How do you keep fans coming back to your franchise? Is it through iteration and improving the established formula or by sleight of hand, essentially turning everything established on its side? In the case of
How do you keep fans coming back to your franchise? Is it through iteration and improving the established formula or by sleight of hand, essentially turning everything established on its side? In the case of Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon, I think it’s simply pivoting to something wholly different than what came before it. This isn’t the gun-loving, demon-toting Bayonetta you’ve come to know over three mainline titles. Instead, you’re joining Cereza as a child and only as she’s starting her journey into the dark arts.
Instead of a world-ending journey into a multiverse of madness, PlatinumGames is offering a quieter story this time. Not everyone was a big fan of Bayonetta 3 and I only came around to the ending a few weeks after discussing it online and talking to a few other colleagues before settling on it being a decent entry. Not long after, Nintendo and PlatinumGames unveiled this storybook trailer, one that looked nothing like what Bayonetta normally looks like but I was cautiously interested in seeing where things would lead.
Into the Forest
By trading in the fast-paced and frantic gameplay of the mainline series for something much simpler, Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon aims to tell an origin story of how Cereza came into her own. This is shown in several ways as the camera is no longer third-person, instead offering an isometric view of the forest of Avalon and Cereza and her first demon, Chesire head into the unknown.
With Cereza’s mother, a prisoner of the Umbran Witches and her father exiled, it is up to the young witch to make things right. See, because her mother fell in love with a Lumen Sage, Cereza was shunned due to her heritage and told she would not be allowed to learn the Umbran ways, before ultimately excelling at the very arts she wasn’t allowed to utilize. Before all this, a fellow Umbran witch swoops in and serves as a mother figure as she is taken in who would eventually teach her the ways of magic.
One night during a particularly real nightmare, in which she is not able to save her mother, Cereza is visited in her dream by a young boy who confers with her that she can in fact, save her mother from her fate. To do so, Cereza needs to head to Avalon Forest and find a white wolf which will guide her through the treacherous landscape. Without so much as questioning the vision and guidance from her Umbran mentor, Cereza heads into the forest to find out what awaits her.
The opening hour is a bit of a drag and probably where I was anxious to move on to better things but once you enter Avalon Forest, things pick up. It is here where Cereza meets her first demon summon, Cheshire, who supposedly is along for the ride to help our little Bayonetta find the power needed to save her mother. The duo soon heads deeper into the forest, where the bulk of the adventure takes place.
Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon is a different take on the series
By doing away with much of the lore and baggage of the mainline games, PlatinumGames is able to tell a simple story. Surprisingly, I didn’t miss the bombastic combos and magic nearly as much as I expected I would. You’re not powerful yet and Cereza still has much to learn so it is up to Cheshire to help her stay safe by dealing with the enemies the Forest puts in front of you. This is done in a twin-stick manner, and I can say I rolled credits enjoying the change in gameplay.
Essentially, you’re playing with detached Joy-Con controllers with the left Joy-Con controlling Cereza and the right controlling Cheshire. If you ever played Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, you’ll know exactly what I mean when I say the two share DNA. Similarly, if you ever played Astral Chain, the way you control your character and their Legion is reminiscent of that mechanic where you control your partner’s actions independently. Meanwhile, Cereza soon learns to harness Witch Pulse, a spell that interacts with the environment in several ways. Essentially to move past a puzzle, you can trigger the action that then requires you to move the joystick to match the pulse of the spell.
While Cereza handles enemies by binding them, Cheshire handles the physicality of the obstacles in front of the duo. With three different attacks, you are effective in battle but it isn’t a particularly deep system, to begin with before evolving into something worthwhile. Since Cereza isn’t formidable just yet, she’ll need Cheshire around at times, so with Hug Mode, you can shrink the purple patchwork cat into a stuffed toy for Cereza to hold.
Peas in a pod
Thankfully, the earlier sections of Avalon Forest do a great job of acclimating the player to the mechanics between the young witch and her demon. It’s easy enough to keep track of both parties and even handle their obstacles together, going so far as to feel approachable.
Progression is mostly linear and I personally don’t mind that given how indulgent some video games tend to be these days with their worlds. Cereza solves an environmental puzzle with some light platforming mechanics while Cheshire handles enemies before continuing your trek into the forest to find the white wolf. Not every area is linear though as some sections contain off-the-path secrets worth discovering. The further the duo head into Avalon Forest, you’ll soon find Elemental Cores required to progress further. The Wood elemental might require you to pull part of the environment to you, while the Stone elemental is used to squash pieces of the forest to bits. Some Elemental Cores have multiple uses like Water being used in battle or to get around the environment by turning into a propulsion system.
When you’re not exploring the forest, there is the excellent Tír na nÓg sections, which I feel are the shrines from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Serving as short dungeons, the idea is to reach the end to unlock the health or magic upgrade. These sections serve two purposes — one is to become stronger and two is to unlock new areas on the map which are shrouded in darkness. I was left impressed by how straightforward some of these puzzles ended up being while others tested your merit as a team.
After spending a dozen hours with young Cereza, I’m a bit miffed it took us this long to meet her. Not counting the version we met in the original Bayonetta, this witch-in-training is still wildly unsure of who she is and what she is capable of. From the first time we meet her, it’s hard not to love this variant of the character we’ve seen over three mainline games. Seeing Cereza a bit scared and reserved, especially after the last year’s Bayonetta 3 is a pretty wild departure but one I would love to see in a potential sequel.
I can see where people might have issues with Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon. In the thick of the action, I tended to get lost in what I was doing and that would lead to me forgetting to control either Cheshire or Cereza correctly. The controls work well but there are moments when enemies can and will overwhelm you which can sometimes lead to taking far more damage than expected. For such a simple-looking game there are times when the controls work counter to everything else going on.
Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon is a wonderful spin-off of mainline Bayonetta and while it may not answer all the questions left by last year’s Bayonetta 3, offers a wonderful new way to explore this universe. If anything, you can see and feel the developers’ history and experience come to fruition. There’s also all the baggage the series has seemingly gathered over the last decade and somehow, Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon sidesteps that in favour of something simple but unique.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]