If you are looking for a magical 3D platform adventure, Balan Wonderworld offers some classic fun with new twists. The catchy music, charming characters and 12 unique worlds take you on a wild, challenging quest. You play as one of two characters who dawn different costumes to take advantage of unique abilities in order to overcome shadowy figures. There are some fun ideas in the game that young and old gamers will enjoy. Let’s take the stage to see what Balan Wonderworld has to offer.
Balan Wonderworld Details
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5,
Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S
Reviewed on: Xbox Series X
Developer: Square Enix / Balan Studio
Publisher: Square Enix
Modes: Single-player, multiplayer (1 to 2 players)
ESRB Rating : E10+ (For All, 10 years and over)
An epic adventure awaits in Balan Wonderworld
The story in Balan Wonderworld is very light and relies heavily on platforming-based gameplay. Playing as either Leo Craig or Emma Cole you are whisked away to a magical realm by the mysterious Balan. A majority of the game takes place in the Balan Theater which appears to those who face “an imbalance in their heart.”
The two troubled youth must overcome their personal demons and save the day. They’ll need to face off against the Negati, shadowy monsters who are born from the darkness of Wonderworld’s visitors. As you battle through the twelve worlds you begin to free others of their personal burdens. I won’t reveal all the details here to avoid spoilers, but this follows a classic, albeit very light good vs. evil plotline.
Balan Statues and progress
The main map for the Balan experience begins on Tim Island which has gates to access the 12 different worlds. Cute creatures dot the island and are interesting to interact with between major levels.
The game starts you off with three open gates that let you access three different levels. In order to continue to progress you’ll need to unlock and collect Balan Statues. It takes quite a bit of time and effort to access worlds 4, 5 and 6 requiring 25 statues to unlock.
This feat will require a lot of backtracking, returning to previously completed levels for remaining statues. These new statues only become accessible with newly unlocked costumes, but I found a lot of the replaying of levels becomes very onerous. I wanted to see new worlds and not the same levels repeated.
The end of each level concludes with a cutscene that explains the context of the world and the boss you are about to face. It would be ideal to see this come at the start of the stage, so players have a better idea of what’s happening in regard to the story. A prime example of this is found in Chapter 2 – “The Dolphin and the Diver” where a young diver feels betrayed by a Dolphin buddy during a deep-sea dive. This is shown just before the boss fight, but it would be better suited at the start of the level. This would help to explain why you are in a water environment battling a dolphin-like enemy. Small touches like this would go a long way in creating a more cohesive story.
Balancing on a gameplay high-wire
Much of Balan Wonderworld’s characters, music and environments are beautiful, but the inconsistent controls hamper the experience. The fact that the majority of the experience is controlled via a single button is the core of the gameplay issues. The shoulder buttons do allow players to swap between different costumes, but that’s the extent of the controls. It would be great to see the control layout expanded. This would really factor in well with so many unique costumes and abilities, secondary buttons for new skills would bring a lot to the table.
I also found the jumping and landing to be too “floaty” and inaccurate. In addition to this walking and running felt “slippery” and imprecise. These movement issues added new wrinkles into the experience creating a lot of unnecessary frustration.
Balan’s puzzling controls
The simplicity in controls can attributed to capture a younger audience’s attention, but it really holds back the overall fun. There are over 80+ ability altering outfits that offer new powers and dapper threads. The new skills introduced by each costume can be fun, but they offer little mobility. Being able to hop around with a new skill is absolutely essential in a platforming experience, but Balan really limits this. There are also completely puzzling costumes that don’t seem to serve any real purpose. For example, “The Box Fox” which randomly turns you into a box randomly. With some interesting looking designs, I wish more thought was put into their functionality.
Boss showdowns in Balan Wonderworld
The one area where things really shine are with the design and creativity of the boss encounters. Not only are the showdowns challenging and more engaging, but they show off the game’s beautiful character design and environments. Each showdown follows the classic “three hits” to defeat a boss formula. Things are changed up in ways in how you defeat them. Some bosses require stomping on their foot, where others need objects dropped on them to slow them down. This battle royales really show off the best, most creative aspects of the game.
The sights and sounds of the stage
One of the game’s strong points is its art direction, colourful characters and environments. Each realm has a fun playfulness to it and the different costumes look great. Everything has an anime / Saturday morning cartoon stylization to it that is fun and bright.
The audio is really well done, offering a plethora of whimsical tracks that are very catchy. The soundtrack is primarily composed by Ryo Yamazaki of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles fame. Yamazaki draw upon influences like Cirque du Soleil to deliver scores that really reflect each character’s emotions and the environments. Balan Wonderworld definitely hits the right beats when it comes to the sights and sounds. It’s unfortunate that the overall experience is hampered by framerate issues that pull you out of the experience.
Overall thoughts on Balan Wonderworld
If you are looking for a fun, upbeat platformer Balan Wonderworld offers a unique adventure.
The 3D mechanics are easy to master but the experience is held back by control and gameplay issues. The characters and levels are fantastical and interesting much like the stage performances they strive to emulate. Some of this wonder is stifled by the required backtracking and odd costume abilities. If you can look beyond these flaws there is some fun to be had in Balan’s whimsical world.
+ Simple gameplay learning curve
+ A stunning variety in costumes and different attributes
+ Excellent soundtrack
– “Single button” gameplay
– Too much repetition in backtracking through levels
– Camera angles can be frustrating
– Graphical issues and framerate drops on the Xbox Series X
OVERALL ASSESSEMENT OF BALAN WONDERWORLD
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 3/5