Balan Wonderworld – Review
Follow Genre: Platformer
Developer: Arzest, Balan Company
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: PC, Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S
Tested on: PS5

Balan Wonderworld – Review

Site Score
6.8
Good: Nostalgia, Gorgeous cinematics, Old-school
Bad: Feels dated, Low graphical quality, Redundant mechanics
User Score
3.4
(5 votes)
Click to vote
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Rating: 3.4/10 (5 votes cast)

Balan Wonderworld is one of those games that seemingly came out of nowhere. While there was some marketing surrounding the game, the time between its announcement and its actual release was quite short. Nonetheless, after seeing the introduction clip, we immediately felt we were booting up our SEGA Dreamcast to play the first Sonic Adventure. We were not that surprised seeing Yuji Naka in charge of this production, actually having worked on Sonic, as well as Nights into Dreams. We didn’t know what to expect when diving into this experience, but we loved the trip down memory lane, even though the road needs a bit of repaving.

Story

The story is not properly explained in the game, and we actually had to look up if what we assumed was in fact correct. You basically get the option to pick between the boy or girl for this game, and each has a slightly different introduction. Both are clearly troubled individuals and this state of mind attracts Balan, who sends them to a magical world that connects them with other people. Where Balan is the bringer of light, there are small dark creatures clouding the minds of many, and these are called the Negati. It’s your job to ease the troubled minds of many and make sure happiness prevails. While most of this is speculation on our part, it somewhat matches the description(s) we could find online. The game also throws magical beings called Tims at you, which are small fluffy bird-like minions. It never truly gets explained what these are and what these do.

Graphics

We tried out the PS5 version of the game, and while we loved the design of almost everything, the quality itself feels a bit dated. The game actually feels like it could have perfectly been compressed to run on the Dreamcast or its competitors with nearly the same capabilities at that time. Of course, things are smoothened out a bit more, but overall, our PlayStation 5 never actually had to break a sweat.

The design of the levels was amazingly handled though, with each theme being perfect for the troubled mind we’d dive into. The costumes are an acquired taste, where some look cool and adorable, whereas others look as if a lot of drugs were involved in the creative process.

If there is one thing that truly stands out in this game, it’s the quality of the cinematics. Before a boss battle, you would fully learn the situation of the person you’re connecting with. These cinematics are beautifully crafted and again perfectly fit the situation the affected character find themselves in. If this was made into a short series or an animated movie, we would definitely watch it.

Sound

The sound design is quite nice, with proper authentic sound effects accompanying all the actions on screen. The most stand-out feature, however, is the music used. More than often, the soundtrack will properly convey the mood of the situation at hand, especially during the aforementioned cinematics. At the end of a chapter, there is also a cute singing and dance segment, which just boosts your good mood for the day.

Gameplay

Balan Wonderworld is a very traditional old-school platformer. Its quirk relies on collecting different costumes that will give you different abilities. At any given time you can have three different costumes on you, but at each checkpoint, you can also access your dressing room to change into those you have collected. ‘Collected’ is the keyword here, as if you die when wearing a costume, you lose that costume. You can, however, pick that costume up multiple times in a level where it’s being presented. The goal is to collect enough Balan statues to unlock the next set of chapters, to eventually unlock the big finale.

The aforementioned already brings us to a fairly important item in the game: replaying levels. While you generally don’t have to grind levels to collect golden Balan statues, you will have to do so if you want to collect many of them. Some outfits you need in the earlier stages to reach these golden statues are only unlocked in later chapters, thus forcing you to backtrack if you want to be a completionist. We do have to mention that you will have to put a bit of effort into collecting these statues, as reaching the end of a level will not suffice for you to unlock new chapters.

Costumes are very important in Balan Wonderworld, as these basically represent your abilities. Each chapter has its own theme, where new costumes are being introduced. This may vary from having a sheep suit that can puff up to allow you to glide through wind currents or float downwards, to becoming a chess piece with four cannons in it that fire at random. We loved some of the quirky suit designs and abilities, and found others to be completely useless. Some levels offer certain costumes, that have almost the exact same ability as those offered in earlier stages. More than once we were also able to bypass the requirement of a specific costume, by using another to just jump over a gate that was locked, for example. Some design faults were also present, where we dropped behind a wall after exploring, only having to resort to running into the abyss to respawn, as the costume we had left was unable to jump. Just like in old-school games, there are hit-box issues, invisible walls, and even portions where jumps would not register. Even when still being on a platform, being too close to the edge would render us unable to jump, as the game considered us already to be falling. This means you would run to the edge, press jump, and just plummet to your death.

In the central hub, we are rebuilding the Tower o’ Tims and the Clock of Happiness. At no point in the game it is properly explained what these actually are. We also get a few fluffy birds following us around which are called the ‘Tims’. These birds are actually helping you rebuild these structures, and you will be able to breed more of them and feed them. You will feed them the ‘tears’ you collect during the different stages, allowing them to work more, or grow large and lay an egg. During each level, a handful will also follow you around, and depending on their color they can bring you items, or even help you attack enemies.

Conclusion

In all honestly, in terms of reliving our childhood and even as an homage to old school platforming games, we could easily give Balan Wonderworld a 10 out of 10 score. This game has no doubt been a wonderful trip down memory lane and shows the lack of titles such as these in our current gaming landscape, that are beautifully crafted. Sadly, when looking further than what meets the eye, we also see a dated game, with many imperfections, unnecessary content, and its unique quirk, the costumes, sometimes being totally redundant. We then of course refer to the fact that some suits do exactly the same, or that you can bypass segments with a different suit that is not designed for the job at hand. Even so, if you love old-school platformers such as Sonic on the SEGA Dreamcast, or Nights into Dreams, we can wholeheartedly recommend this one. If you like your gameplay to be tailored to a next-gen experience, we’re not that sure you’ll like this one at all.

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Rating: 3.4/10 (5 votes cast)
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Balan Wonderworld - Review, 3.4 out of 10 based on 5 ratings
Ibuki


Aspiring ninja.

1 Comment

  1. […] saw the arrival of the biggest release on the Switch in 2021 so far. (No, we’re not talking about Balan Wonderworld.) Given that it has been six years since we last got a full fledged new entry in the series, […]

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