Balan Wonderworld awakened a feeling that I hadn’t experienced since 2019 when I saw the adaptation of the musical by director Tom Hooper Cats in a cinema.
The same feeling of confusion and awe of seeing Judi Dench and Idris Elba singing in cat form is evoked by Balan Wonderworld. I sat stunned after seeing an in-game musical number featuring my player character and a corn farmer who had been turned into a giant clown dog by an evil wizard a few minutes earlier. I hit him back into human form with a couple of blows on the paw and an explosion on the Derrière, and we celebrated with song and dance. Balan Wonderworld had already done a lot of ambient dance, but this spectacle was on a whole new level.
I saw Cats on a lark out of morbid curiosity and still have conflicting feelings about the entire Jellicle experience. But I’m glad to have known such madness. Same goes for my time with Balan Wonderworld
Balan Wonderworld is a new project from Game Director Yuji Naka and artist Naoto Ohshima that traces back to the early creative work of this duo at Sega. The game world of the 3D action platformer is rich in grassy greens and an energetic blue sky of a 16-bit game by Sonic the Hedgehog. His characters feel ripped off a Nights in dreams Continuation – especially the Balan of the same name, an extravagant showman who pulls a young man and a young woman into a colorful fantasy land.
The demo of the game spans three worlds and a boss fight. In each world, players can access a wide variety of costumes to gain new skills. The starting level contains outfits like the Tornado Wolf, which allows the player to take a twisting jump. Jumping Jack, a kangaroo fit that offers a long jump; and Elastiplant, which allows the player to stretch themselves to new heights. Later levels include a sheep costume that players can use to float and a gear-shaped skirt that is used to manipulate a clockwork world. According to publisher Square Enix, we can expect 80 costumes throughout the game. The demo contains at least 10.
With its dozen of costumes Balan Wonderworld feels wide but flat. The player’s basic skill is to jump, and many of the costumes offer variations of that jump. Other items of clothing, like a fire-breathing dragon outfit, don’t feel particularly useful as enemies are easy to dispatch in other ways – for example, jumping on their heads while wearing almost any other costume. The costume-based gameplay gives little joy or surprise to the otherwise simple 3D platform jumping.
Where Balan WonderworldThe costume changing gameplay can shine in its local cooperative mode. Two players can combine the talents of their outfit to reach places in the game world that would otherwise be inaccessible to a single player, says Square Enix. It’s a feature that I couldn’t test alone, but which feels ideal for a parent-child duo. (Balan Wonderworld
There’s even more to explore in the game’s demo, including well-hidden collectible statues and a hub world known as the Isle of Tims. This is where players can both develop the colorful fuzzy creatures known as Tims – there are vibrations from Chao Gardens of some Sonic games here – and build a fantastic structure.
Occasionally, the players themselves take control of Balan when they find gold cylinders. These sections are just as weird and thin as the rest of the game. Balan Bouts, as they are called, are time-based mini-games as Balan flies through the air. Balan Bouts reward the player with gems called drops, which are also collected elsewhere in the game, but the real reason the mini-games existed seems to be a hit of nostalgia Nights in dreams” flying planes.
With Balan WonderworldHaving launched in just two months, I doubt my reservations about the gameplay veneer will change a lot. But the game is quirky Cats-flashback-inspiring musical moments may have enough pull to make me take another look only to see how strange Naka and Ohshima get.