With Bayonetta Origins, PlatinumGames really went for the unexpected. It deviated from typical Bayonetta. There’s an experimental art direction. The studio also went with an unorthodox control scheme. All put together, it could have created a mess. Instead, Bayonetta Origins is an extremely charming, well-paced story chronicling the friendship of Cereza and Cheshire, all while using different gameplay decisions and artistic directions to further show both character development and their relationship.
Cereza is a young Umbra witch in training. Exiled from the community due to the circumstances of her birth, she trains with another, older exiled witch named Morgana. Her hope is that she’ll be strong enough to save her confined mother. However, after a dream about a mysterious boy tells her that heading into the Avalon Forest could grant her the power she needs, she heads into the fairy infested domain from which nobody escapes. It’s there that, in a moment of distress, she summons a lost demon and they inhabit the form of the stuffed cat her mother made for her. Promising to return “Cheshire” to Inferno once she gets the power she needs on the journey, the two set out to follow the White Wolf and find answers.
It’s all charming in a way I didn’t expect. Bayonetta Origins leans into the fairy tale aesthetic hard, with a dreamlike, stained glass world and a narrator following all of Cereza and Cheshire’s actions. We see two young, damaged individuals coming into their own and learning not only to trust in themselves, but each other. There were moments I genuinely worried about characters’ safety, and PlatinumGames was careful to show the development relationship through story beats and gameplay, rather than just tell the player “now the witch and demon are trusted allies.”
Unlike typical Bayonetta games, which involve a frantic flurry of action, Bayonetta Origins is a more thoughtful adventure. There are battles here, to be sure, though Cheshire handles that. But instead the player is left to find a way to traverse the winding, overlapping Avalon Forest by making use of both characters’ abilities. As an apprentice witch, Cereza can use magic that could make plants grow or bind enemies. Meanwhile, Cheshire involves more brute force that can knock aside bramble, fences, and foes. The two need to stay nearby one another, due to Cereza’s magic powering Cheshire’s larger form. However, there are times when environmental elements in Avalon Forest or Tir na Nog stages force the two apart to handle actions independently to ensure both can progress.
This is handled by basically tying the left Nintendo Switch Joy-Con to Cereza and the right to Cheshire. This might seem like it could be a confusing and hand-cramp-inducing situation! However, PlatinumGames executed in a way that makes the whole process rather fluid. While the action buttons and D-pad on each are tied to different actions, they aren’t frequently used ones. Cereza can use Umbran potions with the D-pad, if she happens to have any on-hand, while Cheshire can switch between elemental forms with special capabilities with the A, B, X, and Y buttons. Primarily, someone will be using the L, ZL, R, and ZR triggers for almost every action, as well as the analog sticks to move. While exploring the woods, movements usually are pretty much in-sync or involve moving one character at a time, which helps. Not to mention there’s the efficient Hug Mode that sees Cereza carrying Cheshire in his plush toy form to make things easier and help require magic.
The only time it can really get frantic is when facing foes like fairies. During these fights, Cheshire can use his standard or elemental abilities to attack enemies. Both the fire and water forms involved ranged attacks, while the grass and stone ones can involve more melee ones. Cereza is on the field as well during these times, with players left to continually assault opponents while she uses thorns to bind them both to hold them in place for Cheshire and keep them from attacking her. In boss fights, these experiences can become more like a dance, with specific moments when tying a foe down can mark a critical chance for Cheshire to strike. It sounds like a lot, and it is! But to my surprise, it all works exceedingly well.
But really, the Tir na Nog stages are where this pairing work best. These are essentially small dungeons that remind me of the shrines tackled in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Each one has a sense of purpose. Some are mandatory moments encountered as you go through the story, though optional ones also appear. Each one involves both Cereza and Cheshire using their unique capabilities. Even leading up to the fracture that lets you into one, you might need to juggle each hero’s abilities to solve environmental puzzles and get to the entrance. Then, once inside, you’ll face puzzles that can involve using certain Cheshire forms or carefully proceeding as the more fragile Cereza.
Though, as you go along, you’ll see both end up being more than capable of completing any challenge. This is a journey of growth for both characters, after all. Not only is a friendship developing between Cereza and Cheshire throughout, but both of them are built up as characters. Part of this development happens as a result of gameplay. There are skill trees for each of our heroes, with players’ actions resulting in new options opening up and capabilities added. However, the gameplay can change according to Cereza’s mindset, and we can see changes in attitudes throughout the story. For example, when searching for a Tir na Nog stage crack and surrounded by fae, Cereza adopts a hesitant, plodding pace and her body language changes. There’s a sense of ambiance and attitude present throughout character animations and actions, as well as in different environments. It’s even present in the save data images or the brief animations present when applying upgrades to characters.
That growth also makes meandering through Avalon Forest more enjoyable. Also like The Legend of Zelda games, getting new abilities means accessing new areas. The story sends people winding around this woodland maze. This can mean chances to rescue Wisps, collect journal entries from others who found themselves in the forest, or find new Tir na Nog spaces. though the map is stylized, it’s rather easy to read, and PlatinumGames offered features that make it easy to head back to a place you aren’t finished exploring.
Speaking of additional features, Bayonetta Origins is also one of the more accessible games I’ve played in 2023. It takes into account players of all skill levels. People can adjust the difficulty of encounters, as well as whether actions are accomplished by tapping or holding and if someone has access to infinite magic. You can also instruct Guiding Lights to appear to lead you to the Sanctuary hubs where you can save or access the skill tree. However, most helpful is the possibility of making the Witch Pulse a manual or automatic feature. This rhythm-based action is how Cereza uses some of her magic to affect the environment around her. While it’s never too taxing, if a lot is happening (or someone’s been playing in lengthy sessions), it can honestly help to let the game handle the inputs so you can enjoy what’s going on around you.
Bayonetta Origins is a gorgeous look at another side of one of PlatinumGames’ most beloved characters. It’s a game that, at a glance, you might think wouldn’t work due to the unconventional control scheme. But it does, thanks to clever design decisions. The artistic direction is gorgeous and appropriate given the fairy influences. Cap that all off with a charming, blossoming friendship between Cereza and Cheshire, and Bayonetta Origins is a delight.
Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon will come to the Nintendo Switch on March 17, 2023. A demo is available.