What if I told you Bayonetta wasn’t always the confident, ass-kicking witch we’ve known for all these years? That unexplored history is what Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon shines a light on, painting a thoughtful picture of a time when the scariest monsters a young Bayonetta had to face were her own inner demons. This spin-off puts the usual wild stylish action aside for a whimsical and harrowing adventure brimming with childlike wonder and genuinely heartwarming moments. It’s a fascinating side of the Bayonetta world we’ve never seen before, and one that leaves me with a deeper appreciation for a series I already loved.
There’s so much to adore in Bayonetta Origins that I was smiling from ear to ear, giggling from all the charming gags, or exclaiming “Aww!” more times than I can count. Every corner of it is brought to life with a beautiful storybook presentation to frame the action-adventure thrills. It’s such a joyous journey in an imaginative world, steeped in Irish mythology, where faeries have trapped Cereza in the labyrinthine Avalon Forest and lurk about with tricks and ambushes. It also explores elements only alluded to in the mainline games with a grounded and earnest approach. Yet, it’s distinct enough as a prequel to stand on its own merits so newcomers can jump in and thoroughly enjoy. And after its roughly 15-hour journey, I was left a bit sad when it came time to close the book on it.
Taking more of a top-down view than Bayonetta’s usual third-person camera, Bayonetta Origins simultaneously puts you in control of both Cereza and her demon-infused cat plushie, Cheshire, when summoned — Cereza’s movement and actions are dedicated to the left side of the controller and Cheshire to the right. Juggling two characters eventually became quite intuitive once I got the hang of it, but I found both the system itself and the challenges it’s used for don’t evolve drastically after being established. You’ll become familiar with the pattern of using one character to move part of the environment or pin down an enemy to setup the other, but these moments can still lead to some neat mind-bending scenarios by virtue of the coordination required to handle the tandem effectively.
In one respect, Bayonetta Origins is a puzzle-platformer that often asks you to analyze your surroundings and figure out how to use the duo’s abilities to get through it. Cheshire can pull objects with his chameleon-like vine tongue, block projectiles with his hardened stone skin, or propel lily pads with a jetstream to navigate water, all of which help get Cereza where she needs to go. These elemental skills are gained over the course of the story, which does introduce a few wrinkles to the formula to keep it feeling fresh. Cereza herself has a fun little rhythm minigame with Witch Pulse where she gleefully ballet dances to make various objects come alive and open the paths ahead. While these platforming puzzles never get too complex, there’s an enjoyable variety to exploring this wondrous world.
In another respect, Bayonetta Origins is a proper action game, with combat that has the duo working together in a similar fashion. Cereza’s main purpose is to trap enemies in place with Thorn Bind, giving Cheshire the opportunity to freely wail on dastardly faeries with furious swipes and powerful smashes. A variety of enemy types gradually encouraged me to mix up Cheshire’s elemental modes, such as ripping shields and throwing them back with his grass ability or casting a massive area-of-effect explosion with his fire combo. It’s not necessarily as nuanced as I’d expect from a mainline Bayonetta game, but landing attacks always has a satisfying crunch, like there’s a beastly weight and impact behind every hit. And when you finally finish off the last few enemies with Cheshire’s chunky chomps, the dazzling art style and lively animations jump from the screen to celebrate in a way that feels like its own reward.
Bayonetta Origins is a rather forgiving game, tricky from the perspective of managing two characters at once yet not particularly difficult overall. However, several of the Tír na nÓg trials scattered across the world do provide intriguing puzzle and combat sequences in otherworldly stages built to test your skill and reward you with items and collectibles. The story-critical Tír na nÓg are fun and fairly straightforward, but the optional ones are really worth seeking out — if not for the gratification of clearing the map alone, then definitely for the enjoyable challenges they offer. For example, in one Cereza and Cheshire have to run separately along parallel paths while avoiding different sets of deadly obstacles, while another had Cheshire in a hamster wheel to move platforms or block lasers to help Cereza progress. No matter what they have you do, ending each one with a Witch Pulse dance and a colorful burst of energy to break the ethereal realm never gets old.
Boss fights also have some great one-off mechanics of their own that play into their unique quirks. One such battle takes place in a circus against a trickster faerie you have to trap with Cereza so that Cheshire can send a cannonball into them, capping the fight off with classic Bayonetta-style quick time events to blast the boss into oblivion and frame the climactic moment. Defeating the fabled Jabberwock was another triumphant moment for Cereza and Cheshire, an imposing dragon that requires timing, teamwork, and clever environmental interactions to take down — it’s a turning point that proved this pair can be stronger together and overcome anything. Many of these big battles pull you deeper into the pages of this storybook world for memorable moments and awesome surprises.
While these fights continuously impressed me, what Bayonetta Origins does best here is create a satisfying flow where I regularly felt tasked with something different throughout each chapter, layering plenty of variety onto a solid foundation. The interconnectedness of Avalon Forest helps create a natural progression through it as well — each region smartly transitions into the next then conveniently loops back around to previous ones thanks to new abilities Cheshire gets, while also tucking away little secrets off the beaten path. Exploring is always worth the extras you earn, be that saving the adorable Wisps who populate the forest, reading elegantly written journal entries full of enticing lore, or discovering new landmarks to soak in a lovely view and let Cereza reflect on her journey.
More than anything, this is a coming of age tale for Cereza. The story centers around a turning point in her life as she comes to grips with her witchcraft and fights the insecurities of not being good enough for her master Morgana – and if you’re familiar with the original Bayonetta, it’s cool to see Cereza’s ultimate goal of saving her mom remains her driving motivation here. Anyone who’s had childhood struggles can relate to Cereza on some level, and her rich personality and the way she rises up in defining moments bring those feelings to life.
I often forgot I was even playing a Bayonetta game, which is a testament to Bayonetta Origins’ endlessly charming and youthful charisma. The dynamic between Cereza and Cheshire starting as a contentious partnership before growing into a true friendship works as a wonderful hook, one that perfectly fits the storybook vibe. The idea that this unlikely duo must rely on each other to survive the faeries’ deception, break a supposed curse, and reach their own separate goals seems like a tale as old as time, but it truly shines because of how Bayonetta Origins pulls it off.
Cereza is so outwardly expressive at every moment, with a spirited personality elevated by a magnificent voice performance from Angeli Wall. Her enthusiasm is matched by the narrator, voiced by Jenny Lee, whose performance perfectly captures the memory of your favorite elementary school teacher reading a thrilling fairy tale to the class. The narrator also switches to voice Cheshire’s lines on a dime, using a comical imitation of a beastly growl, which creates an effortlessly whimsical tone that made me feel like a kid during story time again. I can honestly say that they never failed to put a smile on my face, giving me a sense of childlike joy I truly cherish.
As a demon haphazardly summoned by Cereza, Cheshire’s growth as a character is adorably wholesome. Maybe it’s that he embodies her patchwork cat plushie, or that deep down you know he’s a big softie who struggles with his demonic origins. For as much trouble as she gets herself in, Cereza is as bright as she is daring, and even in her brash decisions and mistakes, she remains steadfast. Through their quarrels, you’ll still find the two snuggled up under the trees at each Sanctuary save point like a heartwarming respite amid a harrowing adventure. And in their most triumphant moments, they won my heart over and over again.
In the bigger picture, however, the story’s focus can get a bit shaky towards the end. I don’t want to spoil anything, and the broader plotline does largely make sense, but certain elements don’t always quite add up and genuinely intriguing conflicts can sometimes make too quick of a narrative leap to be fully convincing. But even with those bumps in the road, the journey comes together as a beautifully written tale of friendship, determination, and realizing your potential with a natural, lighthearted sense of humor to elevate it.
That might best be seen in the precious Wisps, who are quirky little fellas with hilarious personalities and backstories that feature some of the wittiest writing from a game in recent memory. You save these spirits by finding them throughout the forest, often in secret areas that require a sharp eye to discover. They add a truly charming touch and unlocking their journal entries was reason enough for me to rescue them. But as an added bonus, you’ll also see their hideaway blossom into a safe haven for these goofy and kind souls who can thrive and find joy even in a tragic existence.
The mortar that strengthens these already strong bricks has to be the amazing soundtrack. Bayonetta Origins has an eclectic mix of uplifting Celtic folk music, intense and layered orchestras, spooky waltzes that remind me of Halloween, and joyous piano tunes that liven the mystical vibe. Every shift in tone, powerful moment, or small discovery is accompanied by the perfect piece of music. The cute jingle that plays whenever you open a chest, where Cereza jumps for joy with a celebratory giggle, was always a treat. But I won’t forget the rich orchestral pieces used to complement the vivid, pivotal battles, especially the ones that use subtle callbacks to some of Bayonetta’s iconic themes — it’s a powerful and unique type of nostalgia that brings the series full circle, recontextualizing memorable melodies to convey that these are Cereza’s formative moments.
I’ll always love the bombastic brand of stylish-action the Bayonetta games are known for, and the series is arguably the best representation of the subgenre out there. But Bayonetta Origins shows that this series can be even more than that, to the point where I’d go as far as calling it my new favorite entry. It’s so completely different from the numbered Bayonetta games that it’s not entirely worth comparing them, but this is still the one I’ll remember most fondly, at least for the ways it strikes emotional chords I didn’t think Bayonetta could.
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Author: Tom Marks