Jump to content

Recommended Posts

1662025916_BalanWonderworldboxart.jpg.023248fa4963afa20bbe2fbda6885559.jpgI'm just going to get right into it: you'd think a game developed by recognizable names in the industry and published by Square Enix would be better than this. Maybe not a guarantee of top quality, but some guarantee of baseline game development skills. Yet Balan Wonderworld fails at some of the most basic 3D platformer elements to the extent that it's genuinely shocking that it was released at all.
As the story begins you choose to play as either Leo or Emma (which basically only changes the intro and outro cutscenes of the game) who are both unhappy children for reasons that aren't entirely clear. While wandering the city they stumble upon Balan, a colorful being who looks like a circus performer who whisks them away to some sort of dream world where they can work out their issues by helping other people who are also overcoming some kind of trauma or trouble. At least that's what I assume the story is, because Balan Wonderworld really doesn't make any of this clear at all. It never explains what any of the platforming tasks have to do with helping these characters' trauma, and possibly most confounding of all is the way each world's story is entirely condensed into a short dialogue-free cutscene immediately before the boss fight and a short cutscene immediately after. There are some heavy—and some not so heavy—topics of trauma being dealt with here but the game gives you no reason to care about any of it when these characters appear and disappear in the span of about five minutes. It's bizarre that these little vignette story cutscenes are included at all, and frustratingly confusing as to what Leo and Emma have to do with them.
Balan Wonderworld takes the past 20+ years of 3D platforming and absolutely fails to follow some of the more basic principles. Sure not every platformer is going to be quite as inventive as Super Mario, but Balan Wonderworld just does nothing with the entire genre. Every level feels like a boring trudge through visually colorful but dull locales. The worst part is how poorly the game manages basic controls. Moving and jumping is slow, awkward, and stiff—basically the exact opposite of what a platformer should be. The camera feels like it's out of the 90s with how clumsy it can be, constantly centering at poor angles that don't let you see what's actually in front of you or giving you a poor sense of depth perception. But the weirdest aspect of the controls is that every button does the same thing, which is strange to say the least but becomes actually annoying when you're flipping through menus and can't even press B to go back—you have to select the "go back" option. It almost feels like the developers have never actually seen a game before and have only had one vaguely described to them.
There is one gameplay hook in Balan Wonderworld—the costume system which, you guessed it, is awkward and poorly designed. Each costume grants your character a unique ability—not unlike any other power-up in other platformers—but the weird thing here is that there are dozens of costumes. Dozens. And each one grants just one ability, so you sometimes need to swap between them repeatedly just to make it through one section of a level, because a costume that allows you to punch enemies won't let you jump. A few costumes are incredibly useful, like one that allows you to float in the air briefly which really helps the awkward platforming, while others are only useful in incredibly specific scenarios. What's weirder is that some costumes overlap in abilities, so why did they make redundant costumes? Ultimately the problem is that, rather than focus on a handful of costumes and fine-tune them to fully explore their mechanics and gameplay possibilities, the developers have simply thrown every idea they could into the game's costumes, resulting in a bloated, shallow mess. There is very rarely anything interesting done with their abilities, and instead they're just short-term tools that provide no value to the overall experience. 
Acquiring and saving costumes is also confounding. Costumes are locked in little crystals that you need a key to open, but more often than not the key is just a few steps away, so why bother with the lock system at all? It's possible to save extra costumes and pull them out later at checkpoints, but that's a rather cumbersome process. Worse yet, getting hit makes you lose your current costume, so sometimes you'll need to backtrack to a nearby crystal just because an enemy projectile got the jump on you thanks to poor depth perception camera angles. It's just tedious and completely unnecessary to the flow of the game.
Finally and most importantly, reaching the end of the level isn't quite the key goal of Balan Wonderworld. Like so many platformers you need to collect a certain number of McGuffins to progress, in this case Balan statues. Of course, the game never explicitly tells you this, but regardless, you have to scour each level for statues. And I do mean scour, because a lot of the time statues are hidden in frustrating nooks and crannies, or worse yet require a costume that you haven't seen yet so you have no choice but to come back to the stage later if you want that statue. Worst of all are the action challenges that require you to play perfectly in order to earn a statue, as a single mistake will earn you nothing and you'll need to restart the level to get another attempt (and of course this is never explained to the player either). There's just no joy to collecting statues, no sense of accomplishment or clever game design. It's just a drag.
If, for some reason, you do want to put yourself through all of this, Balan Wonderworld is a decent length at least. Just running through the story will take eight or nine hours, but there are a lot more statues to collect, including post-game challenges. There's also some sort of side objective of collecting "Tims," which appear to be little birds. I say some sort of objective because I have literally no idea what the point of it was aside from making a little number tick up in the hub world. There's also a co-op mode if for some reason you want to drag someone else into this, perhaps as some form of punishment.
Truly the only aspect of the game that seems to have been given any attention at all is the audio and visual design. As clunky as the gameplay is the graphics are colorful and rather charming, though that mostly only applies to pre-rendered cutscenes and screenshots. The in-game graphics are a total drag thanks to abysmal performance on the Switch. The frame rate is so noticeably poor that the game occasionally felt like a slideshow when it struggled to load an area. The scenery is also so incredibly busy that maybe the developers should have simply cut back a bit to ensure a smooth frame rate. The soundtrack, however, may be the one area that I don't have any complaints. It's decent, it suits the setting, and although it probably won't stick with you after turning off the game it's the one aspect that doesn't detract from the experience in any way.
Balan Wonderworld is baffling. It's rare to see a game put quite this much attention into production values and yet fail to nail down even the most basic gameplay features. The whole concept of the costumes feels like a strange down-grade from any other platformer that uses power-ups, and even just moving and jumping feels sloppy. The story seems cute and sentimental except for the fact that you're never 100% sure what is going on, and the presentation is a little too much design and not nearly enough technical polish. Again I'm simply flummoxed that a major publisher would release a game in this state, or that a developer with years of experience would create it in the first place.
Rating: 3 out of 10 Statues
Link to post

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

  • Create New...