Within the heart of Balan Wonderworld’s hub space lies the development web site of a clock tower. Full the 12 worlds–the entry factors to that are organized at random across the tower like dial markings on a jumbled clock face–and the clock tower rises additional into the sky; an elaborate contraption that stands as a monument to your hours performed. Regardless of a thematic preoccupation with telling the time, Balan Wonderworld appears like one thing of an anachronism, a throwback 3D platformer whose occasional charms arrive too late.
Balan Wonderworld makes a horrible first impression. It is a 3D platformer the place the first act of operating across the ranges feels sloppy. Swapping character costumes to make use of new talents is the important thing novelty, however the preliminary batch of costumes fail to encourage, and as a substitute add the kinds of talents you’d take as a right in another platformer. Finishing the early recreation doldrums, you are dropped into ranges with out context nor any try to clarify your objectives.
The clumsy controls and character motion are essentially the most persistent drawback. There is a bizarre dissonance in the way in which it feels such as you’re shifting too slowly whereas the choppiness of the simplistic animation provides the phantasm of shifting too rapidly. Your character will float barely above the bottom even when standing on a flat floor. Leaping and judging distance feels sloppy and imprecise, largely because of a stickiness of motion but additionally as a result of, sometimes, the helpful floor shadows forged by your self and different objects will merely disappear. To place it kindly, mistiming or failing to land a bounce would not at all times really feel prefer it’s your individual fault.
Maybe the core design of Balan Wonderworld was asking an excessive amount of. Your character can equip dozens of various costumes, every conferring a special (although not distinctive, as there are overlaps) set of talents, requiring a special vary of animations for operating, leaping, and no matter else they’ll do. One second you are controlling a muscular wolf with a spin assault, the following second you have reworked right into a spider who can skitter up any webbed wall. To not point out the bobbing chess rook who turns right into a turret while you stand nonetheless, or the little lizard who can use its tongue as a grappling hook, or the marching band boy with a drum goofily strapped to his again.
With seemingly so many choices at your disposal, it is inevitable that compromises had been made. The sheer variety of costumes is exceptional, and the vary of talents they ship by the top of the sport is shocking. And it is testomony to the energy of the design that, for essentially the most half, the degrees assist playthroughs with assorted combos of outfitted costumes. Besides, too many really feel too comparable. The costume that allows you to break giant blocks is principally the identical as the opposite costume that allows you to break giant blocks. And one other handful have solely restricted special-case makes use of or are sadly under-utilized. You do not actually really feel such as you’re taking part in as a muscular wolf while you don the costume, nor do you’re feeling such as you’re taking part in as a skittering spider; you are simply the identical boy or woman who can now spin into enemies or climb partitions. Better selection and adaptability, one thing that beefs up the costume division to really feel actually transformative, could be welcome.
Exploring a world is thus much less in regards to the sheer delight of bodily navigating the house, and extra about having fun with how the varied costumes and talents come into play. Admittedly, issues take a short time to heat up–the early ranges are deliberately fairly primary, since you will have entry to only some costumes. However by the fourth or fifth world you have moved effectively past costumes that merely allow you to bounce a bit additional and the extent design itself ramps up accordingly, providing a extra intricate and complicated problem. The enormous tree degree, with its vertiginous drops and well-disguised grapple factors, is a mid-game spotlight. I significantly loved how the warping concavity of the surreal chess world inspired using costumes that would glide lengthy distances. My favourite, although, is the late-game gallery, an Escher-esque maze of rotating stairways and portals that flip the ground into the ceiling.
It is rewarding to maneuver via a degree, occupied with how you are going to sort out the following impediment together with your present wardrobe whereas additionally maintaining a watch out for different paths you may have taken in the event you had outfitted a special costume. Certainly, these are worlds constructed to be replayed within the sense that every one of them comprise secret areas and collectibles that may solely be accessed via using costumes acquired on later ranges. You may spy many gadgets on an preliminary playthrough that’ll depart you questioning how on earth you may attain them. Studying to acknowledge the boundaries of your present costumes, and what costumes you may have to swap to on the nearest checkpoint, is a component and parcel of the expertise.
It is a disgrace that the novel costume mechanic is not given higher assist on a story degree. The opening scene-setting cinematic fails at its one job. The suggestion appears to be that your chosen character, teased and rejected by their friends, finds refuge in a mysterious previous theatre the place the resident showman–Balan himself–promises that can assist you. However in every world that branches off the hub space, you are serving to another troubled soul to beat their demons for no readily discernible motive. In a baffling transfer, the cutscene introducing every individual reveals halfway via their world, which means you spend the primary half of every degree with no thought why you are there.
Among the folks you are serving to are extra sympathetic than others; in a single world, a younger woman is traumatized after her kitten is run over by a automotive, whereas elsewhere a profitable chess grasp should recuperate from, uh… shedding an enormous match. Maudlin sentimentality prevails, as do lazy tropes, equivalent to the girl who’s “scared to love” having her story located in a frigid ice world. In any case, no effort is made to develop them as characters. Although you may even see these folks sometimes inside a degree, you may by no means work together with them, nor are you granted any deeper perception into their frame of mind. They’ve an issue and also you clear up it by beating the extent, and that is it. To say Balan Wonderworld takes a light-weight contact to its story presentation could be an understatement. The result’s complicated relatively than intriguing and finally means you cease listening to no matter is making an attempt to function a story thread.
A few dismal mini-games plumb the nadir. Accumulating a sports activities costume prompts a short likelihood to play a gap of golf or attempt to rating a penalty kick in soccer, for instance. They’re unhealthy, unimaginative and forgettable, however a minimum of they’re over in a matter of seconds. In distinction, the “Balan Bout” mini-game forces you to take a seat via a prolonged cinematic sequence of Balan preventing a demon with a couple of trivial QTEs thrown in to make sure you have not dozed off or popped out for a snack.
Equally drained and formulaic are the end-of-world encounters with bosses who run via primary assault patterns you have realized to keep away from in numerous different games–whack ’em 3 times they usually’re useless. Bonus rewards incentivize discovering totally different methods to beat a boss. These add a layer of experimentation as you check out totally different costumes, however they do not essentially alter the movement of the encounter. They’re extra only a neat little twist.
There’s rather a lot occurring in Balan Wonderworld and generally you’re feeling like that’s to its detriment. It jumps from world to world–taking in customary platformer fare just like the water degree and lava degree, but additionally venturing additional afield to the spooky mansion degree and surreal chessboard degree. Nevertheless, the sport struggles to convey a coherent imaginative and prescient that aligns its disparate environments, and it jumps from world to world, and costume to costume, with out offering a lot sense that any of it connects collectively.
All through, there’s the faint presence of Balan’s theatre–it’s within the purple curtain doorways that lead you into every world, within the ludicrous track and dance numbers that conclude each degree, and within the cavalcade of costume modifications. It is a motif that would conceivably work to tie every little thing collectively and be the constant throughline the sport is crying out for, nevertheless it’s too skinny and all too simply forgotten when you’re in a degree.
Balan Wonderworld appears like a recreation from one other time. In a special period the tough edges, inconsistent mechanics, and formulaic design could have been issues that gamers might overlook, however on this second in time, it is a 3D platformer of a top quality that may’t compete with polished modern-day contemporaries from Nintendo, Sony, and the like. It has its deserves and delivers an unexpectedly mentally stimulating platformer when it manages to play to its strengths, however even a stopped clock is true twice a day.