Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon was a surprising inclusion in last year's The Game Awards--a Bayonetta spin-off that eschewed the series' leather-clad heroine and her gothic-inspired combat chops in favor of a bright action-adventure game. However surprised you were to see the game debut, though, it's even more surprising to play it. While Bayonetta Origins ties thematically and chronologically to Bayonetta, the experience of playing it is so wholly different as to be almost unrecognizable. Judging by my hands-on time with the game, this looks to be a sweet-natured, relaxed affair.
In fact, the game Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon reminds me of the most is Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. That 2013 game from a pre-Game Awards winning Josef Fares centered around a pair of siblings navigating a fraught forest with asymmetrical abilities. Even the premise of the two games is remarkably similar. In Brothers, you were on a journey to find a magical cure for your father, while in Bayonetta Origins, you're looking to help your ailing mother.
While Fares is now known for his co-op games, Brothers was single-player, and you controlled the two characters independently with the dual sticks. That's the case in Bayonetta Origins as well: The left stick controls Cereza, while the right stick controls Cheshire, a demon that has taken up residence within her stuffed cat. In theory, and thanks to the Switch's detachable Joy-Con controllers, you could hand one off to a friend and play cooperatively, but it's obviously meant to be a single-player experience.
The asymmetrical abilities are key to the light puzzle-solving, which made up the majority of my playtime. Cheshire, for example, can't cross certain areas, but it can use its massive claws to swipe away vines blocking the way. Cereza can activate certain plants in the haunted forest with spells, which opens pathways. Cereza can also hold Cheshire in its stuffed, non-possessed form, opening movement possibilities like tossing the stuffy up on a ledge and then taking control of it as a hulking beast. There's a constant push-and-pull at the heart of the game, as you come to a roadblock as one character and quickly puzzle out how to use the other to cross a gap or open a pathway.
I found it a little fiddly to control both characters at once. Maybe I could get better with practice, but in the brief hands-on, I found it hard to split my brain in two and control them both at once when the motion got more complex than holding in one direction. (The alternative is simply to have the characters take turns moving, which is functional if a little tedious.) There fortunately wasn't much consequence for veering off-track--Cheshire might accidentally wander into an unsafe area and reel back--but if the difficulty ramps up, that could present challenges. It does help, though, that Cereza can carry Cheshire for those times when you just want to control one character.
The combat also relies on this dual-protagonist mechanic, though it was not terribly complex during my time with the game. Cheshire is the bruiser of the two, while Cereza is essentially a support character. She can trap enemies to immobilize them temporarily, but mostly you'll need to keep her safe while Cheshire does his work mopping up the enemies. Combat was sparse and quick, and felt more like an opportunity to briefly change up the pace--a far cry from the Bayonetta series. The emphasis on puzzle-solving with only light combat made it a relaxed, almost tranquil experience--at least in the very early stage I experienced.
That more peaceful distinction extends to the presentation as well. Bayonetta has become known for carrying itself with a certain level of flair and panache--the heroine is a sex symbol in addition to being an action star. For obvious reasons, this prequel takes a different approach. With the focus squarely on a young witch coming into her own, the story is instead delivered like a storybook, right down to a visual effect of flipping through pages, and a grandmotherly narrator who adopts different "voices" when she speaks as different characters. As a parent very accustomed to reading stories to his kids, hearing a matronly voice make her voice into a deep growl to "speak" as Cheshire is very charming.
That presentation makes the game much lighter, literally and figuratively, than the main series. The visuals are lush and colorful, with bright hues and deep, illustrative outlines. It's really lovely to watch and it accents how a strong art style can compensate for the Switch's comparatively underpowered hardware. Even characters like the hulking demon Cheshire or the threatening Faeries look just this side of cute on the cute-to-creepy spectrum.
Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon is a huge departure from the main series. That departure is so radical, in fact, that it's impossible to say if it's necessarily for the better or worse. It's aimed at completely different goals, for audiences who want something completely different out of their games. That may make it less appealing for those who come to Bayonetta for its wild action combat, but those looking for more series lore--or fans of chill, picturesque adventure games--will find a lot to like here based on this early look.
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