If you happened to read our Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon preview a few weeks back you'll know that after the first five chapters of the game, we were pretty excited to continue our adventures through PlatinumGames' bewitching spin-off from the main Bayonetta series. We were impressed with its mix of gameplay mechanics and the enchanting atmosphere of the whole thing, and it seemed to be building up to a jaunt through a forbidden forest with plenty of well-designed puzzles and battles that would build on what we'd already seen.
However, as it turns out, Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon never really manages to take off as we'd hoped. Whilst certainly entertaining and endearing, what we're left with is an experience that feels like a little bit of a missed opportunity, especially given how much it manages to get right in terms of its overall style and tone.
The game introduces us to a young Cereza, the forbidden child of a Lumen Sage and Umbra Witch, who desperately wants to become as powerful as possible in order to rescue her mother from the prison she's been placed in due to her outlawed love affair. After a dream sequence in which a mysterious boy tells Cereza that the power she seeks lies deep within Avalon Forest, the young witch takes off into the night, ditching her stern mentor, Morgana, and immediately finding herself in all sorts of bother. During a botched attempt to summon an infernal demon to protect herself against malevolent, mischievous faeries, Cereza manages to send said demon into the body of her stuffed teddy, Cheshire.
With both the young witch and stuffed cat now under your control, you use a twin-stick system to manoeuvre both Cereza and Cheshire at the same time. Further to this, Cheshire can be switched between Unleashed mode, where he can stomp around and destroy enemies and barriers, and Hug mode, where he shrinks down to toy form, allowing Cereza to use him to smack enemies, jump across small gaps, or throw him up onto unreachable platforms.
Utilising these various methods of traversal, early sections of the game dish out gentle environmental puzzles that require you to make use of Cheshire's dual forms and your ability to direct both protagonists separately to move forward. There are a few other twists thrown in here — demons hate rosemary, apparently, so Cheshire can't go near areas populated with the plant, and you can't have the pair separated by a large distance for very long, as indicated by a little gauge that pops up when you've wandered too far from each other.
In terms of combat, the R-rated, combo-heavy action of the Bayonetta series proper has been replaced by a much more simplistic and easy-going system. Initially, Cereza is able to use her magic to bind foes in thorns while Cheshire mauls them with his massive claws. As you progress, you discover that Cereza needs to find and destroy four elemental cores and each of these will imbue Cheshire with a new elemental form that he can use to solve puzzles and fight enemies. Wood form, for example, allows him to latch onto various levers and hooks using a leafy whip that extends from his body, but he can also grab enemy shields, wrench them off foes and then fling them back in their direction.
Once you've unlocked a few elemental forms, combat is spiced up further by introducing enemies who have various elemental barriers which can be shattered by a corresponding elemental attack. This adds a little more rhythm and strategy to proceedings beyond just binding foes up and battering them. There's a fairly impressive range of faerie thrown into the mix too, with rocket-firing types, shielded tanks, drillers who burrow under stages, as well as a selection of bigger mini-bosses who can warp around areas and use fire, ice and other elemental attacks to cause you problems. Further to all of this, as you progress you'll unlock more moves for both Cereza and Cheshire via skill trees that enable you to bind multiple foes, dodge and use charged blows and finishers on downed enemies.
The culmination of both combat and puzzle aspects here comes in the form of the game's Tir Na Nog sections, short mini-dungeons that charge you with taking part in a battle and then solving a short environmental conundrum, and completing them unlocks a chest full of goodies en route to your escape. These goodies, which can also be found all around levels as you explore, are used to concoct various potions that can be used to heal, power up Cheshire's attacks, stun enemies and so on.
As we mentioned back in our preview, all of this stuff is beyond what we expected to find in this family-friendly spin-off at first glance, especially given its storybook stylings. Initially, it seemed as though it would focus much more on narrative aspects, rather than giving much time to combat or puzzle elements, but there's actually a surprisingly expansive array of mechanics in the mix here. If the game had continued to up the ante and explore them to their fullest extent, we could have been looking at a top-notch origin adventure for young Bayonetta. It's just a shame, then, that in the second half of this roughly 10-hour adventure, things sort of grind to a standstill in terms of experimentation.
Yes, whilst Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon is quite compelling for the first four or five hours, it reaches a point where it seems happy to sit back and tell the rest of its tale while the combat and puzzling begin to suffer from repetition, and later areas fail to introduce enough new tricks or rhythms to keep things involving all the way along. You'll deal with the same handful of puzzle types, moving platforms and so on, and the combat, whilst still fun, reaches a point where every battle begins to feel overly familiar. There's also a sense that most fights can be blasted through without much thought beyond the odd elemental switch-up to take down a shield, and there's also a slight issue with the dual controls becoming a bit of a hindrance at times during scraps, especially when multiple enemies appear and protagonist locations become a little harder to read.
To be fair to PlatinumGames, it does still manage to come up with a few more bombastic sequences in the game's final stages, but the early promise just isn't delivered upon in a consistent manner. As an example, we fully expected Tir Na Nogs to become fairly challenging by the time we reached the game's end, but they never felt like they got any harder, and what we experienced in the first few dungeons is too similar to what we faced in the latter stages.
Perhaps we were just expecting too much of a challenge from Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon; after all, this is a family-friendly, T-rated escapade that does away with the crazy tough action of the main franchise in favour of a much more laid-back affair. But then this feeds into our other main problem with the game — who exactly is it for? It feels mostly aimed at kids in terms of difficulty and the contents of its narrative, but kids aren't long-term Bayo fans, and beyond a few late-game nods and links to the adult Bayonetta, well, it's hard to know what those same hardcore hack and slash fans will get from this.
Taken as its own thing entirely, this is a well-designed and graphically stunning adventure that tells a fine fairy tale whilst providing just enough challenge to keep younger or more casual players entertained. In fact, it's one of the better kid-friendly games we've played in quite some time, with production standards well above most of what we find in titles aimed at this demographic. There's some fantastic NieR:Automata-esque dynamic camerawork, with lots of slick depth-of-field effects that really draw you into the forbidden forest setting. The voice acting is strong, and the soundtrack and artwork are all stellar stuff that make full use of their strong Celtic influences. There are plenty of accessibility options too, with the ability to turn off damage and set other aspects of the combat and puzzling so that you can wander through the story unchallenged.
If you're looking for a colourful adventure for your kids to dig into, we heartily recommend what's on offer here. However, there's absolutely no doubt that core Bayo fans will also be looking to get involved to see how this origin tale fuses with the series proper, and for these players, it's a more difficult recommendation. Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon introduces plenty of fun mechanics, it's got an engaging narrative and there are lots of collectibles to beef up the run time, but the fact remains that in terms of overall challenge and how its gameplay evolves as the adventure unfolds, stalwart Bayonetta fans may be left wanting.
Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon is a delightfully stylish origin tale that sees young Bayo take her first steps on the road to becoming the badass Umbra witch we all know and love. This is a graphically stunning fairy tale with plenty in the way of atmosphere and charm. However, long-term Bayo fans beware, it's also a game that's aimed squarely at a young/casual audience, introducing plenty of fun puzzle and combat mechanics but never really evolving them to a point where they become in any way challenging. Repetition creeps in later in the game and, although it ends with some bombastic sequences and a few nice shoutouts to the main series, it feels like a little more challenge and experimentation in puzzles and combat could have made this one absolutely essential for all ages.