Balan Wonderworld is the latest from famed video game designer, director and developer Yuji Naka. Naka is best known for his work on the Sonic the Hedgehog and Nights series of games, and has teamed up with Square Enix to create Balan Wonderworld.
That said, Naka is far removed from the those franchises at this point, and Balan Wonderworld is quite different. The game is a 3D platformer, reminiscent of something like the original Jak and Daxter or Lucky’s Tale, but carves out its own feel and personality.
Players will explore colorful 3D worlds and will need to solve puzzles, collect items, and complete levels in order to progress.
The hook in Balan Wonderworld, though, is the game’s use of costumes. The main character (you can choose to be a boy or a girl) is pretty helpless, only able to jump on the heads of enemies. However, every level is littered with Kirby-like power-ups given to you from a cast of friendly allies. Fortunately for these friends, you don’t have to eat them.
These power-ups are numerous, creative, and niche. In just the handful of levels that are available in the demo, there are ten different power-ups and each level challenges you to make use of their unique abilities.
To give you a taste, there is a Sheep power-up that allows you to puff up (kind of like Kirby actually). While in this state, you can glide and catch winds to extend your flight.
There is also a Pig power-up that enables butt slamming, which can damage enemies and jam certain platforms into the ground to solve certain puzzles or reach new areas.
There are even some sillier ones like a Witch/Fox power-up that turns you into an invincible cube that you can use to quickly break certain boxes while sliding.
There’s some value in backtracking with these power-ups too. There are areas and puzzles in earlier levels that can only be accessed using power-ups from later chapters. For example, a gear power-up that you can get in Chapter 6 can be used to access an area in Chapter 1.
The main reason to do this is to get Balan Statues which can be used to unlock new Chapters, add new worlds to explore, and progress the game.
Also, you can collect different color gemstones that you can feed to these cute bunny-bird-like things called Tims that hangout in the overworld. These Gemstones change the properties of the Tims and they can then be used to assist you with various different perks when you’re out exploring in a Chapter.
The story leaves a lot of up to the imagination, and I mean that affectionately. No one really speaks other than Balan – the mysterious entity that is guiding the main character through its “Wonderworld.” And instead, Balan Wonderworld expresses itself through character emotion, colors, sound, and music.
Each chapter seems to tell its own short story. Chapter 1 is about a farmer whose crops are struggling due to a storm. The main character and Balan, through their actions, are able to stop the mysterious evil entities that are causing the storm and are able to help the farmer.
What becomes evident too is that the power-ups you encounter in each Chapter are somewhat themed around the story, which is also a cute touch.
Combat isn’t terribly difficult at any point. The boss fights in the demo feature a specific power-up that make it a lot easier, but there’s some freedom to use other power-ups as well.
For example, one boss flings wind gusts that you can spin right back at them with the Wolf power-up. Or, alternatively, you can dodge the gusts and use the Dragon power-up to launch a few fireballs at it.
I really enjoyed the freedom that players have in the demo, as well as the creativity of the different power-ups. I wonder, though, how much Balan Wonderland will push this concept forward or if the demo is the ceiling in terms of complexity.
I wonder this because the game seems very much aimed at children. Don’t get me wrong, as an adult I still enjoyed my time with the demo, but between the bits of the story on display and the rather easy combat, it seems obvious that Balan Wonderworld isn’t meant to be a challenge for hardcore platforming fans of games like Crash Bandicoot or even Super Mario.
Whether it ramps up in difficulty remains to be seen, but either way, Balan Wonderland is shaping up to be a very relaxing, heartwarming, and fun platformer that is accessible to all ages.
There’s always room for well-made games that anyone can pick up and enjoy. When I was child, I grew up with amazing games like Sonic the Hedgehog. It was a game that I could handle even at the age of seven or so, and I still love it today because it’s a great game.
There are so many terrible games that are aimed at kids, so I can appreciate efforts from games like Balan Wonderworld to be something that everyone can enjoy. Not everything needs to be hardcore like Donkey Kong Country after all.
If you want to try the demo from Balan Wonderworld out for yourself, it will be out this Friday at midnight ET.