The White Wolf dodges in an out of the thick forest foliage, leaving only his footprints behind for the raven-haired young girl and her demon-possessed plushie to chase after. Against common sense, the pair push down their fear and venture deeper into the forest. At least they don’t have to worry about witches — the young girl is one, after all.
In navigating this beautiful fairytale-inspired world, I repeatedly have to stop and remind myself: This is a Bayonetta game.
Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon is an unconventional prequel to Nintendo’s iconic action franchise developed by PlatinumGames. Releasing less than five months after Bayonetta 3, there are few similarities to its predecessor beyond the name. However, the transition from saucy, mature action game to a family-friendly puzzle platformer is pulled off with surprising style and sincerity.
With the bitter taste left by the end of the trilogy, Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon is the perfect sweet treat to convince lapsed fans the series can still be something special.
Into the Woods
Bayonetta is synonymous with high-octane action combat and camp storytelling riddled with sexual humor. And it’s all tied together by the immaculate protagonist that is the titular Umbran witch.
Bayonetta Origins has none of these things.
Instead, the story follows a young Bayonetta (going by the name Cereza) as she finds herself on an unexpected adventure that requires her to form a tentative partnership with a demon she names Cheshire (after the plushie he possesses).
Stylistically, the game establishes a unique visual identity, that of a storybook. From the title screen that evokes the openings of Disney princess movies, to the watercolor world and character design – everything is dripping with artistic purpose. This continues with flourishes like the game’s narrator who puts on a monster voice when reading Cheshire’s dialogue, and beautiful cutscenes rendered as moving illustrations on the pages of a book being flipped through.
The Bayonetta franchise has always borrowed vocabulary from different pieces of history and art, specifically Dante’s Divine Comedy and Norse mythology. Bayonetta Origins continues this trend by evoking the Grimm fairy tales as well as Germanic mythology about fairies. Like so many other fairytales surrounding the innate fear of the woods, Cereza’s journey occurs on a night when she finds herself trapped in the Avalon Forest, the domain of the fairies. This narrative and artistic cohesion is nothing short of masterful.
No One Is Alone
As suggested by the title, Cereza and The Lost Demon, our tale features two protagonists. The story of Cereza and Cheshire’s forest adventure leads to the main mechanical focus of the game. The player controls both characters with their respective sides of the controller – Cereza on the left and Cheshire on the right.
Much like the indie puzzle platformer Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Bayonetta Origins tasks you with using both characters' strengths to navigate the puzzles of Avalon Forest. In contrast to the strong witch we know she will grow up to be, Cereza is not a fighter in Bayonetta Origins. Her primary ability is to use Witch Pulse to grow plants and open new pathways or to bind enemies in place during combat. Cheshire is the muscle, unleashing his claws and teeth on foes or pesky barriers impeding the pair's path.
Avalon Forest itself is shockingly large. It is full of secrets to uncover, collectibles to find, and friends to rescue. By the time I rolled credits, I was nearing the twenty-hour mark. Throughout the forest are also Tír na nÓg stages, which act as small dungeons. These can be highlights of Bayonetta Origins, especially the stages that truly challenge the player to use the tools at their disposal and come up with smart cooperative solutions forward. Sadly, too many of these stages are just battle arenas that ask you to defeat a small wave of enemies. There is no greater disappointment in Bayonetta Origins than reaching a Tír na nÓg and realizing it is a combat encounter. Which highlights a weakness of the game at large – combat.
In combat encounters I never found myself utilizing Cereza to the potential the game suggested I could, but it never seemed necessary. Cheshire can effectively defeat 99 percent of the enemies in Bayonetta Origins without the help of Cereza, she only becomes truly useful in combat during boss fights that require her Witch Pulse at key moments. There is also an extensive skill tree for both characters to gain new skills in combat, even encouraging you to use special combos. While this may be an attempt to keep a link to the action of the main series, it is not earned in Bayonetta Origins. It can also be quite difficult to execute a combo on one side of the controller while trying to do something else on the other. Outside of combat, however, the synergy between Chesire and Cereza works beautifully and makes for truly joyous puzzle-solving.
Despite all of these differences, Bayonetta Origins manages to feel connected to its predecessors. Cereza is depicted as a confident (if often stubborn) witch in training, who has something to prove to her teacher and mother figure Morgana. The sass that fills Cereza’s dialogue is a believable precursor to the main trilogy. It is a personality that works so well when put next to Cheshire.
The growing bond between the two is not original by any means, it’s another case of the babychild/bigfriend dynamic. Yet Bayonetta Origins twists this formula by making the truth that neither of the two is really the bigfriend, they are both scared children who only have each other. This leads to emotionally resonant moments where both put aside their own struggles to be the strong one for the other in a time of need. Without spoiling anything, it also leads to some incredible mechanical and narrative payoff near the game’s finale that made me shout with joy.
As someone who felt burned by the franchise after the disappointing finale of Bayonetta 3, I did not see myself ever becoming excited about the franchise again. While the initial announcement of the unconventional follow-up that is Bayonetta Origins interested me, I could not have known what this game would turn out to be. It is a complete breath of fresh air that managed to win me back thanks to its stunning art style, fun puzzle platforming, and heartfelt narrative that all feels cohesive.
Bayonetta Origins is a picture-perfect adventure full of childlike wonder, and it’s exactly what the franchise needed.
Bayonetta Origins releases on March 17 for Nintendo Switch. Inverse reviewed the game on Nintendo Switch.
INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: Every Inverse video game review answers two questions: Is this game worth your time? Are you getting what you pay for? We have no tolerance for endless fetch quests, clunky mechanics, or bugs that dilute the experience. We care deeply about a game’s design, world-building, character arcs, and storytelling come together. Inverse will never punch down, but we aren’t afraid to punch up. We love magic and science-fiction in equal measure, and as much as we love experiencing rich stories and worlds through games, we won’t ignore the real-world context in which those games are made.