Balan Wonderworld Review (PS5)
''It's a wonderous world out there''.
Release Date: March 26th, 2021
*Key provided by Square Enix
Balan Wonderworld is a action platformer developed and published by Square-Enix. With classic games like Sonic The Hedgehog, Samba de Amigo and Nights Into Dreams under his belt, Yuji Naka now aims to bring us another platformer in the hopes that it too will become another timeless classic for ages to come. But does Balan Wonderworld meet those expectations? or does it instead come up a little bit short on its overall magic? Only one way to find out, so, It's show time!
As the stars of the show in this whacky and magical land of Wonderworld, it is up to you to travel across multiple different lands in the hopes of keeping in tact the dreams and memories of the citizens you encounter and keep safe everything they hold dear. Listen and participate in twelve different tales and bring magic and hope once again to the bizarre and wonderous world.
As stated before, Balan Wonderworld is an action platformer from the mind of Yuji Naka. Currently its a great time to be alive if you're a fan of the platforming genre, as they've shown an increase in momentum in the last few years with titles like Super Mario Odyssey, Spyro Re-Ignited trilogy, Crash 4 and many others. But how does Balan Wonderworld stand out from the pack? does it even stand out from the pack? well the answer to the latter part of the question is, yes, yes it does indeed stand out. But it stands out in a way that may be hit or miss for a lot of people due to its focus being on bringing back the old school style of 3D platforming. Do you remember the days of Super Mario 64 and Banjo? Well welcome back to yester-year because you're about to embark on a new journey, that seems somewhat.. familiar.
Balan Wonderworld takes us back to the days when platformers didn't hold your hand. So often modern platformers, mainly collect-a-thons, will give you indications of where to to go, where to find a collectible and where to find a secret room or item, but not here in this game, nope, this game tells you tough luck kid, you're on your own. Upon getting thrusted into your first level, you're immediately confused about where you should go. No, it's not a maze or anything but each level you proceed through has branching paths or secret areas to discover and each one of these paths or secret areas, houses some of your collectibles that you will need in order to advance in game. These collectibles are known as Balan statues. Much like in the Mario franchise, which have you collect stars or moons in order to move onto a new area, Balan statues does the same thing here. Get a specific amount of statues and new levels open up via a train ride given to you by Balan himself, that's right, you don't even need to find platform 9 3/4ths to board, so big win there. Overall pretty straight forward right? well... not quite. Remember when I just told you that this game takes you back to the days of old platformers? I wasn't making that up. I'll elaborate a little bit more here.
You see its not as easy as just seeing something in the distance and grabbing it, the game makes you work for every collectible you wish to collect by making you comb each and every inch of each stage by utilizing all the different costumes and the power they hold. In total there are around 80 costumes to collect in your roughly 8-10 hour playthrough of the game and each costume has a specific power that will help you overcome gigantic leaps, water streams, spider webs and many more. For example, on the first first stage you play on, you'll notice to the left starting area there's a spider web that will take you up and over a wall, however, you can not get over that wall just yet, sorry chump, better luck next time. In order to get to that specific section of the level, you're going to have to advance further in the game until you unlock the spider costume, which will give you the ability to climb any webs that you come across and open up the environment so much more than it was previously. This is where the core game play shows its strength in my own opinion, because these costumes are not just put in the game to add a simple aesthetic to the game and then that's it, no way, that couldn't be further from the truth. No, each individual costume is utilized in their own unique way and all have their own use based off a specific scenario you find yourself in. 80 costumes might seem like overkill on paper, but trust me, it all makes sense when you play.
Now I'm sure you're wondering, ''So how the heck do they balance all of these costumes and their powers without completely breaking the game in the process?''. Well that's actually a really good question and it has a very good answer. The game utilizes basically one button, yes you heard me right, only one button makes everything in the game function. While that may seem confusing at first, It's really not, its all actually a stroke of genius to do it this way. By making the game more accessible and easier to play, it allowed the developers to utilize every costume to their full potential without having to worry about which to balance more than the other. Let me give you an example. As your main powerless character, all you are able to do is jump with one push of a button, however, with a wardrobe like piggy costume, that jump with one button now turns into a ground pound to lower switches and other hazards. This holds true for every single power up and costume. Some costumes can only do damage, throw items, teleport or hover and making you pick and choose which costume you need to select and equip makes this platformer actually turn into a bit of a strategy game. Which actually reminds me a lot of another game I absolutely love on the Xbox 360, Kameo: Elements Of Power.
In Kameo Elements Of Power you are able to equip and use various elemental powers such as a pummel weed, a boxing plant like element, rubble, a rock based element and many more and utilize them at will to advance through a level, traverse terrain or slay an enemy, and this holds true here in Balan Wonderworld. When you start collecting an abundance of various costumes, you're able to equip just three of them at one time, all of which can be switched to on the fly and seamlessly changed by pressing L1 or R1. If you happen to die and lose out on a powerup, then this is where the games ''check points'' will come into play for you. Every time you get to a new section of a level, you will find a glowing symbol in the middle of the floor, if you happen to stand on it long enough, it will bring up a wardrobe door that will allow you to select any costume you have currently unlocked, sorta. You see as you push through the levels, you will hit purple looking crystals which give you your costumes. Every time you get a crystal with a picture of your costume on it, it goes to your wardrobe inventory. So it's simple, if you haven't collected enough of them or if you had one in stock, but died and lost it, then you must backtrack to the level you found it in and get more in your inventory. Might sound a little tedious, sure, but It's not too bad.
By having to backtrack and find powerups you need spread out through all 12 chapters, it actually makes the game feel more and more puzzle centric as you progress through the story. A few more examples of this includes certain levels that require you to use a dolphin suit. With the dolphin suit you're allowed to go in all water areas and glide through them with ease in order to make it to higher platforms or other areas you need to get to. However, if you try to progress with any other character but that dolphin character, it will act like a brick wall and it will not be usable. This also holds true for boss fights. Specific boss fights utilize this costume switching mechanic as well. One of the early bosses in the games can't be jumped on like normal and instead summons small and giant pillars across the arena you're fighting in. He chooses to stand on the tallest one, all while the smaller ones are left for you to use as cover or as part of the fight itself. This is where the piggy power up becomes a key focal point and a major part of your strategy. With the piggy costume, you're allowed to jump and ground pound with force in order to shoot the pillar up the bosses booty and give him major damage and maybe even a bit of a hemorrhoid, but nothing preparation H wouldn't fix. Using this strategy with piggy, you'll realize this is not possible with any other character and should you choose not to hit him with the pillar, not only does it completely change the dynamic of the stage you're on, but also with the way the fight plays out and what move set the enemy will use next. It may seem small, but I absolutely love that.
I'm sure you've seen already, but this game is cute, way too cute. Sure the game might not be the best looking platformer out there, but its general design, color scheme and environments have that playful charm to it that strongly reminds me of titles like Klonoa and Nights Into Dreams. But its cuteness and stylistic aesthetics aren't the only things that remind me of titles like Nights Into Dreams, oh no, It's also the music too. The music in Balan Wonderworld is simply fantastic. One minute it sounds like you're running through Besaid from Final Fantasy 10, which makes sense since Ryo Yamazaki was the synthesizer programmer for that title and does the soundtrack here. But then uh oh? what is this? you're hit with this blast of upbeat vocal soundtracks and killer dance routines out of the blue after defeating a boss and it sounds like it would straight up fit in movies like Grease or Little Shop Of Horrors. It reminded me SO MUCH of the vocal tracks from Nights Into Dreams and while people may find it campy and cheesy, I don't really care, I ate it all up and adored it immensely. This the type of soundtrack I need a collectors edition for.
So far I have been feeding the game a lot of praises, but it's not a perfect game or even a flawless one. Obviously there are some issues I personally had with the title. While it may not be an overly huge game breaking type of flaw, It's still one I was disappointed with and it relates to the overall game difficulty. This game is WAY too easy, I'm talking about absurd levels of easy. With Balan Wonderworld, we've entered Kirby's Epic Yarn level of difficulty level. No real enemy in the game will ever give you a challenge or make you feel the heat of battle, and this also goes for the boss fights too. Each boss fight, while they look really good and have great variety, will not leave you struggling to deal with them because they only take two to three hits each and they don't always react as fast as they should, which allows you plenty of time to think before you act, guaranteeing that you're always a step ahead of them and any attacks that they throw at you. You're never really in any danger of losing or getting a game over either, because even if you lose all your power ups and then die in your normal human form, you automatically get respawned at the nearest check point. There is no real consequence for death, which is a huge bummer for me because with a game that brings back so much of the old platforming style I love, with this, the games difficulty, they came up short BIG time.
When you decide to take a break in between the levels you have completed and just want to chill and hang out, you may do so in the main games hub area. In this hub area you can play with the animals called Tim's. These are little squishy marshmallow friends that sound like Kirby, POYO!. You may play with them in several ways, one of the ways you play with them is by feeding them yellow, blue and red gems that you collect in each level. The more you feed them, the more of them that respawn and fills your tower meter. Every time you a get a set amount of your squishy friends, a new section of the hub tower will be built. It actually feels very rewarding. When one Tim get's too fat though, hit him with the slim fast, well no, I'm joking, kind of. When one Tim gets too fat, you must use another marshmallow friend and toss him at the fat one, which will make him explode and turn into an egg, thus creating even more marshmallow peeps. MMM... marshmallow peeps. They really do look like them too, I'll try to contain myself to not eat one.
With the inclusion of these Tim creatures, it seems Naka's past experience with titles he's lead in the past has had some sort of influence on this game. The Tims remind me of Chao from the Sonic Adventure series and I can't get over how adorable these little things are. I wish I could take them anywhere with me from now on like the Pokeball accessory for Nintendo Switch, but I also don't have a V.M.U. to hold them in either, so that's out of the question. But playing with your cute friends isn't the only thing left to do, even after you completed the main campaign. You still have tons of collectibles and extra bonus mini games that remain hidden throughout each stage that you probably won't find on your normal first playthrough. When you're not collecting Balan statues, you're able to find top hats and other collectibles that allow you to play momentarily as Balan himself as you fly through the air NiGHTs style and have to press a button at the exact right time Balan's shadow lines up with his body. Get a perfect excellent rating and you'll earn a secret Balan statue, fail once however and you get nothing, you lose! good day sir.
As you move through each level and environment, you will also come across various mini games to play as well that will offer you prizes. These mini games range from soccer, baseball, bowling and even golf. If you come across a soccer mini game, you will be required to kick a ball into a specific target while filling your power meter to just the right amount of power. Whereas mini games like baseball require your concentration and perfect timing to get as many home runs as you can. Once again if you fail these, your reward will be very minimal. So do your best!
At the end of the day Balan Wonderworld does a lot of things I feel range from good to even great. It's got great music, great art design, likable characters, great variety in its platforming sections, along with utilizing all your costumes in a puzzle like fashion that makes you use strategy before acting. This game has many positives to me, but with all great things to say, there are a few things that maybe needed a little work. The game's difficulty leaves much to be desired and It's one of the main negative things I walked away thinking about after playing this title. Another issue that I can see people having a problem with is this games use of backtracking. You will be backtracking A LOT in this game because certain sections of a level wont be accessible until you acquire a specific power up, so you MUST come back later, should you want to collect everything in the game. Not a big deal for someone like me who loves collecting everything, but I can definitely see it as a turn off or main gripe for a lot of players.
Overall my experience with Balan Wonderworld was a positive one and one I am glad I was able to experience. By harnessing the spirit of Naka's previous titles, while it doesn't overcome and surpass the classics I named earlier, it still managed to end up being a solid old school platformer and one I would absolutely recommend to anyone that is looking for old school style of 3D platformer from the ''good ol days''. I personally feel if you are one of those people, you will not be disappointed. So with that verdict, GameNChick says BUY NOW