To borrow a joke from internet person Lyle Wrath, “Have you ever been playing Bayonetta and thought, ‘I sure do like this dominatrix, stripper, mommy character, but it would be great if she were…a child.’ Well, then to jail with you.” Nevertheless, they made that game, and here it is. Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon is a bit of a particular witch’s brew—while it’s not terrible, it’s easily the most un-Bayonetta thing I’ve experienced.
Bayonetta Origins is exactly what it says on the box: an origin story of the witch Cereza—or, as we’d come to know her, Bayonetta. Her story begins as she’s in the early stages of learning magic. In an effort to prove her master’s constant berating wrong, she enters the mysterious and dangerous Avalon Forest. When she’s approached by the mischievous and bloodthirsty creatures known as Faries, she somewhat accidentally summons a demon that possesses her stuffed cat Chesire. Together the two must traverse the forest to unlock Cereza’s latent power so that she might save her mother and so Cheshire can return to its realm.
If you’ve played the first Bayonetta, then you’ll recognize some of the plot; and as an origin story, it both works and doesn’t, being full of fun and whimsy but a little undercut by its delivery. While Cereza isn’t the confident figure we’ve come to know and love—this makes sense in part to certain plot details in the first game—it is slightly interesting to see the initial sparks of justice and right foster within her. Furthermore, the story definitely has a whimsical, fairytale-like story, emulating that of a children’s storybook.
However, therein lies part of the narrative’s problem. Almost every cutscene is delivered in a frame-by-frame storybook style, as Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon pauses to deliver the plot slowly. While I can’t exactly fault its style—it is quite charming in its own right—like I said in my Pronty review, recently, I’ve been finding myself annoyed with games that feel the need to stop every five seconds to communicate what’s happening to the player.
This is the first part of this Bayonetta game’s un-Bayonetta…ness. The Bayonetta series succeeds in its storytelling by parsing its plot in between high-octane action—usually saving the majority of it for the beginning and end of stages, with only small, key plot points delivered throughout levels. It knows not to constantly stop the action and keep the pace of the game moving.
“Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon is an incredibly slow-moving game…”
But Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon is an incredibly slow-moving game—which I’ll get into in a moment—so pausing Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon every five minutes for what can liberally be described as cutscenes just make the whole thing feel boring. I couldn’t help but feel like this could’ve been done in a more active way. Part of the problem is each cutscene is dictated by the game’s narrator, like a mother reading a bedtime story to her child. Rather than having the narrator dictate as the game is happening, making the story an active part of gameplay, it keeps forcing the game to stop.
Perhaps this won’t bother most gamers or children, but to me, at least, who’s more and more approaching middle age and realizing how precious little time I have, constantly waiting for the game to let me play through an incredibly slow reading of text just makes the experience frustrating.
Gameplay is also somewhat of a mixed bag. In my preview, I mentioned how I initially worried about Bayonetta Origins since it reminded me somewhat of Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes. However, after spending a lot of time with this game, I can’t help but feel like Travis Strikes Back is actually a more cohesive representation of the thing it’s spun off from. Bayonetta Origins is an exploration game with light puzzle-solving and fairly mindless combat. Together, these elements kind of work—providing a unique experience that certainly differentiates itself from its predecessors—but, as I mentioned above, it feels so profoundly un-Bayonetta.
The real standout to me was the combat, being mildly frustrating and underwhelming at the same time. As players may have seen through the litany of reveal trailers, Cereza doesn’t fight on her own, relying on the massive demon Cheshire to combat the Fairie enemies while she provides support from the background. However, similar to Blanc, players control both Cereza and Cheshire at the same time both in and out of combat—Cereza being mapped to the Left Joy-Con, and Chesire to the Right. While I’ll say it mostly works, and the more time I spent with it, the less I hated it, I still hate this. I hated it in Blanc, and I hate it now.
Like in my Blanc review, initially, I thought maybe my brain was just too stupid to handle controlling two characters at once in a 3D space. But I consider myself a pretty decent gamer. I can handle SoulsBorne games pretty decently. I can take on any challenge in Monster Hunter. I’d say I’m a pretty decent Smash Bros player, so the idea that I was the problem really didn’t align with my ability to play games.
But during combat in Bayonetta origins, it always seemed like, as my attention would shift to Cheshire, who is the only one who can actually deal damage during a fight; I would just be directing Cereza into a wall or worse, into the line of fire. Likewise, trying to keep track of Cereza meant I would just be wildly mashing attacks as Cheshire, losing track of what enemy I was even fighting.
What makes this more annoying is Cereza is the one who cannot take damage during fights, as if she loses all her health, it will result in a game over. Cheshire, on the other hand, will simply revert to his doll form and need to be picked up and held until its magic/health recovers. This begins to get even more chaotic as Cheshire begins acquiring new elemental forms, as enemies with defences that can only be broken by certain elemental attacks start getting introduced into the mix.
While Cereza can use her limited magic to bind enemies, for whatever reason, when you hold down her attack button, it locks her in one direction, further forcing you to struggle with the controls of swinging her around to face the enemy while you’re fending off multiple more attackers with Cheshire.
“No fight ever felt as tight, fluid, flashy, or fun as it did in any previous Bayonetta game…”
No fight ever felt as tight, fluid, flashy, or fun as it did in any previous Bayonetta game—dare I say, the main reason people play those games. Furthermore, choosing to focus so hard on the “spellcasting” aspect of Cereza’s abilities feels somewhat ineffectual since it was never really a feature in previous outings—this is the woman who would kick monsters in the face with guns that were also her shoes. Why Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon thought having to simultaneously actively control two characters in a chaotic 3D space would be fun, I will never understand.
I can’t help but feel like maybe if Cereza was delegated to a support character outside the battlefield—casting spells to help buff or support Cheshire that was on cooldowns, with a system akin to the DS, The World Ends With You—while players mainly focus on controlling Cheshire, then combat wouldn’t have been a such a sloppy, dissatisfying mess.
The control scheme works a bit better outside of combat, as players can summon Cheshire into what’s called “Hug Mode,” where Cereza carries him around rather than forcing characters to control two characters constantly. Most puzzles are fairly simple, either requiring Cereza to use magic on something, which is done through a simple QTE; or requiring Cheshire to smash something.
Most environmental puzzles don’t require a huge amount of simultaneous teamwork, making the control scheme somewhat more bearable. Outside the main world, there is Tír na nÓg—a sort of small challenge realm that distorts Avalon Forest and needs to be completed for Cereza to progress. Much like its predecessors, I can’t help but feel like Bayonetta Origins would’ve been a better experience had it been more linear.
Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon takes on some light Metroid-like exploration elements, with Avalon Forest being a somewhat open-space and a certain path being blocked by elemental walls that can be returned to after players have progressed past certain points in the plot. But there’s never any real reason to explore outside of gaining small amounts of the currency both Cereza and Cheshire need to be spent on upgrading abilities via their skill trees, or Moon Pearls and Demon Fruit, which they both need to unlock higher-level abilities.
Similarly, while most Tír na nÓgs are usually relegated to the main story path, there are optional ones to complete that can open up new areas to find more chests—each Tír na nÓg itself rewards Cereza with a Heart Piece style health upgrade. I found that Bayonetta Origins was pretty generous with giving you these upgrades while progressing on the main path that exploration was never really necessary. Once you unlock Cheshire’s charge attack—which can be used with every elemental upgrade—combat was such a chaotic slop-job that just mashing the attack button or holding it for easy homing attacks was the best way to get through it; not to mention most upgrades were fundamentally worthless.
I said it in my preview, and I’ll say it again. What Bayonetta Origins has going for it in spades is a breathtaking visual style. Almost every area of Avalon is incredibly beautiful, emulating a whimsical enchanted forest with an impressive amount of detail and backed by a brilliant soft colour palette that makes the whole game feel dreamy and magical.
The way background details blend or disappear to look like the pages of a book and are almost painted in as you approach adds such a surreal element to Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon’s storybook aesthetic and are enhanced by small details that stick out almost like a pop-up book. Furthermore, while the game looks really good in handheld, particularly on the OLED; it SHINES in docked mode at 1080p, where the crisp lines and beautiful colours really pop.
“…Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon suffers is in its character design.”
However, where Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon suffers is in its character design. Most of the Fairies are pretty similar and lack the distinct designs of the Angels from previous games. Furthermore, Cheshire is fairly boring visually, and I know it was a somewhat crass joke at the start, but Cereza’s design is weirdly sexualized—with thigh-high stockings and a super short skirt. Considering the game is constantly reminding the player that she is a child, her design just seemed gross to me—weird, old Uncle Japan I guess?
However, accompanying the visuals is a childlike fantasy score that utilizes a lot of flute, violin, discordant piano and even some xylophone thrown in for good measure. I made a joke once that even though Bayonetta was initially published by Sega, she feels like the kind of character Nintendo would come up with if tasked with making an “adult” character. But now it feels like it’s come around full circle, as this game’s soundtrack honestly feels like it’s straight out of Mario Odyssey or A Legend of Zelda, and lacks the Jazz/Pop soundtrack of its predecessors.
As I mentioned above, the longer I played Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon, the less I came to dislike it, but my desire to play it felt like some bizarre obligation to see the story—which, as I said, isn’t terrible—than actually to enjoy Bayonetta Origins. Its failure to deliver a harmonized, fluid fighting system made every combat encounter feel like a slog and quickly made me want to play something else. Maybe some players will like it more than I, but as a full-priced game, I’d say you’re better suited to just play the Bayonetta trilogy.