Balan Wonderworld Assessment – IGNApril 6, 2021
It’s unhappy to say, however I’ve gotten used to disappointment relating to non secular successors of iconic video games made by their authentic creators. For each return as spectacular as Bloodstained, there appears to be a far much less profitable try like Mighty No. 9. So, I’m upset however not shocked to see that Balan Wonderworld, the most recent 3D platformer from Sonic the Hedgehog co-creators Yuji Naka and Naoto Ohshima, is a essentially flawed shadow of its predecessors. Its character designs, cutscenes, and music are actually charming, however appeal alone isn’t sufficient to make this half-baked platformer any much less boring to really play.
Whenever you’re hopping round Balan Wonderworld’s concurrently imaginative but bland phases, it doesn’t essentially really feel like a complete trainwreck. A few of its barebones impediment programs can sometimes produce hints of what I’d name enjoyable, and it’s not way more than a complete bore the remainder of the time. However while you take Balan Wonderworld as a complete, it sinks decrease than the rudimentary platforming that hardly props it up. From its misguided one-button management scheme, to its haphazard reworking costume mechanic and the degrees that use them, to the half-hearted Chao Backyard-like hub world between them, it will get loads incorrect – and little or no of what it will get proper helps to stability the scales.
That is normally the half the place I’d break down Balan Wonderworld’s story for you, however there’s not a lot to inform in regards to the unexplained nonsense it calls a plot. You play as both a boy who goes from fortunately breakdancing to being tremendous bummed out in file time, or a woman whose housemaids whisper about her behind her again for no obvious cause. Your selection means little or no, although, as a result of both means you’re shortly kidnapped by a magical tophat man named Balan and dropped right into a dream land filled with bizarre birds and crystals or one thing? It’s unclear, however that’s all of the setup you’ll get earlier than it begins parading you thru 12 completely different worlds (every with simply two ranges, a boss, and an additional stage when you beat the story) which might be every structured round one other unhappy particular person, all of whom appear fully unrelated to something that’s happening.
I’ve loved loads of video games with incomprehensible tales, however Balan Wonderworld’s inanity is especially disappointing when its animated cutscenes are so nicely made. They’re lively and power, and may even inform just a few genuinely entertaining bite-sized tales about every world’s topic. Cutscenes primarily play proper earlier than a boss to shortly introduce the particular person for that world and an issue they’re dealing with – be it a boy making an attempt to construct a flying machine or a scuba diving woman whose dolphin pal maimed her and left her to die – however a second cutscene proper after the boss then instantly resolves it (don’t fear, she and the dolphin are cool now). That pacing not solely makes every character’s story really feel disjointed from every little thing else, together with your protagonist, it means the degrees you play earlier than assembly them are devoid of context. If the primary cutscene had performed at first of the world, then perhaps I might have related with these characters as I performed via their reference-filled ranges, like a chess participant’s world being affected by chess items. However by holding their complete story to the tip, Balan Wonderworld turns into little greater than a jumble of endearing however incoherent concepts.
No matter its story, the festering rot on the coronary heart of Balan Wonderworld is the inexplicable determination to make it a one-button recreation. Other than utilizing the joystick to maneuver and the shoulder buttons to swap between ability-altering costumes, almost each different button on the controller does the identical factor. That idea is taken laughably too far by making them the identical within the menus too, forcing you to scroll to particular “again” buttons somewhat than simply with the ability to hit B/Circle, which might be hilarious if it weren’t so silly. Whenever you’re not sporting a dressing up (which is extraordinarily uncommon), your lone button is an easy and underwhelming bounce, however every of Balan Wonderworld’s greater than 80 completely different outfits change that perform to one thing else. A jack-o-lantern costume makes your sole motion a punch assault, whereas a sheep swimsuit helps you to hover bounce, and there are a needlessly giant variety of different choices to stumble throughout.
The thought of a one-button management scheme isn’t an inherently dangerous one, however Balan Wonderworld doesn’t present a single good cause for why it restricts itself this manner. What it does do, nonetheless, is present innumerable examples for why it shouldn’t have – most critically, it prevents sure costumes from performing that the majority fundamental of platforming duties: bounce. Some fits work effective with one button, notably the jumping-focused ones (who would have guessed?), however others vary from perplexing to downright terrible in consequence. Issues like a clown that may solely bounce by slowly charging up an annoyingly small explosion, or a flower that may stretch up a uselessly brief distance. If a dressing up makes use of its button to assault then odds are you possibly can’t bounce in any respect whereas sporting it, whereas others may nonetheless allow you to bounce however at the price of making their capability activate solely while you’re standing nonetheless – or worse, totally at random. Why in Wonderworld is that the higher possibility?
18 of Balan Wonderworld’s Weirdest Costumes
Participant management is sacrificed for pointless simplicity repeatedly: a robotic costume can shoot lasers provided that you don’t transfer in any respect whereas a mantis swimsuit can throw blades however not make it up a one-foot ledge, and neither of them make the regularly ignorable enemies any much less uninteresting to struggle. After which there’s the really baffling Field Fox, which Balan Wonderworld’s personal tooltip explains will flip you right into a plain dice “when it feels prefer it.” That’s genuinely unbelievable when the choice would have simply been to allow even a single further button, and may make already bland costume skills annoying or flatout unusable. And when you can carry three costumes directly and easily run round in a extra maneuverable one more often than not, swapping between them is accompanied by an aggravatingly gradual animation that makes doing so in a pinch a frantic affair.
As a result of getting hit means you lose that costume totally, I even discovered myself in just a few conditions the place taking harm typically meant not having the one capability I wanted to progress, or probably not with the ability to bounce in any respect. That leaves you with no possibility however to tediously backtrack and seize one other copy of the outfit you want. Costumes are contained in purple gems that require a key to unlock, however that’s one more mechanic that’s so pointless it’s foolish. Keys are nearly all the time only a few steps away from the gems themselves, sometimes tucked round a close-by nook or behind a field to offer all of the problem and pleasure of enjoying cover and search with a four-year-old. Amassing them is all the time simply added friction in a recreation filled with it.
The visible number of costumes is, at the least, decently spectacular, with a selected favourite of mine being a large rolling BB-8 type panda. However mechanically, there’s an immense quantity of overlap that may trigger new obstacles to be monotonously much like outdated ones – there are a half dozen other ways to hover within the air, a number of fighters that fill the identical position, and numerous choices to destroy breakable blocks. Whereas “over 80 completely different costumes!” may be a catchy bullet level for the again of its $60 field, the truth is Balan Wonderworld would have been a considerably higher platformer if it solely had 10 that it really took correct benefit of.
As is, every world has about 5 costumes it introduces, makes use of for some extraordinarily fundamental platforming, after which throws away simply as quick. Balan Wonderworld’s ranges are principally linear, however they ignore all of the platforming fundamentals of introducing the fundamentals of a mechanic after which constructing extra fascinating or difficult sections on high of it as you progress. Every stage looks like a mock-up of how a dressing up may very well be utilized in some higher thought-out recreation we don’t get to play. Perhaps probably the most obtrusive instance of this can be a costume that allows you to summon a ladder on particular ladder spots (thrilling, proper?). It’s used to very merely recover from some partitions proper after you get it after which mainly by no means once more, so why does it exist in any respect? Not all of them are fairly that dry, with mildly extra entertaining fits sending you bouncing between balloons or floating alongside air currents. However they by no means evolve previous the shortage of complexity discovered within the first few ranges, leaving me bored and unengaged for the roughly 9 hours it took to achieve the credit.
Most ranges have small further bits that may solely be accessed with particular costumes from different worlds too, like a recurring bandstand platform that wants a musical costume to set off – however which means “fixing” these obstacles is solely a matter of getting the precise costume or not. In the event you spot blue webbing on a wall, you possibly can return to the closest checkpoint and swap into the spider costume to climb it (in case you have an additional of that swimsuit, in any other case you’ve received to return to its house world first). However that’s not an fascinating problem, a enjoyable discovery, or perhaps a very nicely rewarded process because it’s very regularly simply hiding some borderline ineffective crystals somewhat than the Statues that act as Balan Wonderworld’s Tremendous Star equal to unlock extra worlds.
These collectibles (and a hat with eyes) aren’t the place the similarities to Tremendous Mario Odyssey cease both. Balan Wonderworld clearly appears to take some inspiration from Mario’s newest main outing, however it doesn’t recapture any of the magic that made it so particular. Mario’s seize varieties are equally restricted of their capabilities, positive, however the overwhelming majority of Odyssey is spent as Mario himself, whose controls are much more nuanced than a single bounce button. Every stage of that recreation is designed round Mario and his out there captures with specific intent, ramping up easy ideas into extra complicated concepts as you go. In distinction, Balan Wonderworld simply throws a bunch of random concepts and costumes at you, let’s you swap to any of them any time you want, and by no means actually gives a extra fascinating use than those it introduces the primary second after you place one on.
The worlds can stretch via some neat visible types, from jungle treetops to an M.C. Escher-style inventive maze, however even the nicest of them are undercut by repetitive terrain and peculiar dancing NPCs that disappear each time you get shut (and a small handful have a downright nauseating display warp impact that makes it actively arduous to play). However all that colour and a few fairly nice music don’t do a lot to distinguish their rudimentary stage design. Each single one continues to be overburdened with a unnecessary quantity of costumes and held again by its restrictive management scheme, the mixture of which prevents Balan Wonderworld’s platforming from ever forming a coherent voice of its personal.
The one place this development is ever so barely bucked is in its bosses, which do handle to flaunt Balan Wonderworld’s knack for character design. Bosses observe the cookie cutter three-hit components to beat, however a neat little twist is that there are literally three other ways to deal harm that you must determine mid-fight. Every one you handle to make use of earns you a Statue, which makes them extra like an motion puzzle. That doesn’t actually make them a lot enjoyable to really struggle, as dodging their assaults and hitting again continues to be extremely fundamental and sometimes annoyingly unintuitive, however it’s a place the place Balan Wonderworld’s creativity feels higher expressed.
It’s actually a preferable method to earn Statues than the “Balan’s Bout” bonus phases hidden all through each stage. These transport you to a timing-based minigame the place Balan himself flies via a generic void inexplicably punching rocks for no discernible cause, with you making an attempt to time button presses to annoyingly imprecise indicators to earn multipliers on the crystals you’ve collected. Each single Balan’s Bout reuses the identical small pool of animations, takes far too lengthy, and is extremely harsh in its judgement – getting each button press good will earn you a gold medal and a Statue of its personal, whereas even a single barely mistimed one will drop you to a silver and deny you that reward. By the latter half of the marketing campaign there are two or three of those in each single stage, and you must fully reload a stage to take one other crack at them, making the prospect of 100percenting any of Balan Wonderworld’s phases an absolute nightmare to contemplate.
Completionists will get extra dangerous information as soon as the credit roll, as a 3rd stage opens up in every of the 12 worlds. These endgame phases ramp up the problem just a little bit, however most likely in one of many extra irritating methods attainable. The platforming puzzles are solely marginally extra complicated, however now there aren’t any purple costume gems scattered round aside from some hidden particular ones (like a considerably acquainted chargeable rocket curler skater). Which means you must depend on the availability of costumes you’ve collected elsewhere, and dropping a particular one you want couldn’t solely halt your progress in that stage but additionally probably power you again to a unique world to laboriously farm up on what you want. That crosses a threshold Balan Wonderworld mercifully doesn’t typically attain: the purpose the place my boredom transforms into frustration.
Backyard of Eatin’
Between every stage, you come back to your pointless backyard hub world filled with pointless birds that spin a wheel to rack up pointless factors. For anybody hoping this inexperienced, hilled zone is corresponding to the Sonic Journey sequence’ cute Chao Backyard, I remorse to tell you that just about the one factor they’ve in frequent is the flexibility to power feed its cute critters crystals after which unceremoniously throw them via the air for a merciless snicker. There’s little or no interplay with these chook blobs in any other case, making the virtually idle game-like nature of giving them crystals to make a generic counter go up perplexingly uninteresting.
The method of feeding them is a tedious one too, requiring you to stroll to one among 4 coloured flower patches to throw out the matching crystals you gather throughout a stage – the catch right here is that you simply throw them 10 at a time and there can seemingly solely be 20 spawned in directly. Because the outdated ones will despawn if too many new ones arrive, you must throw some out after which wait on your fluffy employees to slowly eat earlier than throwing out extra. That can then trigger them to spin a wheel that builds superfluous buildings in your hub, be it a “trampoline” for them to bounce on, a part of a tower for them to adorably roll down, one other trampoline, or perhaps a third trampoline. Since you’re given zero motivation or clarification for any of this (what do the completely different colour crystals do? Why am I constructing them so many trampolines? The place did one get a tiny hat from?), throwing out crystals turns into little greater than a chore between ranges, fully in contrast to the nuanced care I might give my Chao.
What’s worse, as a result of crystals are the first merchandise you’re meant to select up apart from Statues, their lack of worth within the hub (the one place they’re in any respect related) undermines the very act of amassing them. Backtracking to equip that music costume I discussed earlier appears comparatively fruitless when utilizing its particular bandstand solely will get you 4 crystals so as to add to the a whole bunch your birds will greedily devour. By the tip of the marketing campaign I barely even cared about selecting them up anymore – and when the primary collectible of your 3D platformer begins to really feel like extra hassle than its price, that’s a reasonably catastrophic breaking level.
Balan Wonderworld jogs my memory of a few of the different platformers I performed as a baby, however not in a great way. It seems like a small subset of video games that I loved within the ‘90s, like Gex: Enter the Gecko or Bubsy, solely to understand they had been really fairly dangerous as soon as I grew out of my younger naivete and seemed again with extra knowledgeable eyes. However each our choices and our requirements have elevated dramatically for the reason that days of the Nintendo 64. So even seen with nostalgic eyes, Balan Wonderworld is much less a throwback to a bygone period and extra a by-product reminder of reminiscences finest left forgotten.