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Fresh off of its third entry, the Bayonetta series has established itself among the best Nintendo Switch games by offering a uniquely stylish flavor of slash-’em-up filled with over-the-top battles and even more over-the-top attitude. As such, it only makes sense that its upcoming prequel is a cute, relaxing interactive storybook that looks pulled out of the Disney vault. Wait, what?

Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon fleshes out the franchise’s backstory in the form of a pastel-colored adventure that challenges you to control two characters at once as you solve puzzles and take down enemies. And despite its seeming incongruity with the main series — and the fact that it wasn’t very high on my radar — Bayonetta Origins quickly became one of my most anticipated games after about 30 minutes of early hands-on time. Here’s why this upcoming Nintendo fairy tale is one to watch for when it arrives on March 17.

Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon is a charming, puzzle-filled adventure that serves as a prequel to the high-octane Bayonetta series.

A storybook setting with a unique gameplay hook

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For those who are new, Bayonetta is a kinetic action franchise that lets you shoot, slash and hair-whip all kinds of otherworldly foes as the game’s titular fast-talking witch. Bayonetta Origins, which casts you as a young girl named Cereza (who, spoiler alert, would eventually become Bayonetta) is decidedly not that. Whereas the main Bayonetta games have you mash buttons to crush a giant’s head with a massive demon foot, Origins is a slow-paced, storybook-like adventure with a more accessible approach to combat and puzzle-solving.

The fairy tale comparisons go beyond Origins’ gorgeous watercolor worlds; the game’s narrative literally plays out in the form of a digital storybook that you flip through as the narrator guides you along. I found the intro to be a few minutes too long — there’s a good bit of text to get through that sets up Cereza’s quest to grow more powerful and her relationship with her demon pal, Cheshire — but once I actually started playing, I was hooked.

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Bayonetta Origins employs a unique dual-stick setup that has you control Cereza on the left half of the controller and Cheshire on the right. They each have distinct abilities — Cereza can cast spells and is immune to certain environmental dangers, while Cheshire is the brute of the duo that can take down enemies and destroy debris blocking your path. There are also times you’ll need to merge the characters into one, which sees Cheshire shrink from a giant monster to an adorable doll that has its own unique set of abilities.

Guiding two characters with one controller was a unique brain-splitting challenge that reminded me a lot of the excellent Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, and figuring out how to use both characters in unison to defeat foes and solve puzzles was immensely satisfying. For example, you can use Cereza to hold an enemy still while you attack it with Cheshire, or utilize her demon friend as a grappling hook of sorts when the two characters are merged together. You won’t need the same split-second combat timing as you would in a standard Bayonetta game (a few quick taps of the ZR button took down most enemies), but you will have to use your brain during some of the trickier puzzle sections. I was briefly stumped by one obstacle-field area that required me to strategically move Cereza and Cheshire around independently, and enjoyed a satisfying little “a-ha” moment once I figured it out (a Nintendo rep may or may not have given me a slight hint).

I’d be remiss not to talk about Bayonetta Origins’ gorgeous visuals, which truly make the game look like an interactive cartoon with bright pastel colors, seemingly handpainted environments and adorable, fluidly animated characters. While the Switch hardware is starting to show its age — as evidenced by games like Bayonetta 3 and Pokémon Scarlet and Violet — Bayonetta Origins works around the system’s limitations by focusing on style over sheer fidelity.

The takeaway

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I came into my Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon demo with mild expectations, and came out itching to spend more time with Cereza and Cheshire. If you own a Nintendo Switch, it should be on your radar — even if you’ve never played a Bayonetta game before.

While hardcore Bayonetta fans will find plenty of new lore to dig into, Origins is shaping up to be simply a great action-adventure game that folks of all ages and skill levels can enjoy. If you’re looking to introduce a younger member of the family to Bayonetta — or just want something to scratch that Zelda itch before Tears of the Kingdom arrives in May — you’ll likely have a blast with this one. Bayonetta Origins is up for preorder now and hits stores on March 17, and we’re already looking forward to playing more.