Nobody expected a new Bayonetta game quite this soon. We're barely six months on from the much-anticipated release of Bayonetta 3, which took huge narrative strides and re-established PlatinumGames' eponymous hero as a bona fide Nintendo icon.
As such, the announcement of Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon was something of a surprise. Given there was an eight-year gap between the previous two entries, it was certainly a shock to see a new storybook-style spin-off announced in the latter stages of 2022.
In my time with Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon so far, it's a very refreshing change to the franchise's established formula. If you find yourself fatigued by Bayonetta's near-ceaseless bombastic action and want something a bit more stylistic and subdued, this is shaping up very nicely.
Set before the events of the first Bayonetta game, Cereza and the Lost Demon is a prequel in the truest form. In that sense it can be a lot more accessible to newcomers: the eponymous witch isn't referred to as Bayonetta, and the deep lore and character relationships seen in the third entry have yet to be established.
As opposed to the powerful Umbra Witch we all know, Cereza is a timid young girl still learning to control her fledgling abilities. Unlike the witch with guns in her shoes, she still can't directly hit enemies with spells. It's a much more innocent sheen to a character known for her relentless combat skills, which is nice and refreshing.
More than anything, Cereza and the Lost Demon is notable for its starkly unique setup. It does away with the triple-A shine of the core games, instead telling this quieter, more character-driven story without the huge set pieces and high-octane action. You'll follow Cereza as she quests through the Avalon Forest to find her mother, with the familiar demon Cheshire by her side. The stakes aren't as global - or even multiversal - as we've seen in other entries, and sometimes going smaller is an effective approach.
Even more intriguingly, PlatinumGames has done away with the renowned Bayonetta combat, famed for its combo-laden moves and range of magical spells. As hinted at earlier, Cereza herself can't directly harm the evil faeries that lurk within the Avalon Forest. Instead, she has to work alongside Cheshire to damage them.
This emerges in the form of a twin-stick approach, where the joystick of the left JoyCon controls Cereza, and the right controls Cheshire. It's an innovative control scheme that takes a little while to get used to, as some areas require the heroes to go in separate directions. Maybe my inability to multitask is to blame, but a few times early on I had to concentrate hard on sending Cereza in one direction, and Cheshire in another.
When it comes to combat though, this novel approach works seamlessly. Cereza works in a support role, binding enemies so they can't move, giving Cheshire room to land deadly strikes. The combat is less developed than in Bayonetta 3 - you won't chain together as many jaw-dropping combos, for example - but for a more watered-down interpretation of the franchise it works well.
But combat isn't really the key focus in Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon anyway. More often than not you're traversing across the forest in not-quite-platforming sections that require you to bypass obstacles, complete puzzles, and use Cheshire's growing arsenal of abilities to your advantage. Combat is interspersed across wider areas, the odd boss fight, and ethereal Tír na nÓg sequences, but you'll be surprised how much of your time is spent exploring this gorgeous location.
And it really is a visual marvel. One of my gripes with Bayonetta 3 was its performance on Nintendo Switch, but Cereza and the Lost Demon is almost flawless. The 2D art style is gorgeous, and the visual design is so bold and striking that it makes for a much more memorable experience. Instead of trying to ape triple-A graphics on underpowered hardware, this game goes for something much more ambitious, and it really comes off a treat.
Overall, Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon is shaping up to be the best Bayonetta game yet. Its changes to the established formula are incredibly refreshing, and the big creative swings it takes are all paying off so far. It remains to be seen whether the game can sustain this level of creativity across its story as a whole, but it's certainly a bright spark for a series previously at risk of going stale.