Long before this trainee of the dark arts would come to be called Bayonetta, she took a fateful journey into the forbidden Avalon Forest. Alongside her was Cheshire, her very first demon, possessing Cereza’s stuffed toy. Play as both Cereza and Cheshire and search through the treacherous forest to look for the power to save Cereza’s mother.

Publisher: Nintendo
Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch
Also available for:

Cast: Angeli Wall, Yusuke Konishi, Jenny Lee, Jennifer Hale, Eleanor Jackson, Emma Fielding, Harriet Carmichael,

Developer: PlatinumGames
Director: Abebe Tinari
Original Story & Chief Scenario Writer: Hideki Kamiya
Scenario Writer: Maho Miyata
Art Direction: Tomoko Nishii

Given Bayonetta 3 was released only last year, the announcement of a prequel so soon was shocking. For series fans, we’re used to waiting for long periods between releases. However, Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon is something unique. The game doesn’t star the adult Bayonetta, but instead an Umbrea Witch in training, at this time, known by her birth name, Cereza. The game isn’t an action-adventure like the three others in the series either, instead opting for an Alice in Wonderland-inspired woodland setting as some faeries and a traped Cereza must rely on a demon companion to do the fighting for her.

Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon uses a storybook styling for its cutscenes, and the first one does an excellent job of explaining the origins of Cereza. The child of a Lumen Sage and an Umbra Witch, she’s unwanted by either side and seen as someone who shouldn’t have been born by most parties. Fortunately, the witch Morgana has agreed to train her in the Umbra Witch arts, and this is where the game picks up. A young Cereza, keen to prove herself, wanders into the forbidden forest, and when she calls upon a demon to help protect herself from danger, it gets trapped within her doll named Cheshire.

Many of these elements and story beats won’t be too surprising for fans of the Bayonetta series. However,  Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon is the most accessible game in the franchise since the first. Coming off Bayonetta 3, which involved alternate timelines converging with one another and seeing more than one Cereza/Bayonetta on-screen fighting together, the simplicity of Bayonetta Origins is most inviting for those who have been interested in the franchise, or even like the art direction and feel of this game over the core Bayonetta 1-3 entries.

It’s also a gorgeous art direction here, which was always impressive in my hands on my Nintendo Switch OLED. With a vibrant forest setting that features locations with flowers, a circus setting fireworks off in the sky and more, there’s plenty of eye-ball candy. The game knows this, too, giving you plenty of opportunities to spam the screenshot button as you approach an overlook, and the camera pans back just a little to show you a better view of the surrounding environment.

Instead of the ‘witch time’ focuses combat of the main games, which is built around well-timed dodges and beating your opponents into the ground with combos, Bayonetta Origins instead has a Brothers-like system where one analogue stick controls Cereza and the other Cheshire. You can press the R-button to either send Cheshire into battle or summon him back into doll form, like a Pokemon. While he’s on the field, you’ll control him and Bayonetta entirely separately as a test to find out if this will be too complicated for you, trying rubbing your tummy and patting your head. Cheshire can attack enemies and beat them into defeat, while Cereza is used to cast spells that stun enemies or call back Cheshire into the doll form so he can heal up. It’s relatively simple stuff, and you can tell there was an effort to make the combat here simple enough to make the dual-control system too aggravating for everyone.

Outside of combat, you’ll also need to control Cerez and Cheshire separately to solve puzzles which range from a simple case of throwing Cheshire up a ledge and using him to stand on a switch to get Cereza up to having to control both at the same time while you run towards the screen and having to use one to find the safe path forward for the other.

Amongst the combat and puzzle-solving elements, the latter stands out the most, and I wish it had been explored more. Especially as you progress further into the game and unlock new abilities for Cheshire. At first, it’s a green form that enables him to use a tongue attack to pull down particular objects, and at the back end of the game, there’s a red form that can break fire. These all act as abilities to unlock areas you couldn’t previously get through with a Metroivania-aspect showing its head. There’s plenty of room for extra exploration with secrets to be found. It’s disappointing, however, that the last few hours of this 12-16 hours game pad out the experience with more fights instead of interesting puzzles combining all of Cheshires’ abilities. Maybe the team at Platinum Games felt there should still be a combat quota as a Bayonetta game; however, I feel like it’s already so far gone from the core franchise that it shouldn’t have mattered.

The most surprising element of Bayonetta Origins was that the story or at least the characters and relationships were terrific. Coming of the controversial Bayonetta 3, where character progression seemed to take a backseat to flashy narrative beats, I love that the core of this game is built around Cereza getting closer to the strong independent women we know hundreds of years down the road. And it’s through a relationship with a lost demon, trapped in her doll Cheshire that this is all possible. By the end of the game, I found the two to have a warm and bittersweet relationship, which is shocking considering the hatred Cheshire seems to have Cereza at the beginning of the game.

For fans of the Bayonetta franchise, there’s a lot to love here, even if it’s not the type of game you’re used to playing. But it’s the newcomers and fresh faces to the world of Cereza/Bayonetta, witches, demons and magical powers that Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon is primed to impress the most. In a perfect world, this will bring in some new fans for a potential Bayonetta 4, and we can get the continued stories of a young Cereza in another Bayonetta Origins game too. I know I want both of them.