LifeisXbox’s Balan Wonderworld review | Sometimes a game of this genre, that is presented as the new project of Yuji Naka, one of the creators of Sonic, and the artist of Sega’s mascot Naoto Ohshima, plays against the project itself. The truth is that, regardless of our expectations, Balan Wonderworld has been far from being a must-buy for fans of the 3D platforming genre. It is significantly better compared to the demo that left us with so many doubts, the problem, that big “but” that tarnishes the overall result, is that this inspiration for the genre of the 90s and early 2000s is not justifying many design decisions poured here. Let’s find out more why in this review!
We played Balan Wonderworld for about 40 hours on Xbox Series X. This game is also available on PlayStation, PC & Nintendo Switch.
What we liked!
- A world full of surprises | In Balan Wonderworld, we can play as Leo or Emma, or with both in the company of a second local player. Whatever the choice, Balan will soon take us into the mysterious world of Wonderworld, a kind of musical game where we can solve the anxieties of a series of characters. The cycle consists of selecting one of the levels – there are usually several available – from a central world (HUB) that includes some optional activities, such as feeding creatures (Tims) with the crystals that we are getting, overcoming a couple of phases, and reaching the boss of the area. Animated sequences give context to the trauma of the character in question, which helps to better narrate what is happening and the reason for the environment in the area.
- Very original levels with different types of game | The presence of Naka and Ohshima could lead you to think that this is a frenetic platform game that requires great skill. Balan Wonderworld is quite the opposite, it’s inspired by collectibles and the weight is placed more on exploration than jumping or combat, although of course, it is all part of the experience. The real deal of the game is its suit mechanics: our protagonist can accumulate up to three appearances that give some kind of ability oriented to reach new places or fight against enemies: if they hit us, we lose the equipped suit, and receive damage without a suit, it is game over. What happens if you get another one in the phase? One of them will go into your closet, so you can use it whenever you want at any control point, even on another level. This, of course, opens the possibility of returning to phases already overcome to reach areas that were previously inaccessible without the suit of another theme.
- Incredible replayability thanks to the style of the game | This replayability is quite important in Balan Wonderworld because to advance you need to get a specific number of golden statues (collectible of the game) among all the levels that we have accessible at that time. This is the true difficulty of the game since the enemies are extremely simple to defeat and in a great majority of cases you can avoid the confrontation. In fact, many of the suits don’t even have an offensive function, so they are not suitable for combat. This is so because the game barely has an action button that varies according to the characteristic of the transformation: one suit increases the jump, another creates pomp to move a little through the air, the moth flies when the stage light goes out … But regardless of which button you press, the character will only jump, fly, or attack. If you want offensive power you need one of the suits that jump in a whirlpool, electrified, or launches some type of projectile … Although perhaps many of these don’t work for the platform part. So you will need a bit of variety between the three costumes in the phase. The most necessary suits are always in the area – otherwise, it would be impossible to advance -, such as those that allow you to swim in columns of water: without them, you would be blocked.
- A visual and musical style that exceeded my expectations | Naoto Ohshima’s hand is noticeable and characters like Balan lead us to think of Night Into Dreams, there is a lot of color in the entire world and overall all the levels are interesting to see. The music is the work of composer Ryo Yamazaki, who has participated in numerous Square Enix series, including Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers, fixes in Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy XIV or World of Final Fantasy, among many other games. This is not one of his best works and you will probably only stay with the rhythm of the music for battles and bosses, but the soundtrack accompanies well and has enough moments to show off, after all, we are facing a platform with the air of a spectacle musical.
- A little more combat wouldn’t hurt | The fighting left me feeling bittersweet. Enemies generally fall from a hit, which means that in most cases the danger is in the traps or a jump into the void. The bosses want to be spectacular and the staging usually succeeds: big, noisy, and fearsome – without losing the cartoon aesthetic. But they are defeated in three hits and their attack pattern is very predictable, everything usually consists of returning an attack or hitting at the right time with one of the suits in the area. Yes, just like the levels, it gives you a bit of freedom to be creative with your attacks and you can go back to the bosses to try other strategies with different costumes and the only incentive is to get some extra figurine.
What we disliked
- The number of costumes takes away a bit of fun | It’s surprising that being the most important mechanic in the game, the costume system is one of the factors that most detracts from the fun. There are about 80 different costumes but really most are clones of a handful, the fun of getting one ends rather soon; I would prefer more quality to quantity. And the limitation of actions doesn’t help to make it as satisfying to play as it should. On the other hand, it’s true that the levels are more complex than they seem at first glance and with the right costumes you can discover more secret areas. Balan Wonderworld has needed one last push to polish all his ideas and uncover their potential.
- An excessive amount of collectibles | From my point of view, the collectibles exist in Balan wonderworld so that it’s not a simple walk-through, but it’s more uncomfortable than desirable. It is true that repetition is part of the design of many styles of play, such as Metroidvania or roguelike, but you have to do it well; collecting here feels like an imposition, and repeating these phases – however short they may be – is not always fun.
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