Genre-hopping is often the preserve of the most iconic of video game characters. Your Marios, Sonics and Sackboys are so instantly identifiable that people are happy to hop on board no matter what they’re doing, whether that’s racing in karts, hopping on platforms or having them pummel the digital stuffing out of other characters. Bayonetta was clearly on her way to similar stardom when she arrived in Super Smash Bros., but with Cereza and the Lost Demon she’s cementing herself as a true icon.
While Cereza and the Lost Demon isn’t quite the genre leap that Mario and Sonic at the Olympics is, it’s still a huge departure from the Devil May Cry-esque combo-heavy action of the three Bayonetta games. While those games see a decidedly adult Bayonetta utilising guns, high-kicks and carnivorous hair to despatch her opponents, in this game Cereza is a young apprentice witch, whose command of the magical arts remains rudimentary. In fact, she’s reliant upon the power of another to survive the puzzling escapade she’s found herself embroiled in.
The mainline games feature the ability to command demons, and Cereza and the Lost Demon essentially offers an origin story for those skills. Despite a clear warning not to go there, Cereza sets out into Avalon Forest in search of her mother, and within minutes of this quest beginning she finds herself in trouble. As a rookie witch, this is her first attempt at summoning, and Cereza manages to harness a demon by bonding it with her stuffed toy cat, Cheshire. Bayonetta 3 fans have come to know him well in recent months, but he’s considerably more adorable here, despite being a vicious, angry and unashamedly aggressive creature.
Much of the game’s charm lies in the thoroughly lovely art direction, with Cereza and the Lost Demon intended to look, sound and feel like an interactive storybook. PlatinumGames has nailed the presentation here, whether through the grandmotherly recitation of the tale or the turning pages of each cutscene. The world feels full of magic and mystery, perfectly delivered to draw you deeper into Avalon Forest, and make you a party member on Cereza’s quest.
Cereza and the Lost Demon forges a new path for the franchise, with more in common with The Legend of Zelda than Devil May Cry. You work your way through the modestly-sized world in search of the White Wolf, exploring, brawling and all the while expanding your own arsenal of skills and growing steadily stronger. There’s even the Tir Na Nog; separate challenges that function like Breath of the Wild’s shrines, offering combat or puzzling in exchange for an upgrade. The fact that the treasure chest opening is accompanied by a delightful, and somewhat familiar, trill tells you exactly which Link was on the developer’s mind that day.
The world may not be that big, but it’s been cleverly constructed, with paths to earlier sections opening up as you progress, a host of collectibles to uncover and the steady drip feed of new powers allowing you to access previously unreachable areas. It does feel like it’s funnelling you through the main sections at times, but once you’ve beaten that area’s boss, or unlocked a new elemental power for Cheshire, you’ll find you can explore the places you’ve already been with alacrity. It remains focused though, and there’s no horrible map bloat to fill your time simply for the sake of it.
It’s little surprise for a PlatinumGames title to feature fantastic combat, but it does take some getting used to. You command Cereza with the left Joy-Con and Cheshire with the right, and you have full control of each of them simultaneously. It forces you to split your brain, and you have to learn to utilise each of their skills in order to beat the Faeries that seem beset on removing your head. As you progress, Cheshire in particular gains more and more skills, and there becomes a point where you’re not just switching between the two characters, but also his different elemental type, whether that’s to pull shields out of enemies’ hands or to destroy their armour with a well-timed butt smash.
Both Cereza and Cheshire gain power by collecting their own flavour of gems, and you’ll find these hidden out in the world in bushes, under plants, or squirrelled away inside each and every enemy. Gain enough and you can unlock another flower on the charming skill tree, turning both protagonists into fearsome adversaries. You almost feel sorry for the Faeries, especially when they squeak and dance in frustration, but they’re a rotten bunch, and likely deserve what’s coming to them.
The pace here is utterly different to that of the mainline games, being far more considered and sedate than its predecessors. You have to really consider what’s happening in combat, planning it out tactically on the fly, and when you’re exploring you’re given the time to enjoy the landscape and the different locales. That’s not to say it can’t be frantic; trying to keep two characters out of harm’s way, or racing away from a rogue faerie train, can be desperate, but it’s not anywhere near as in-your-face as its predecessor.
While it’s hugely enjoyable, it’s not the most challenging game once you’ve mastered the controls. There are a series of ways to make the game easier, but only one crutch you can remove to make it harder, and it would have been nice to amp up the difficulty from the start. It’ll be interesting to see how younger gamers fare with it, as it feels as though they’ve made the franchise both more accessible through the charming visuals and the storybook setting, but added a new layer of complication to the control scheme that may just be too impenetrable for some younger people.