What’s the time? Witch time
After Bayonetta 2 hit in 2014, the series became so much more than just a one and done successor to Devil May Cry. It was a fully-fledged universe that many fans started to grab on to; as evidenced by the discussion behind the recently-released Bayonetta 3 story beats. Now it even has its own spinoff! Thankfully, it still keeps the same witchy style intact, but with a considerably different genre shift.
Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon (Switch)
Developer: Platinum Games
Released: March 17, 2023
Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon is an action puzzle game with a major emphasis on the puzzle aspect.
Initially you’ll control Bayonetta herself (Cereza) as part of a wonder years, witch-in-training prologue before picking up Cheshire; a demon companion that does most of the fighting, and a bit of puzzle-solving. The duo will work in tandem (independently through left analog stick control for Cereza, and right analog stick control for Cheshire), with Cereza using her magic powers to lock down enemies and create exploration-based opportunities, while Cheshire can more directly swipe at and damage foes. You’ll need to dodge enemies with both halves, adding a neat wrinkle to the urgency of the action.
Slowly, you’ll get acquainted with all of the game’s mechanics, eventually gaining access to a skill tree for each character (which opens up advance moves like projectile countering and combos). In addition to moving the duo from each story-progressing sequence to the next, you’ll wander around a forest playground of sorts connected by save points and challenge rooms: some of which require future abilities to fully complete.
I was surprised at how easy it was to acclimate to the idea of Cereza and Cheshire working both together and separately. Controlling them both is easy as the locales aren’t too sprawling (albeit sometimes of a cramped variety), and it’s rewarding to pull of even simple combos and clear simple puzzles. An example includes putting Cheshire on a lift raised by Cereza to unlock a seal on a chest; and having Cereza then ride the platform (raised by Cheshire) to grab the loot. These sorts of puzzles raise a bit in complexity over time, but it’s nearly always fun to see a theoretical point A (the edge of a cliff) and point B (where the treasure is) and figure out how to connect the dots between the two.
Whoever thought of “hug mode” needs a raise. Using the L button, Cereza can grab and hug Cheshire’s smaller stuffed animal form, which lets you move around the world as a single unit. It’s a nice respite from controlling both characters, and is even directly woven into some of the game’s puzzles. You can use it basically at any time, though you understandably may need to split them off for combat or puzzle-solving (like tossing Cheshire up a ledge in hug form to open up a path or avoid a substance that keeps Cheshire at bay).
As you progress and earn more tools of the trade, both combat and exploration get more interesting. Cheshire can sport multiple forms, which can be used to solve puzzles; and creates more open-ended situations where the solution to a particular collectible drop or a critical path puzzle is less obvious. After the hour-ish long first tutorial-like area Bayonetta Origins opens up more, but without feeling overwhelming or like there’s tons of padding. You’ll come across a reasonable amount of collectibles during your journey, and the paths don’t become too labyrinthine and boring, even later on.
All along the way you’ll get constant tidbits on Cereza’s backstory, which in turn inform future Bayonetta timeline events. While you don’t need to be a pure Bayonetta fan to really enjoy the mostly self-encapsulated story, it does help: especially during some of the game’s more eventful series references. As someone who loves this world, it’s interesting to see first-hand how Cereza grew up and the circumstances surrounding that, as well as what led to the imprisonment of her mother (and how she personally dealt with it).
Bayonetta Origins isn’t a prestige drama by any means, but the entire vibe is extremely amenable to fans. There’s always the risk of over-explaining things (which some fans took umbrage with in the third game), but the way Bayonetta Origins operates is relatively melancholy and muted, and doesn’t quite sink to the depths of “just say the line!” depravity.
The bit that should appeal to pretty much everyone is the storybook aesthetic. It’s so much better looking in motion, as the backgrounds really pop and feel alive in incredibly nuanced ways. The animation on Cheshire in particular (especially when changing forms) is mesmerizing, which is fun to look at during some of the game’s slower moments, and during the higher octane battles. I love how Cheshire clambers up walls and has exaggerated slashing motions: it feels true to Platinum’s sense of “functional style.”
At $60, the low key nature of Bayonetta Origins and the fact that some of it is going to appeal to Bayonetta fans isn’t going to do it any favors. But when I was playing through it, I was reminded of a few ’90s classics like The Lost Vikings and the quirkiness of the Gobliiins series. It’s a really breezy game to play if you’re enamored by the storybook look and feel, which does some of the heavy lifting.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]