Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon Review – luxurious art and sophisticated controls await you

A beautifully designed exploration game full of battles and puzzles.

Starting a game with the wrong expectations can be even better than starting a game with no expectations. When I first heard about Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon, I saw the childlike protagonist, the hand-drawn illustration art, and the fluttering parchment, and I assumed the whole thing was some kind of visual novel. Sure enough, Cereza starts off with a lot of story and reading, with just a few moments of a 3D character being moved around between blocks of text.

But then I found myself in my first fight and I was like, Hmm. Maybe I’m wrong about that. I was wrong about that. All in all, Cereza is an exploration, combat and puzzle type game. It’s hard enough to define even before you get to Platinum’s bayonetta action games. Crucial thing, though: it’s beautiful. It is lovely and generous and playful and extremely beautiful. Someone has really made an effort here, and that is clear from the outset, no matter what misunderstandings one may get.

Let’s actually start with the Bayonetta deal. This is the story of an apprentice witch and her stuffed cat toy. The witch will one day become Bayonetta, but for now she is young, inexperienced, shy and embarks on an adventure that towers over her from all sides. Although there’s a lot of combat here, it’s a very, very different game from the main Bayonetta adventures. It’s much slower, even in combat, and it’s more about mixing fights with different business parts varying the pace than chaining one fight after another. It’s in the second half of the game – and in the boss fights scattered throughout – that you get that platinum surplus. But you only get this stuff in batches.

Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon.

For much of the game, you’ll explore a mystical forest, solving puzzles as you traverse it, and battling tricky fairies. The catch is that you control Cereza with the left Joy-Con and her cat, Cheshire, with the right. Cereza can cast a few spells, most notably a bind move that pins enemies down for a while, but most of the combat is handled by Cheshire, who can grow in size to the point where he’s a bit of a beast, and one has a nice variety of swipe and crush attacks even before the story kicks off and you start to gather new powers.

Cheshire is built for combat, and there’s a nice mix of offense and defense as you dish out damage and build up combos with your right hand, while using your left hand to keep Cereza out of harm’s way and hopefully manage to get in a few binds -based work helps along the way. As the game progressed, I really started to look forward to the combat, not only because of the surprising ferocity of the animations, but also because of the way different enemies required different approaches. Binding shield types, plucking airborne hover types, and disarming all manner of magical protections come into play, and every few levels a new enemy type will burst out of the ground or fall from the trees, giving you something new to think about.

Cereza and the lost demon

Cereza and the lost demon

In the menu you can simplify inputs and reduce the damage received.

But Cereza and Cheshire also work together on puzzles. Cereza can hold Cheshire in what’s known as a hug mode, making it a bit easier to navigate, and then there’s a growing range of moves they can do together and separately. The game likes to split them up, but most of the time they stay pretty close, Cereza exploring one path, Cheshire another as puzzles encourage them to work back and forth, pulling things, breaking things, flipping switches and the like, to let them both progress.

Puzzles are fun and interactive, but rarely really brain-bending, and for most of the game they involve working out the stages needed to open a path forward. Cereza throws Cheshire onto a ledge they couldn’t reach on their own, and they can then smash through some thorns to get to another level. The growing array of powers comes into play here in an intriguing way: Cheshire’s plant form can pull parts of the environment around, while her stone form can tear down rock faces, for example. Working with Cereza, it’s nice to see how many different challenges a few simple ideas can create when combined in new ways. Crucially, I’m the kind of person who’s never been able to tell left from right, and Cereza’s unusual control scheme didn’t bother me too much.

There are many other things here. There’s an upgrade system you can access from sanctuaries, there’s Zelda-style combat and puzzle dungeonettes based on the fairies, and sequences where the world you think you’re exploring isn’t is to be trusted. There are potions to craft, resources to collect, and lots of nice little story moments. Tons of gameplay is also optional: when I completed the main campaign, I was still in the 60 percent completion range.

Cereza and the lost demon

Animations are consistently beautiful. The world feels richly imagined.

All of this tells you that Cereza has a ton of things for you to do, but what really amazed me was how beautiful it all looks and how much it got me going. Cereza’s in-game world is a haunted, enchanted forest, and levels, while appearing linear, never appear that way, forming squiggles, meandering paths, grottos, and glades. Shrubs hide collectibles but also rustle beautifully as you pass, while later levels introduce fairy architecture in all its rusty, intricate awkwardness. There are pools here shielded from the sun by thick canopies of leaves that feel truly magical, and brilliant, none of it is photorealistic, opting for the watercolor and mixed media feel of Mary Blair.

A friend recently told me about Metroid Dread and why it felt disappointingly 2D, not because everything happened on a single layer, but because it forgot to use both the foreground and background to create depth. I thought about that a lot while playing Cereza, because every few minutes a path takes you away from the floating camera and under the rippling branches of a tree where animated owls stand and watch, or through a network of swaying grass that gives you a momentary pause blocked the view. It’s that stuff, as well as the range of things to engage with and the frantic action in the game’s second half, that makes Cereza feel so luxurious, I think. Here is care that rises from the page, like a story springing out of the open pages of a children’s book, drawing you in.

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