‘Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon’ is a Psychedelic Witch’s Brew of an Action-Puzzler
On paper, nothing about Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon should work. Developed by Platinum Games and directors Abebe Tinari and Hideki Kamiya, it serves as a companion piece to the main Bayonetta trilogy ,but like other Nintendo-published co-productions — namely Cadence of Hyrule and Metroid Dread — it moves to a different tempo than what fans might expect from the famously ludicrous franchise.
Instead of over-the-top, bullet-hell set pieces featuring gratuitous heel guns, chainsaw swords, and the tempestuous allure of “good spankings” from a provocative witch, Bayonetta Origins taps into more wholesome, artsy principles to retrace Bayonetta’s (née Cereza’s) childhood and how it shaped her identity. But like its predecessors, the beauty of this new interpretation is that it never settles to be ordinary.
To their credit, Platinum Games absolutely nail the transition. Cereza and the Lost Demon is easy to fall in love with as a magical picture-book that deviates into the macabre side of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. It follows Cereza’s birth – the offspring of a Lumen Sage and an Umbra Witch torn apart and exiled for their forbidden love – and details her woeful upbringing as a child cursed by the circumstances of her own existence, her sole friend a stuffed cat named Cheshire. Labeled a pariah, Cereza finds solace in the teachings of an exiled witch, but said lessons in the dark arts and her dreams of entering the Avalon Forest lead her to summoning an infernal demon who takes possession of her beloved toy.
It’s a concept lined with Tim Burton-isms and one that positions Cereza and Cheshire’s relationship as the heart of Bayonetta Origins. Cereza is a young witch determined to break free from her own insecurities and Cheshire is a demon with an everlasting hatred for being cuddled, and their dynamic is exemplified by the game’s core puzzle adventure mechanics as players control both characters simultaneously.
Similar to another dual protagonist title, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Cereza’s controls are mapped to the left Joy-Con and Cheshire’s to the right. While the Umbra Witch uses the art of dance to summon plants and bind enemies with thorns, her companion is a brute force that uses elemental powers to decimate everything in sight. It’s a mechanic that can be a bit disorienting when your mind and thumbs refuse to cooperate, but it blossoms in Origins’ asymmetrical puzzles and when the two allies need each other to cross gaps and avoid patches of perilous rosemary.
While Origins’ combat isn’t exactly 1:1 with the kinetically paced ballet of violence that defined the Bayonetta series as a hack and slash icon, it allows for free-form experimentation that you wouldn’t expect to see in a standard action-puzzle game. Both Cereza and Cheshire have broad skill trees built with combos in mind and, while the former can use potion crafting and an adorable “Hug Mode” that allows for faster recasting, her plush counterpart can change to different forms (i.e., water, stone) and use mastery attacks for crowd control.
The only downside is that combat rarely gets as exhilaratingly overwhelming as it does in the series proper. The faeries of Avalon Forest are standard issue minions with shields, cannons, and armor sets, and outside of the occasional Tir na nÓg – Origin’s illuminated mini dungeons that put Breath of the Wild’s shrines to shame – it’s fairly easy to single out enemies one-by-one to defeat, especially with bind combos and tandem attacks that add user-driven context to Cereza and Cheshire’s friendship.
Difficulty aside, Cereza and the Lost Demon is one of the most visually captivating recent works of art in any medium. It’s downright gorgeous and little can describe art director Tomoko Nishii and the his team’s affinity for creating storybook landscapes deserving of an exhibit in Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum. Avalon Forest is an enchanting locale that’s much denser than it initially seems and each watercolor-tinged composition is brushed with hidden paths, crystallized flora, and intermittent faerie illusions that add a heavy dose of psychedelia to the world’s persistent use of light and dark tones.
This makes for visuals that continually awe-inducing and showcases the strength of lush art direction over straightforward graphical horsepower. And tethered to menus adorned by original artwork and featuring a bittersweet soundtrack arranged by composer Hitomi Kurokawa (see “Together In The Moonlit Forest”), it all adds up to a game oozing with charming allure.
Bayonetta Origins’ greatest feat is its ability to draw you into a sublime escapist adventure that feels impossible to put down. Its narrative threads (and revelations) will appease longtime Bayo fans and lore heads who aren’t satisfied simply by journal pages and flashback sequences from the O.G. trilogy, and while its combat leaves a lot to be desired in comparison, it’s bolstered by a fictional world that is devastatingly dreamy, haunting, and richly imagined.
As a passion project for Kamiya, Tinari, Nishii, and the rest of Platinum Games, it should be a point of pride that the game showcases the developers at a peak of artistry and ingenuity, standing as a reminder of why it never hurts to be different. Whether it’s through the protagonist’s sheepish curiosity or aspirations to feel “whole” again, Cereza and the Lost Demon perfectly encapsulates a sense of folkish nostalgia and childlike wonder that will tear you into a million pieces — even when it’s gone.
Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon is available now on the Nintendo Switch.