There’s nothing quite like a good show. That’s certainly the case with Balan Wonderworld, the new 3D platfomer by Balan Company and Square Enix. From its unique character design to its classic gameplay, there’s a lot to love with Balan Wonderworld.
Thankfully, there’s a demo of the game out now for anyone interested in giving the game a go before committing to a full purchase. Does the game live up to its theatrical hype? Or is it just another bad game with a strangely attractive mascot? Read on and find out.
An Untotal Eclipse Of The Heart
Balan Wonderworld is a 3D platformer, taking its place next to games like Banjo-Kazooie and the 3D Mario games. It’s not really as popular a genre anymore, so just by that merit Balan manages to be incredibly eyecatching by not trying to shoehorn more popular game design choices.
The intro cinematic explains that you are one of two main characters, looking for a piece of their heart by helping Balan peer into the hearts of other troubled individuals. You journey through their hearts, solving puzzles and ultimately defeating the negative emotions (Taken form as monsters called Negati, naturally) consuming these people, such as Jose, a farmer whose crops were destroyed by a tornado.
It’s a really cool motif, with a lot of room for different level aesthetics and mechanics. Despite being given three worlds to explore, they each play fairly differently- the first world is more straightforward, familiarizing you to the game’s core mechanics. Meanwhile, World 4 is wind-themed, with lots of puzzles built around floating and jumping from target-to-target via the special costumes of that world.
The final world in the demo, World 6, is also really interesting, as you primarily use the Gear costume to interact with mechanical devices around the stage.
Dress Up To Take The Stage!
The costumes are a really interesting mechanic, as the game has fairly simple controls. All of your buttons do the same action, and each costume changes what that action does. For example, there’s a plant costume in World 1 that makes you grow taller, letting you collect higher-up droplets. There’s also the Dainty Drake, which makes you forego your jump entirely in favor of chucking fireballs.
Costumes also disappear in a single hit, meaning you’ll have to start looking for duplicates. You’re also limited to three at any point in time, but you can switch out between the costumes
I really like how they’ve limited skills to whatever costumes you have equipped, since it makes planning of utmost importance. Each costume has objects they’re meant to interact with, such as the Wolf being able to break blocks or the Pig being able to ground pound buttons. As a result, you’re going to end up in situations where you can clearly see where you might use a costume, but you may not have access to it on the first go.
It’s just as well that they do this, since exploration is a huge part of the genre. Future stages can’t be unlocked if you don’t meet the minimum exploration requirement, which you can absolutely miss if you’re just gunning for the finish line the whole time. On the other hand, obsessively chasing down every nook and cranny isn’t good either, since there’s parts where the game clearly wants you to come back when you’ve unlocked more costumes.
There’s also multiple collectibles hidden in the stages, such as the Balan Trophies and Balan’s Bout minigames. Balan’s Bout puts you in quick-time events as Balan, watching the charming showman do cool feats of strength on innocent debris. They’re fairly simple, but my one gripe is that they look really boring compared to the rest of the game’s vibrant level design.
Defeating The Darkness
Of course, the demo lets you try out one of the game’s boss fights, against the Wolf from World 1. Since we’re only given what’s essentially a tutorial boss, it’s hard to make any judgements on the game based off of it.
The boss is fairly straightforward, incorporating various moves from the costumes of the world. It also goes down fairly easy, only needing a hit from one of the attack-type costumes and a groundpound from the pig to finish it off.
It’s not like I’m expecting Shadow of the Colossus or anything, but like I said- it’s hard to make judgement with so little information available. Judging by the rest of the game so far though, it seems like a safe bet that these will all be kind of simple boss fights, aimed at a much younger audience. By that metric, they’re amazing.
If you’re looking for a super challenge though, these might not be the ones for you.
You also get a nice broadway-style musical number at the end for beating the boss, which is a great reminder of Balan Wonderworld’s overall show theme. I gotta say, it’s hard to complain about this game when it’s got such a charming aesthetic to it.
The game’s hub world is called the Isle of Tims, which is a great place to chill out in between areas. As the name implies, it’s inhabited by Tims- the bird-like mascots that all sound vaguely like Pikachu.
You feed them droplets that you’ve collected from your exploration, causing them to grow bigger. You can also interact with the Tims, picking them up and throwing them around.
There’s also a clicker aspect to this, whereby you can throw your Tims on to a device that sets a counter, and as the counter hits milestones you’ll unlock the Tower of Tims, along with more Tim Trampolines. The demo hasn’t really explained what this does, but it’s a fun way to just idle if you’re tired from the core gameplay.
Despite the game featuring three of Balan Wonderworld’s worlds, there’s only one bossfight in the demo, for World 1. This is because the other two are mere previews of their stage, so you won’t get to play through the whole world.
The boss for World 1 is pretty interesting, being clearly made of the costumes from the World. It’s a fairly straightforward fight, where you just have to damage the boss before launching it with a Ground Pound, and there’s plenty of Costume crystals lying around should you lose yours on accident.
For those not familiar with 3D platformers, I’m sure Balan Wonderworld is going to be really hit-or-miss with them. After all, the controls can feel a little finnicky, and it’s hard to compare it when your main point of reference is the entirety of 3D Mario games.
Still, it’s a fun little jaunt that’s clearly aimed for a younger audience, and it certainly feels nice to have it presented as a new IP rather than some sort of spin-off of another mascot.
There’s also local co-op, which we didn’t really get to try out that’s sure to be a big appeal for the game since not many 3D platformers have had that kind of option.
Balan Wonderworld will drop on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S and Nintendo Switch March 26th, 2021.