warm-voiced narrator (I love that her grumbling impression as she narrates the game actually *is* Cheshire’s voice acting). It’s not as over-the-top as Bayonetta proper. This is more cozy, more subtle.
Bayonetta Origins plays nothing like its character-action counterpart. It instead pulls the camera way back, somewhere between a traditional third-person action game and a 2D Zelda. The big gimmick here is that you control both Cereza and Cheshire at the same time, the former with the left stick and the latter with the right.
Cereza casts spells that restrain enemies and manipulate the environment while Cheshire does your damage-based attacks and destroys large objects. The movesets expand some as you progress, and Cheshire gains the ability to do things like use a vine to reach things far away and shoot a Squirtlesque water gun from his mouth.
While the simultaneous control at first gives you a bit of that “patting your head while rubbing your belly” effect, it works surprisingly well. This is no doubt assisted by the pared back nature of enemy encounters. The duo primarily attacks with contextual one-button presses of the left (for Cereza) and right (for Cheshire) triggers, and puzzle/combat environments usually stay on the less elaborate side to accommodate. The game’s design around the duo is consistently fun and rarely frustrating.
The largest comparison point on the game end is Zelda. Although you’re dealing with interconnected locations instead of Zelda’s dungeon-hub structure, the marriage of action, puzzle, and exploration is highly reminiscent. That’s not all: you’re also opening big chests to a fluttery piano and collecting “hearts” (i.e. flowers) the same way–health upgrade pieces in the world and full upgrades after boss fights. You also end up in the occasional interdimensional portal, some optional and some not, that contain puzzle and combat challenges. Those have a real BOTW shrine vibe to them.
The motivations go beyond Zelda, though. As Cheshire gains additional powers, the pair is able to go back to previous areas by fast travel (unlocked around the halfway point) and use said powers to clean up side areas and get additional collectibles. These different flavors make for a game that sits at the intersection of Bayonetta, Zelda, Metroid, and an indie narrative puzzler from 2009. You don’t expect it to gel as well as it does, but it gels. When I wasn’t playing through Cereza and the Lost Demon’s 10-15 hour adventure, it was on my mind; I may even go back to 100% it in the coming weeks.
That of course, isn’t to say the final product is without its flaws. The adventure was overall very easy, to the point where I rarely took damage in the first 60-70% of it. The bosses also needed about half the game to start getting interesting, and only a couple represented Platinum’s best.
There were also little gameplay annoyances here and there; I found Cereza’s main environmental spell – in which you hold ZL and manipulate the left stick – a bit repetitive and tedious. Thank goodness for the game’s helpful accessibility menu – there’s an option that allows you to just hold the ZL trigger and let the game do the rest.
My last issue is with the game’s storybook cutscenes. 90% of Bayonetta Origins’ story is conveyed through storybook cutscenes with lightly animated drawings, text, and (excellent) narration. Simply put, they have a tendency to go on too long and usually drag what is otherwise a terrifically paced experience. And because there were so few in-engine cutscenes that let you see the action, it sometimes felt like there was a separation between what I was actually doing in game and the story being told.
My hope is that a potential sequel to this would alleviate some of these issues, and I really hope it gets one. Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon is a tremendous surprise that, while imperfect, beautifully blends Platinum design with light Zelda and Metroid trappings. The game’s quiet release (and cumbersome title), to me, betrays Cereza and the Lost Demon’s status as perhaps Platinum’s best Switch game yet.