Balan Wonderworld – 2021’s Biggest Disappointment

When I heard that the LEGENDARY Yuji Naka was about to release not only a new game but also a new IP, I was understandably psyched out of my mind. Let’s not beat around the bush here, this guy was a major player in the development of not only Nights Into Dreams but also Sonic the Hedgehog. Balan Wonderworld was revealed a lil while back with a beautifully decadent trailer. if I’m being honest, I felt like I was being caressed by its lavish magnificence. It’s a shame the game is shaping up to be the biggest kick in the teeth of 2021 then, isn’t it?

For me, Balan Wonderworld’s demo was more than hotly anticipated, and when it dropped a couple of moons back, I downed my morning coffee and jumped right in. Needless to say, it left a sour taste in my mouth – like coagulated, year-old milk. The demo starts with an expectedly gorgeous cinematic. It doesn’t make much sense, and whatever story it was trying to convey seemed to be cornier than salad dressing. It looked the part at least. Then the game started. Naturally, I played Balan on the Switch, and Christ on a bicycle, what a trainwreck.

Like overcooked asparagus, it’s immediately apparent that something is very wrong. Balan Wonderworld is visually abhorrent. A writhing mess of gaudy colour, jagged edges and screaming frame-rates…and that is when it’s not in motion. If you decide to locomote, then you will immediately realise that animations are completely off – especially the run-cycle which doesn’t match up to the speed your plague-victim-looking character is moving.

As you explore this vibrant hellscape, you will encounter various NPC’s. The friendlier chaps can’t be interacted with. Heck, they can’t even be touched. As you approach them, they fade into the ether leaving you alone and wishing you could join them in Death’s sweet embrace. Clearly, the game’s AI has a degree of sentience, and even it doesn’t want to exist within Balan. Enemies on the other hand waddle awkwardly towards you, suffering from every issue the rest of the game’s visuals are afflicted with. Knock them down and move on. They deserve a better life than this.

Enough about the blazing crap-storm that is the performance though…how does it play? In short, Balan Wonderworld plays like Mario Odyssey – if Mario Odyssey was made by Sonic Team (ironically). You run around a largish world and collect various tidbits. Collect enough McGuffins and you can move on – not that you would want to of course. The simple and long refined art of moving has somehow been tainted in Balan. Jumping, in particular, feels especially awful. Your character is overly floaty and the controls are a bizarre concoction of loose and stiff. Jumping onto any of the smaller platforms was a chore. I either over jumped the bugger, or what’s-his-face slipped off the edge. 

Similar to a homonculoid Ditto, Balan’s main gimmick is your character’s ability to transform into various abominations. One moment you could be an innocent child, and the next you might be pottering around like a potted plant. You can store a number of transformations on a hotbar and can swap between them at will. There is a slight delay as you transform making the whole thing feel somewhat clunky, but at this point, it’s to be expected I guess. The idea is you are supposed to transform to overcome various puzzles, obstacles and enemies. Because the game is laden with issues, however, its most interesting idea is not exactly fun to engage with.

From time to time, you will be dragged kicking and screaming from one obscene torment and dropped in what can only be described as a rhythm game. As this is Balan Wonderworld, these sections are an affront to nature. The performance acts as if it took a hook from Mike Tyson and the entire section oozes unfinished vitriol. It was in these sections that Balan resembled Nights the most – which is perhaps one of the greatest insults to Nights I could ever concoct.

Balan Wonderworld is a mess. It looks, runs, plays and sounds awful at all times. There’s not a single moment when I was playing that I felt any modicum of enjoyment. In fact, I spent most of my time nursing a headache the game inflicted upon me. It tries to emulate far better games and fails miserably. Balan Wonderworld? More like Banal Blunderworld. If you’ll excuse me, I need to try and shake off this stotting migraine. 

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