Bayonetta Origins – Cereza and the Lost Demon review: Wicked witch reborn on the mild side

(Switch) **** Age: 12+

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Ronan Price

What a turn-up for the books. Imagine if Grand Theft Auto spun off a knitting simulator? Or Animal Crossing introduced weapons and swearing? Such is the cognitive dissonance found in Bayonetta Origins, an offshoot of the outrageous hack’n’slash as well known for the lascivious curves of its protagonist as its flamboyant violence.

Returning to Bayonetta’s roots throws up an entirely unexpected direction for the feisty witch, picturing her in her youth as a timid English girl with a high-pitched voice and a fear of monsters. Where the adult Bayonetta pirouettes suggestively around with screen-filling flourishes and stilettoes strapped to guns, her younger incarnation as trainee witch Cereza lacks anything resembling an attack, moves at a plod and can barely jump.

It's a fascinating whiplash move from Platinum Games, custodian of the series. Is it meant to act as a family-friendly on-ramp to the more mature episodes in Bayonetta’s life? Or a palate cleanser for existing fans awaiting a fresh instalment? My advice is to treat it as completely divorced from the established lore as if you’re playing a completely new franchise.

Cereza’s adventures come up short versus the exuberant fireworks of her adult life and even for newcomers it may feel a smidgin sedate. That said, there’s still much to enjoy in its treatment of a newbie sorcerer exploring her magical awakening. The fun stems from Cereza’s pairing with a demon bodyguard who does all the fighting when the duo get lost in a sinister forest.

The setting throws up immediate parallels with folklore tales and indeed the gorgeous artwork resembles a children’s story book, colourful and detailed. What makes it interesting is that Cereza is controlled with one joystick and the demon the other. That sets up obvious puzzles where one helps the other during exploration and combat. At times, though, that introduces a touch of brain strain as if you were patting your head and rubbing your tummy simultaneously.

Think of it as an amalgam of the dual-handed Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons and delightful Japanese wolf-em-up Okami, without ever being quite as good as either. Perhaps its worst offence is the misplaced folklore around enemies named the Tír na nÓg. That will just annoy Irish players who know it’s a mythological place and not a living thing.

Despite the uninspiring combat that becomes compelling only during boss battles, Cereza’s escapades nonetheless entertain sporadically. The game is easy on the eye and if you can persist to the end, there are some tantalising glimpses of Platinum’s greatness in the finishing stretches that make it all worthwhile.