I didn’t know what to expect when I first saw Balan Wonderworld in action at Sony’s PS5 demo showcase late last year. It’s a colorful platformer with some neat ideas, but the level design was so boring!
I gave it a pass then since the build I played was incomplete.
Now that the final version of the game is in my hands (courtesy of Bandai Namco Singapore), does it deserve your money?
NOTE: This review was done on a Playstation 5, with the PS5 version of the game
What is Balan Wonderworld?
Balan Wonderworld is a 3D platformer developed by Square Enix and Arzest Corp. Published in Asia by Bandai Namco, it’s the brainchild of Yuji Naka, the man who created Sonic the Hedgehog and Nights: Into Dreams. Unlike most 3D platformers, Balan Wonderworld has a co-op feature, where you and another player play through the game together.
In Balan Wonderworld, you have navigate various 3D worlds and restore them to their original state. What that actually means is that you’ll need get from Point A to Point B, killing everything in your way to progress. Along the way, you’ll meet bosses you need to defeat to move on to the next area. Control in the game is tight, which is great, since the game features a lot of platforming and jumping around.
On the PS5, everything also moves at a speedy clip. Loading is pretty fast, usually under less than 5 seconds and the game also makes use of the DualSense’s analog triggers to simulate your in-game attacks.
What sets Balan Wonderworld apart from other platformers are the costumes you can wear.
Each costume gives your character a different ability, though you can ONLY hold 3 different costumes at one time. Extras are automatically stored in the changing room. Costumes also serve as your lives, get hit and you lose them. Lose all your costumes and you die.
The only way to get more costumes is to find their crystals. These are locked, so you must have a key (usually lying around nearby) to nab the costume inside. Unfortunately, costumes are finite, which means you’ll ALWAYS want to bank spare costumes so that you never run out.
The replay value for Balan Wonderworld comes in revisiting past stages with new costumes gained from later stages to get past obstacles you couldn’t initially. In a sense, it’s like a simplistic version of a Metroidvania game. Exploring completed stages is pretty fun with new costumes, though the hidden areas aren’t as expansive as I would’ve liked.
As mentioned earlier, there’s also co-op player, which simply requires another control. In co-op gameplay remains mostly the same, but with two characters. Due to there now being two players, you’re encouraged to find costumes that can play off each other’s strengths. It’s a neat little strategy that makes the game a bit more enjoyable…if you can find a partner that is.
In between the stages, you’re taken to a hub area called the Isle of Tims.
Here you can feed the Tims with the crystals you nab in the game’s stages.
There’s a neat mechanic at work here; as the tims eat your crystals, they change color. Each color gives the Tim a particular activity. For example, red tims might be more aggressive and help you out in combat. They’re a bit like the Chaos in the Sonic Adventure games and I really wish that the game had focused more on the Tim rearing mechanic and fleshed it out more.
Completionists in particular will be delighted to know that there are 8 Balan statues in every stage that you’ll need to hunt down. Collecting statues unlock more areas for you to explore. Unfortunately, getting them all doesn’t unlock anything other than a trophy, which is rather disappointing.
Sadly, that’s pretty much encapsulates how I felt as I played through the game.
The dated level designs, the overdesigned look of the characters and the basic, mind-numbing gameplay all grated at me. Getting through each level felt like a slog. It felt like work to just keep playing. Whether it’s due to the linear levels, the boring enemies you fight or the particular stage you’re in, I never felt driven to keep on playing.
While the costumes do add to the variety, they don’t address the other issues with the game.
It doesn’t help matters than the story’s all told in the game’s made up language. You won’t understand a damn thing, which makes you not care about what happen at all. In trying to be unique and cute, the game instead becomes irritating and pretentious.
Balan himself is a nightmarish mishmash of all the things you were afraid of in your childhood; a weird thing in a ninja turtle mask wearing a top hat and a matador’s costume.
That goes for much of the other characters and creatures in the game. I can’t say I hate the art style, but it certainly isn’t one of the things I like about the game. I honestly find them garish, overly designed monstrosities…but maybe that’s just me.
The Bottom Line.
I didn’t like Balan Wonderworld when I first played the preview build and the final version didn’t change my mind one bit. While the game is a bit more robust than I expected (the Tims rearing is pretty fun), it unfortunately is beset by a whole host of problems that show just how dated its gameplay systems are.
If you’re looking for a solid platformer on the PS5, you should just skip Balan Wonderworld and just play the pack-in Astro’s Playroom. Sure, it’s a tech demo, but it’s a damn fun 3D platformer too and one Balan Wonderworld should’ve sought to emulate.
- Fast loading
- Tight controls
- Growing Tims
- Boring gameplay
- Boring art design
- Nonsensial story