Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon review – wicked witch cleans up her act

Risque, immature, absurd – just some of the words you could use to describe Platinum Games’ inimitably sexually charged action franchise, Bayonetta. For those yet to experience their first Umbran Climax, it’s a series filled with succubi, sex appeal and shooter-strapped-stilettos, so when Nintendo resurrected Sega’s abandoned franchise for its ailing Wii U, there were naturally more than a few raised eyebrows.

It turns out fans shouldn’t have worried, with the Nintendo-published Bayonetta 2 and 3 turning out just as violent and depraved as the original. Now almost a decade after Bayonetta 2, the house of Mario has created what fans feared – an altogether more sanitised, family-friendly take on gaming’s wicked witch.

Entitled Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon, this fairytale-inspired prequel casts you as a pint-sized version of the action heroine. Joining Cereza long before she earned the title of Bayonetta, we meet the fearsome femme as a sheepish young witch in training. With her mother imprisoned and only her haughty teacher Morgana for company, Cereza finds herself feeling lonely and powerless, and so ventures into the forbidden pines of Avalon Forest in order to prove herself.

Takes place inside the crisp-looking pages of a children’s book … Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon.
Takes place inside the crisp-looking pages of a children’s book … Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon. Photograph: Nintendo

In many ways, Cereza and the Lost Demon is the anti-Bayonetta. It’s simple, innocent and welcomes new players with open arms. Unlike the slickly realistic sheen of her mainline outings, Cereza and the Lost Demon instead sports a more folklore visual style, taking place inside the crisp-looking pages of a children’s book. Out are the guns, bloodshed and kinky executions, replaced instead with fairies, cuddly toys and a surprisingly heartwarming tale. In other words, it’s Babynetta.

Still, it’s a risk that’s largely paid off. As you roam its whimsical woods, Avalon Forest’s fantastic environments are brought vividly to life via finely sketched lines. Each new diorama feels like entering a newly turned page of a delightful pop-up story, taking you everywhere from idyllic waterfalls to ethereal floating dimensions. Part Okami, part Child of Light, its twist on the well-worn cel-shading art style is a handsome one, perfectly suiting the limitations of the increasingly creaky Nintendo Switch hardware.

As you might expect from the softer tone, tween Cereza isn’t quite the badass fans will be used to. To fit her underdeveloped witchcraft, the gameplay here is a blend of platform and action, with Bayonetta’s reduced moveset seeing her completely reliant on protection from cuddly toy turned-demonic-bodyguard, Cheshire.

Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and The Lost Demon
A child-friendly introduction to the often demanding character-action genre … Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon. Photograph: Nintendo

In a nice touch, Cereza is controlled using the left analogue stick while her fanged protector Cheshire is mapped to the right. Battles see you guiding your witch out of the path of danger and using magic to bind enemies while simultaneously dealing hefty blows with a growling Cheshire. The dual analogue controls lend themselves neatly to traversal too, adding a nice puzzle-platform element to the cutesy proceedings. With insidious fairies roaming the forest, the two can’t ever be left too far apart, and after a certain distance Cheshire reverts to his toy form, hurtling back into Cereza’s arms.

Not content with just looking like a bedtime story, Cereza’s cutesy origin tale is all tied together via a soothing Scottish narrator who provides an impressive amount of comical voices for all the non-Cereza characters. It’s all charming stuff, with a surprisingly solid script telling the most coherent Bayonetta story to date – a low bar, admittedly.

While initially the core combat feels woefully simplistic for adult players, like with any good teacher, Bayonetta Origins patiently drip feeds the lessons you need to learn, developing from puzzle platformer into a child-friendly introduction to the often demanding character-action genre.

As early chapters linearity gives way to a wider playground to explore, Cereza and her stitched together companion become free to veer off down branching paths too, unearthing the secrets this world has to offer. It’s all very Metroidvania-lite, with Cheshire’s slowly accrued elemental powers offering up a surprising amount of new ways to interact with environments, encouraging backtracking as you hunt down hidden trinkets that unlock new skills for both demon and Cereza.

As you explore slightly more bizarre locales, you begin to see the influence of developer Platinum Games’ other work behind the preschool presentation, too. Surrealist sections recall the mind boggling Nier: Automata, while playful asynchronous platforming invokes memories of bizarre superhero outing, The Wonderful 101.

The problem is, while consistently charming, Cereza and the Lost Demon is short on real “wow” moments. Its surprisingly lengthy story offers enough variety to keep you playing, but rarely enough to have you smiling from ear to ear. It also saves its best for last, with this origin story culminating in a delightfully overblown spectacle that delivers some of the reflex-testing gameplay chops you’d expect from a mainline Bayonetta.

Revealed to little fanfare at last year’s The Game Awards, Bayonetta Origins was the game that no one expected, and even fewer wanted. For some then, its mere existence is akin to Bayo blasphemy, yet in truth, this spin-off is far from the disaster many expected. While it never comes close to the highs of last year’s Bayonetta 3, it’s still a charming curio for fans and more importantly – a fantastic introduction to the genre for younger players.

Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon is released on 17 March for Nintendo Switch, £49.99

The Guardian