I’m not sure who asked for a Bayonetta origin story, but I’m glad they did. I’m only the first five chapters into Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon, and I am loving every minute of it.
Related reading: Our review of the most recent Bayonetta game – Bayonetta 3.
Origins is, as the name suggests, an origins story, where we see young Bayonetta as a lonely girl and apprentice to a rather cold (but perhaps caring) witch. For the most part, she runs errands for her guardian, and she is just learning magic. However, she’s soon called to a nearby wood and compelled to follow a great white wolf in search of her lost mother. Soon after that, she runs into trouble as some hostile fairies attack her, and this awakens some latent power in her. She summons a great demon into her teddy bear (Cheshire), and so starts one of the oddest buddy-buddy games that we’ve seen to date.
This Bayonetta isn’t the strutting, powerful witch with guns in her hands and feet, of course. This Bayonetta is undoubtedly brave and headstrong, but she is also innocent, and she is not equipped to handle the monsters around her. It’s up to her demon companion to provide the muscle, while Bayonetta offers magical support from behind, and to help them traverse the world around them. Controlling both simultaneously, you need to use teamwork to solve puzzles and make progress through what seems to be a fairly brief but thorough creative experience.
If the above wasn’t clear, this is a very, very different game from the Bayonetta that you might be familiar with, and those differences run much deeper than simply the shift away from a Devil May Cry-like action system. The Grimm Brothers-like fairy tale presentation is handled beautifully, as are the frequent references to this being a kind of Alice in Wonderland-style adventure. There’s a much heavier emphasis on puzzle solving, and while I’m not an avid fan of puzzles that require you to manipulate two different characters simultaneously, for the most part, these were enjoyable rather than frustrating.
But it’s the characterisation that is the most different, and as a spinoff, this has been an excellent project for significantly deepening the character at the centre of it all. Even just a few chapters in, I have loved learning about what Bayonetta was like as a kid. The sweet innocence of the way she cuddles her teddy close as she ventures into the haunted forest, versus her stubborn-headedness and determination to rescue her mother and master what it is to be a witch. In the video that I recorded to accompany this preview, I do talk about how this is a fairly classic example of a bildungsroman, and while that’s common material for video games, the fact that we know the end product of this journey will be such a fascinating character immediately draws us into and connects us with the events of this story. You can’t help but want to know what kind of life-altering moment turned this innocent kid into the Bayonetta we all know and love.
The game’s aesthetics are absolutely gorgeous. Cutscenes are largely presented through animated storybook sequences, and in-game the top-down gameplay is dark but vibrant. There are plenty of small details in the animation to help convey some whimsy, too. I especially love the little dancers that Bayonetta does to summon her magic. If nothing else, we’re so used to Bayonetta from the trilogy being one of the prime targets for the sexualisation in games debate that it’s pleasant to have an origins story that’s adorable, cute, and for all the dark material going on, so far surprisingly wholesome. That discourse will, thankfully, not be a factor in the discussion around this game.
All-in-all Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon is off to a great start. It’s much more narrative-driven than I was led to think coming in, so it’s difficult to draw firm conclusions about the game until I’ve seen it in its full context. However, the opening chapters make it clear that, for something that a lot of people will undoubtedly dismiss as being “a spinoff” and some mere filler in Nintendo’s release schedule, there’s actually a lot more going on, and that makes the rest of it fundamentally interesting.