Balan Wonderworld, Yuji Naka’s first game in years, his first project with a new team and his first project to be published by the behemoth that is Square Enix. People were excited when the game was first announced, but it seemed like all hope was lost when the infamous demo was released a month ago. Developer Arzest has promised that some of the more glaring problems, namely the quirky physics and clunky controls, will be fixed in a one-day patch. This announcement alone made me look forward to it, albeit skeptically. Did they really fix some of his problems? Was Yuji Naki’s return doomed to failure like John Romero’s Sin Empire? Well, let’s see.

More like a hairy wonderland, right?

I was shocked to discover that Balan’s World of Wonders is in fact very story-driven, with a great story for each of the two playable characters, and a detailed story for each of the worlds in the game. It’s about the psyche of an anxious or depressed person, like. B. a diver who is afraid to swim after almost drowning. Behind the ultra-colorful and ultra-soft art style is a game that is primarily about mental health, trying to find solutions to problems that everyone faces. The scary Balan is determined to help these people, while the evil Lance uses his greatest fears to turn them into monsters.

Such a detailed (and frankly, very original) story for what is essentially a platform game based on the books. Unfortunately, Balan Wonderworld, while much more entertaining than the disastrous demo version, is still far from perfect. But I’m also here to tell you that it’s actually… normal. If you were expecting a Mighty No. 9 disaster, you were wrong. It’s a lot of fun, and some aspects are commendable, but it’s clunky, a bit messy, and most importantly, it feels like an outdated game.

The main villain, Lance, is so angry that it seems like Sonic’s creators had to create the characters for Kingdom Hearts.

I called Balan Wonderworld a Dreamcast game for 2021, and that comment still stands. The strange movements and physics mean you’ll have to get used to the unreliability of early 3D platformers to really enjoy this game. The camera, while not great, is much more tolerable here than in the demo, but you have to increase the sensitivity a bit in the options menu to avoid throwing DualSense all over the place. These things are expensive, take care of them.

Collision detection is slightly improved, and jumps no longer seem as obvious as before. Most of my complaints about Balan Wonderworld’s gameplay now focus on the truck, which is full of minor annoyances and problems that can’t always be fixed. Additionally, the game only uses two controls, besides running with the analog stick: You perform one action related to the costume you are currently wearing (you will find them in all levels) with a total of six different face buttons, and you can change costumes with R1 and L1. That’s all you need to know.

Balan Wonderworld is absolutely bizarre by design. It’s not bad, you know.

Your goal in each level is simply to reach the end goal, but each level has eight trophies you can collect to unlock more worlds later. They are the equivalent of the stars in Super Mario 64. You can also collect gems that you can use to feed Tims, the Balan Wonderworld version of Sonic’s Chaos. The more gems you give them in the main world, the more they grow, until they get so big they lay an egg that gives you an extra Tim.

The advantage of these trophies is that they usually require costumes, which are not always available in the level you are playing. The game encourages you to replay the levels with different costumes to find all the trophies. I have to commend Yuji Naka and his team for the level design: getting from A to B is easy enough, but each level masterfully hides its stylistic elements in an interesting way, with fun puzzles to solve. Not all combinations are useful (in fact, most of them are redundant), but there is plenty of room to experiment.

As expected, the boss fights are a blast.

Like most of Yuji Naka’s 3D games not named Phantasy Star Online (this game is as perfect as it gets), Balan Wonderworld fails miserably in gameplay, but shines in presentation. It’s an incredibly beautiful game that really takes advantage of the PS5’s hardware to create stunning and colorful levels, all at 60 frames per second without a single frame loss. The design of the characters is pretty good, as you’d expect from the same team that created the characters for the Sonic and Nights franchises, with the exception of the trickster Edgelord Lance.

The best thing about the wonderful world of Balan is without a doubt the soundtrack. Square Enix owner Ryo Yamazaki, who has worked on games like Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles and Kingdom Hearts, delivered an incredible soundtrack, rich with some of the most memorable and enchanting tunes. The main theme of the game, which is also used in the first world of the game, is the twist.

These are the Tims, they are beautiful.

I think the best way to describe Balan Wonderworld short and simple is to compare it to Sound Adventure by Yuji Naki. Both are graphically impressive, both have a phenomenal soundtrack, both are packed with content…. but both are pretty insufferable when it comes to their gameplay, even though you can get used to their boldness and still have a good time. Balan Wonderworld is a Dreamcast platform game for the year 2021. Charming as hell, pretty funny, but very inadequate. Honestly, I expected much worse.

Between the colorful graphics, excellent framing, Naoto Oshima-based character design, and FM video quality you’d expect from a Square Enix project, Balan Wonderworld knows how to make visual entertainment. Some of the movement issues from the demo have been fixed, but Balan Wonderworld’s controls and gameplay feel a bit dated and boring. Like the Dream Tale era, you can get used to it, but that doesn’t mean you can easily forgive these problems.
One thing you can always expect from a Yuji Naka project is a fantastic soundtrack. Square Enix’s own Ryo Yamazaki is one of the most memorable and charming soundtracks in recent memory. It’s quite a piece, but that doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate its many qualities. It looks like a 3D platformer from twenty years ago with brand new (and high quality) graphics and sound effects.
Last block : 7.0

Balan Wonderworld is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, PC and Switch.

Tested on PS5.

A copy of Balan Wonderworld was provided by the publisher.

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