Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon Review
Action game franchise takes a more leisurely stroll
It's already considered a success when a franchise is able to accumulate multiple entries. And when it expands into spinoffs and other mediums, that's when you know the brand is well established. The action game series Bayonetta has earned enough of a cult following over the years to earn the backing of Nintendo, and has managed to produce three main entries to date. Although the most recent entry last year was not the most impressive, developers PlatinumGames have seemingly earned enough success with the titular heroine to warrant a spinoff game. The lengthily named Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon is an entirely new take on the franchise, and while it delivers a very solid action adventure experience, its position within the marketplace feels odd.
Cereza and the Lost Demon is an origin story for the protagonist. Cereza is a young girl who will one day become Bayonetta, but for now she is just a witch in training. As a child of a forbidden love between her father, a Lumen Sage, and her mother Rosa, an Umbra Witch, she was shunned by the village. Her father was cast out and her mother put in a dark cell, where Cereza could no longer reach her. Without anyone to turn to, she fled to the outskirts, where another exiled witch took her in and agreed to train her. After a rather slow start to the adventure, a white wolf appears in Cereza's dreams, and speaks of a power located in the Avalon Forest that would be enough to rescue her mother. Scared but determined, she set out into the forest in search of this power.
However, she quickly found herself overwhelmed, and in a desperate attempt to cast a spell to summon a friendly demon, she inadvertently infused it with her stuffed pet named Cheshire. The demon is not able to harm her, but is also reluctant to help, though the pair have little choice but to push onwards. Across their adventure, they will need to follow the tracks of the white wolf, while fighting off faeries, overcoming obstacles, and searching for four elemental cores to absorb their power.
Cereza and the Lost Demon takes up a rather odd position in the Bayonetta universe. For a series that is known for its bombastic action, and very M-rated dialogue and focus on sexuality, this spinoff's fairy tale adventure and storybook aesthetic very much aimed at young audiences is an interesting choice, to say the least. Existing fans of the character may be interested in learning about her distant past, but the very simple gameplay and child-like demeanor will be off-putting. Newcomers (especially young players who this game seems to be targeting), meanwhile, may enjoy this adventure but in making the jump to the main series they will be in for quite a shock. The developers kept some little dark undertones – Cereza naively talking about "punishing" the enemies, destroying the star at the end of dungeons in a rather violent way, and the little Wisps are freed from their heads trapped in a suspended container – but it's easy to miss. This title essentially takes one of the very few Nintendo exclusives aimed at older/more mature audiences, and brings it down to the more expected, kid-friendly entry that you'd find on the console. As a standalone title, this is a very solid experience, but it's definitely not a seamless fit with the mainline games.
That isn't to say that the dialogue and characters are not well presented. The writing is decent and the voice actor of the young Cereza does a good job of showcasing her conflicting fears and motivations. The sound design is strong overall, with many nice piano melodies and effects – though it comes across as way too similar to Zelda, and could have used its own twist. An older woman does the narration for the story, adding to the storybook setting that is already strongly enforced by the literal pages that the cutscenes and menus flip through. It's certainly a narrative that younger players will enjoy and older fans can see value in. Most of the cutscenes have limited animations, but they work well enough. The art style looks good, and it also helps hide some of the lower-quality assets and effects, with very limited draw distance and average environmental detail. The game runs at a steady framerate both docked and in handheld mode, with infrequent but notable loading times on the Switch.
As the witch and her demon companion, players will explore the forest on their quest for the elemental cores and the mysterious power. This third-person action adventure has a fixed camera and a largely linear way forward, however there are multitudes of optional side paths that lead to treasure chests, collectibles, and extra challenges. Some paths will be locked away and require you to return later on, when you have the necessary abilities unlocked. The areas are varied – you'll discover many strange structures in the forest, from faerie towers to carnivals. Eventually, you will return back to your earlier locations and also unlock fast travel, thus creating a typical but well-designed metroidvania world. Along the way there will be some scripted sequences and boss fights, which are fun but fairly simplistic and ordinary. A map helps with navigation, as do the wolf paw prints that always point to your main goal.
Cereza and the Lost Demon may seem like a typical adventure game at first, but its unique aspect is the fact that players can control both Cereza and Cheshire at the same time. The left thumb stick and trigger buttons are all used for Cereza's movement and actions, while the right thumbstick and triggers are used for her demon. This leads to some interesting scenarios across both exploration and combat, and will certainly tap into your coordination skillset like few games do. However this also means there's an inherent limitation on how complex the gameplay can get, as you have so few inputs per character.
In both exploration and combat, Cereza really only has one ability, and that is to cast a spell that traps enemies in place, making them vulnerable. She can call upon Cheshire to appear and assist her, and recall back to his stuffed toy form at any time. This allows you to run around the game without constantly trying to maneuver two characters at the same time. But there will still be times when you have to navigate with both characters at the same time, as they help each other across obstacles and dangers. These sections are fun and test your dual-dexterity, such as using Cheshire to unlock a path for Cereza, or having her go off alone because there are certain areas that the demon cannot cross. Since there is no actual jump ability, the navigation design is straightforward, with the fixed camera being the biggest issue as it sometimes finds itself in an awkward spot.
For the most part, Cheshire does all of the heavy lifting. As you discover and absorb elemental cores, it unlocks new powers for Cheshire to use in both combat and exploration. You can call on the demon to destroy obstacles, pull platforms, and generally interact with the world. In combat, it's also the only way to do damage, by lunging and striking at enemies. You can switch between different elements based on the problem at hand, and try to take out as many enemies as possible – all the meanwhile Cereza is usually just running around trying to avoid getting hit. She is the one with a health bar, while Cheshire simply returns to his stuffed toy form if he takes too much damage, and can be re-deployed into battle quickly. Occasionally, Cereza is required to get involved because enemies are otherwise invulnerable or unreachable to Cheshire, or they need to save each other from an attack that traps them, but these cases are rare.
The enemies that you will encounter have the typical assortment of ranged, flying, and melee faeries, sometimes with large health pools and varied attacks, or requiring you to use Cheshire's special abilities from his elemental forms. Even so, the game is quite easy, which is expected given its aesthetic, and you can finish some combat areas without losing any health. If you are decent at controlling two characters at once, at least to make one of them constantly be on the move and the other mashing attack, you should have little problem with combat. Checkpoints are plentiful, and the game has options to turn down difficulty all the way to making Cereza take no damage at all.
The dual nature of the gameplay aside, it's a solidly designed metroidvania. Aside from collectibles, you will also venture into brief dungeons that test your skills in a focused manner. These take you to a separate crystalline portal/world and present either combat, puzzle, or obstacle courses to overcome, and sometimes a combination of the above. Many of these short dungeons are on the main story path, while others are optional and unlock access to more of the map, including revealing collectibles. Other expected elements include collecting materials so that you can craft one of four potions, which can recover health, mana, and push away enemies. Players will also find items that increase their overall health and mana bars over the course of the story. Two other types of materials are used as experience, to unlock new abilities from a skill tree – one for each character. However, given the game's easy difficulty, you may not need any of these extra skills and definitely not need the potions. The crafting and skill assignment can be done at groves, which act as your bases in each region of the map.
Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon is a solid action-adventure metroidvania, and its biggest twist is having to control two characters at once. This leads to simplistic exploration and combat, but one that will sometimes challenge your dexterity – if not your skills. It's a pleasantly presented storybook tale, and as a standalone title, it checks all the boxes without too much fanfare. But as a Bayonetta game, it's a bit more difficult to place it within the landscape of the franchise. Still, if you are just looking for a solid adventure oriented towards younger players with simple mechanics ,this is a solid pick, though perhaps slightly pricey at CAD $80 with 10-12 hours of play depending on how much you explore.