I shall make this clear right now: I’ve not played any of the Bayonetta games. Not because I have anything against them, but because I never had the time or the console to give those games a shot. So keep in mind everything I say in this review of Cereza and the Lost Demon is based on my sole experience with this title while having very little knowledge of the series.
So why did I decide to play a prequel to a game series I have no experience with? Simply put, I did not know it was a prequel. I came across the demo while looking for games to play on my new Switch and I heard people mention it, so I gave the demo a shot. Only when I booted it did I realize it was a Bayonetta prequel. I decided that it’d be interesting to start a franchise from the prequel and head into the full game, not knowing what to expect.
The game tells the story of a young witch-in-training named Cereza, who ventures into the Avalon Forest after being told by her dreams that her mother could be found there. While being attacked by some faes living in the forest, Cereza summons a demon that ends up living inside a plush toy her mother had given her. The young girl names the demon Cheshire, the same as the doll it possesses, and the two venture deeper into the woods in order to find Cereza’s mother and figure out the meaning behind her dreams.
People who played the main Bayonetta games have mentioned to me that the stories in those games aren’t a strong suit, often relegated to a bunch of nonsense you shouldn’t take seriously. I can’t say that Cereza’s adventure is a dumb joyride that only serves as an excuse to have a game, but I also can’t say we’re talking about a well-paced story. To remove any doubt, the plot surrounding the adventure is fine enough and has some great character moments with overall great voice performances, accompanied by visuals that are pleasant to the eyes. Where it lacks, however, is in the pacing of the events and the directions the plot takes.
Without going into spoilers, some plot points throughout the game feel like the writers just wanted to put some cliches in the story without actually thinking if they match the scenario or if they’re even necessary. Conflicts happen because “that’s what other stories in the same vein did”. Plot twists happen with no subtlety or build-up. I’m pretty sure the game has around three endings… each one taking place an hour after the previous one.
I’d argue that we’re not here for the story, and based on what I’ve seen, Bayonetta is an action game revolving around fast combat and quick combos. If you plan to play Cereza and the Lost Demon, it's important you understand it's an adventure-puzzle game. I wouldn’t call it an unwelcome change, considering this is a spin-off, but they should provide a word of caution about the different approach. In truth, this different approach is very welcome when you consider the unique gameplay style we have here!
In a new twist on the Switch’s Joy-Con controllers, players control both Cereza and Cheshire at the same time. How is that possible? Well, Cereza’s movement and abilities are all relegated to the left Joy-Con, and all of Cheshire’s abilities belong to the right Joy-con. If you're playing on the Switch Light, Cereza is on the left side and Cheshire is on the right side of the console.
This allows a single player to control both characters in an unprecedented and interesting way. It can be difficult to figure out, especially when you mistakenly try to move a character with the wrong analog stick in the middle of the action, but it’s adjustable and makes a co-op adventure with a friend much simpler to manage if you don’t have an extra controller.
This game effectively uses the mechanic of the two characters working together to solve puzzles. For example, Cereza can get to areas Cheshire can’t because of his size, but Cheshire can block lasers that would otherwise kill Cereza in one hit and pull platforms with his tongue. The puzzles may not be mind-bending, but they are still easy to understand. Mastering the dual-character system is a lot of fun and makes even the optional tasks a pleasure to solve. It would be great... if the puzzles didn't have to split their time with tedious combat.
The developers didn't want to eliminate the combat element, as this is a spin-off of a combat-based franchise. It's a shame to say, but it's the weakest point of the game. Cereza and Cheshire both have their own attacks, which serve them against the evil fairies in their path. To put it simply, Cheshire is the one you'll want to use if you're brawling, while Cereza should be kept safe since she doesn't have any offense.
Cereza has one move, and that’s the witch dance she also uses to solve puzzles. This dance of hers can freeze enemies in their tracks and give her demonic companion an open opportunity to attack. It’s cool when you do it the first time but quickly loses its appeal when it happens repeatedly.
Cheshire is more versatile, as expected, but his combos are down to basic button mashing. While the demon gains elemental powers throughout the journey, which provide him with special moves, it doesn’t do enough to spice up the combat.
The combat isn't broken at its core. I wouldn’t even call it bad, but the repetitive side of it, along with how many times you engage in it, makes it extremely tiring. It’s sad because I believe there’s a lot more they could have done with the puzzles, which are enjoyable.
As it stands, we have one half of the game, which is fantastic and fresh, while the other half isn’t terrible but lacks pizzazz and the unique vibe that the puzzles have.
Having said all of that, Cereza and the Lost Demon is a tricky recommendation. The game is good, make no mistake! Whether you’re a fan of Bayonetta or not, I believe it’s a solid adventure that would supply you with around 10 hours of fun. Yeah, the combat is uninspired, and the story has its baffling moments, but I would still recommend the game just for the unique experience the controls provide. However, I might as well just tell you to wait for a price drop before picking it up, if you’re in no rush to get it.
I'm uncertain if this spin-off is the first of its kind, but I do hope for the opportunity to see the developers expand on what worked and tweak what did not. If a sequel never comes, I hope to see other developers taking a crack at this idea as I found it to be really fun and unique. I'm eagerly anticipating more of this special gameplay style which can only be explored on a system like the Switch!
Now that I caught up though… there's nothing stopping me from playing the Bayonetta trilogy. I wonder what playing the prequel first would mean for my perspective on the other games?
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