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Nostalgia’s a funny thing, isn’t it? It’s all well and good to look back and how good things used to be, but it’s also easy to forget that maybe things weren’t always perfect. Sure, there were some great games back in the early days of gaming, but there wasn’t a Game Pass to make it easy to try those games out, bugs and glitches were far more common and unlikely to be fixed and it was difficult to connect with other players if you were interested in doing so.
Still, there’s plenty of games that try to capture the essence of what made early gaming great. Balan Wonderworld, the latest creation from Yuji Naka, definitely hanging its magical hat on that hook, so if you’re interested in a no-frills 3D platformer, you might want to check it out.
When you’re in a mental state, you might find you need some help. That’s when the Balan Theater appears. It’s a place where anyone and everyone visits when their souls are thrown out of whack, run by the mysterious impresario Balan. Leo and Emma both have their own issues, but Balan’s here to assist – assuming they can help other visitors in the magical Wonderworld beyond the Theater.
You know how modern games take classic genres and introduce new elements to them in order to freshen them up for a new era? Yeah, Balan Wonderworld isn’t one of those games. This is a collectathon platformer through and through, though it’s got a level-based system making it feel a bit more like Crash Bandicoot rather than Super Mario 64. You’ll explore areas, searching for Balan statues that you’ll then use to unlock more areas. Repeat this enough and you’ll fight a boss, unlocking a new world full of areas that you’ll then scour for statues. That’s pretty much it!
That’s not to say there isn’t a gimmick. Your character is able to wear magical costumes that change up not just their looks, but their abilities as well. These are how you fight baddies and get past obstacles throughout Balan Wonderworld. Costumes come in a variety of shapes and sizes and offer a variety of skills as well, from a damaging tornado attack to projectiles to the ability to stretch vertically and bounce about.
There’s an absolute ton of different costumes available, but it’s possible to carry several and switch between them as needed, so the game is all about using the right duds at the right time. That’s especially true when one considers that there’s really only one action button and therefore some costumes will disable your ability to jump. Expect a little frustration on that front until you get used to the concept.
Beyond platforming challenges and light combat using your various costumes, there’s not a lot else to say about Balan Wonderworld’s gameplay. There’s a story, but it’s a little vague, presented primarily via post-boss cutscenes – you’re really meant to read a 200-page eBook to catch up on what’s going on. Yes, really. Check it out on Amazon if you’re interested. That’s not to imply that the plot is incomprehensible without studying up, but it’s certainly a strange choice for a game that would very much like to succeed the likes of Nights and Billy Hatcher.
One way in which Wonderworld does manage to live up to those classics is its presentation. This is a gorgeous game worthy of the old days. From graphics to sound, it’s all the most colorful and endearing parts of the Gamecube era brought back to life. Presentation is clearly where most of the development time and attention went and it shows. One interesting note is the presence of local coop play, but, well…it’s explicitly local cooperative play, so you can’t grab an online friend and adventure together. That’s unfortunate, but coop play is a decent addition for what it is.
With all that in mind, you should probably keep your expectations under control when it comes to Balan Wonderworld. It’s a perfectly playable adventure that really seeks to capture the classic platforming experience from both a presentation and gameplay standpoint. If you think you’re in for more than that, you might be a little disappointed. Otherwise, though, it’s not a bad idea to visit Wonderworld and check it out. You’re bound to have quite the time.