Last year’s release of Bayonetta 3 heralded big changes for the character-action series. Combat is more forgiving than in previous entries, with fewer bullet-hell encounters and a wider variety of available play styles. Platforming and stealth sequences are far more prominent, complementing the brawls and boss fights that remain series mainstays. Features like angel mode — which covers Bayonetta’s clothes-shedding ultimate moves — and the new, younger, less overtly sexual characters like Viola leave the provocative, sexy, and irreverent tradition of Bayonetta behind in favor of a more family-friendly tone. Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon reinforces this broader, more approachable direction.
We play as Cereza, a tweenage witch (and also the titular Bayonetta earlier in life) rebelling against Morgana, an umbra witch living on the outskirts of society who takes in the protagonist and teaches her magic. Cereza has a dream about a strange boy and a white wolf who will help her develop enough power to free her mother, Rosa, from prison. Accepting this destiny, she enters Avalon Forest and tries to summon a demon to help her. Unfortunately, she is too weak to form a contract with the entity and it ends up possessing her beloved stuffed cat, Cheshire. From here on out, she and Cheshire explore the forest together, fighting faeries, bickering with each other, and growing closer as a result. The gameplay loop consists of a mix of platforming, puzzle-solving, and very simple combat (no extended combos or coffin guns here).
This loop becomes repetitive throughout the course of the 12-hour story: Enter an area, explore, fight faeries in battle stages, and seek the four elemental cores hidden in the forest to increase Cheshire’s power. Individual zones are beautifully illustrated with pleasant soundtracks, and some parts are ability-gated to encourage players to return later when they are more powerful. Exploration of the forest not only quickly becomes mundane, but so too do the combat encounters, against peons and bosses alike. In developer PlatinumGames’ seeming effort to make Bayonetta more palatable to a wider range of players (which I think it has succeeded in doing), the punishing challenge and excitement that initially drew me to the series have evaporated. Approachability can do wonders for bringing new players in, but there’s a hole in the center of Cereza and the Lost Demon regardless.
As for those characters: Can we really have a Bayonetta game without tight (and disappearing) costumes, overtly sexual dancing, and heel guns? I think it might be possible. Aim Cereza and the Lost Demon definitely doesn’t succeed in bridging that gap. Platinum gives us a look into the witch’s early life and the unique relationship with the demons she wields, but it lacks the “fuck you” attitude and guns-blazing combat that made the earlier games so propulsive. The title feels more like a family-friendly fanfic attempting to tie the wild finale of Bayonetta 3 back to the witch’s childhood. Is it sweet, frothy, and the easiest (in a mechanical sense) jumping-off point for people new to the franchise? Absolutely. But does it push the envelope, like the previous games did, for better or worse? I’m not so sure.
All told, Cereza and the Lost Demon feels less like a new take on the series’ DNA, and more like a concession — one meant to appeal to every denominator (and age group) possible. There were so many other stories, relationships, and mechanics that could have been explored to make this title not only as detailed as the originals, but also more rewarding for series veterans and newcomers alike. Perhaps Platinum will continue exploring origin stories in the future, and strike a better balance. As of now, though, I’m not optimistic.
If you’re looking for a cute, cozy platformer with simple battle mechanics and a playful story, look no further than Cereza and the Lost Demon. For those, like me, hoping to see how Cereza truly gained her power, and harnessed the seduction and raw magical prowess required to become the ultimate umbra witch, this game is a miss. And that’s fine. I just wish this new approach excited me as much as the previous ones did. I appreciate approachability — but Bayonetta has always been a series about toeing the line, and nothing about this title took a risk. I hope the next approach is worthy enough to stand on its own among the series’ best games.
Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon will be released on March 17 on Nintendo Switch. The game was reviewed using a pre-release download code provided by Nintendo. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.