Balan Wonderworld (PlayStation 4)

Balan Wonderworld is the latest action platformer from Square Enix. It is the first game from Yuji Naka, former head of Sonic Team, producing games such as Sonic Adventure or Nights Into Dreams. Development started in 2018 and the game was officially revealed in July 2020. It released on 26th March 2021. 

A massive thanks to Shaun @shaun20130 for stepping in and providing us this review on behalf of Square Enix

Balan Wonderworld tells the tale of 2 children, Leo and Emma who seem to be going through a bad time, Balan appears before them and enlists their help to fix 12 different individuals who are also going through dark times. 

Balan and it’s story are told in a very vague manner much like classic platformer games, wouldn’t usually be a problem but they tended to lore dump in the instruction manual which naturally doesn’t exist in modern gaming for the most part.

The story is largely inconsequential which is a bonus really as it isn’t presented in the best way and isn’t until much later until you figure out what exactly is going on!.

The visual style of the game is great for the most part. The style of each level is distinct and colourful and fit its setting well. However the quality of the individual textures in the game is not great. The graphics would not feel out of place on an older console and I feel like the graphics could be improved, particularly on the switch port of the game which has a significant graphical downgrade from the other versions of the game.

 However some sections of the game look good visually, such as the levels in chapter 2 and 3. These levels stand out more in the style of the game due to their setting and look particularly vibrant. The cutscenes in the game look fantastic and they help to build the atmosphere of the level and are by far the best looking parts of the game and I feel like the cutscene animation team did a great job on them.

The Music of the game is one of its standout features. The soundtrack for each level fits the setting well and helps build the games atmosphere. 

Each track feels distinct from one another and represents the settings of each world well. The vocal tracks featured in the game are particularly good, they are catchy and a lot more memorable than other themes in the game. 

These vocal tracks fit the games theme of a musical theatre. Overall I feel that the games soundtrack is one of the games strongest areas and that it is memorable and fits the themes of the game well. 

The gameplay consists of what you’d expect from a 3D Platformer, getting from point A and point B in a level with obstacles around the way. Where the game seeks to separate itself from other similar games in the genre is through the costume system. 

These costumes change your abilities to fit the costume and help you reach new areas or solve puzzles. Examples of these include a Dragon costume being able to shoot fire or a dolphin costume being able to swim in water. Some of these costumes can feel fairly creative and fun to use but others feel like they should be abilities the player has by default, such as a ground pound ability that is a default ability in many other games in the genre. 

Some of these abilities also replace the ability to jump which can be frustrating since every button on the controller does the same thing so a button could easily have been allocated to a universal jump function. This can be worked around by the fact you can have up to three costumes at any given time so you can make sure you always have access to a costume that can jump. 

The levels themselves are fairly short for the most part and don’t provide much of a challenge. They are also simple and the main route through the level is usually very straightforward. Finding the Balan Statues however, is where the game gets more interesting. 

They are hidden throughout each level and can pose a fair amount of challenge to find them all. Some also require you to bring costumes found in other levels to reach, adding a degree of replayability to the game. The game also features minigames found throughout the levels. 

One of these is Balans Bout which is a series of quick time events that if you perfectly do all of them you receive a Balan Statue as a reward. At the end of each chapter, there is a boss fight which still doesn’t pose too much of a challenge. 

I feel the gameplay is standard for 3d platformers and plays it safe with the costume system which can feel like a missed opportunity at times and could have had some very creative abilities. The level design can also feel simplistic in some levels. 

Overall I feel Balan Wonderworld could have done so much more if the game had more polish or development time. The visual style and music are held back by the graphics and the lack of challenge the game poses. However I do feel the game has its strengths, the style and music of the game are fantastic and some of the Balan Statues were creatively hidden.

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