New game Yuji Naki waited for over five years. In 2006, the legendary creator Sonic the Hedgehog quarreled with the leaders Sega and left Sonic Teamby founding a studio Near (in 2012, a Japanese game designer returned to his native company to participate in the development of a remaster Nights into Dreams, but that’s a completely different story).
Prope has released several games for iOSas well as a couple for DS, PSP, PS3 and even Windows Phone… In addition, Nucky’s team had an adventure Rodea the Sky Soldier for Wii… In fact, it was her only significant game, released back in 2015.
In January 2018, Yuji Naka took a job in Square Enix and together with my friend Naoto Oshima, who invented Sonic and Doctor Robotnik, began to work on the next project. As it turned out later, it was not based on any of the existing series, but was a completely new IP.
Balan Wonderworld is a 3D action platformer set in the fantasy theater Balan, where players-controlled Emma and Leo save the world under the guidance of a mysterious maestro.
You can play both alone and in a joint local co-op (count, together on the same screen). The second mode at first raises a lot of questions with its organization, but when you delve into the essence of Balan Wonderworld and understand who the project is designed for, the answers come by themselves. But first things first.
The gameplay is based on the use of costumes that give the characters different abilities. Having found a wolf robe, Emma or Leo will be able to break boulders with a vortex attack, a jellyfish suit allows you to beat with electricity, a dolphin – to swim underwater, and a pig – to carry out an attack … hmm, significantly outweighing the back of the body. The authors have included over 80 different costumes in the game, and to find all of them you will have to sweat a lot.
There will also be plenty of levels for research. Balan Wonderworld is divided into 12 chapters of three acts. In each of the vibrant and exciting worlds, heroes will jump, climb, fly and fight with evil Negati creatures, which are the personification of negative human emotions. Emma and Leo have to explore every corner of the maze levels full of mysteries and traps in order to reach the final boss. All 12 enemies are located in a separate act and are a lost soul, hardworking, but in trouble due to failure.
In the story, Maestro Balan sends Emma and Leo to the World of Wonders to restore balance in their hearts and save other people from depression. The game itself is very simple and is generally designed for schoolchildren. In the early stages, it is almost impossible to die, and even the most dangerous abysses, when approaching, meet users with lawns of flowers that appear beyond the edge of the path.
Despite the simplicity, all the secrets on the level are not easy to find. Especially not the envy of solo players who prefer to stick to solos. As it turns out in practice, it is better to overcome hard-to-reach places with a close-knit team. For example, to get to a distant platform on which a stone stands, one player can use a jump, and the other can break an obstacle lying in the way. The co-op gives a significant advantage at the start, when secrets, calculated for later discovery, are mined together.
The developers note that multiplayer costume combinations provide opportunities that are not available solo. Unfortunately, multiplayer does not support online functions and is only available at the local level, so the game in this mode only displays the host’s screen. This causes certain difficulties for a partner, who, having gone beyond the borders, is easily lost or killed. Mechanics come to the rescue, allowing you to “stick” to each other. It is done in a manner Chip ’n Dale Rescue Rangers from Capcom: one of the users lifts the other over his head and literally drags him through the level, while the chipmunk minces helplessly with his legs.
In Balan Wonderworld, the second player isn’t nearly as useless. Yes, he cannot control his movements (more precisely, he can only control the “bundle” in its entirety), however, the use of abilities has not been canceled. The thought comes to mind that this approach was developed to help the child, when one of the parents picks up the second controller and passes difficult sections behind it. Or vice versa, the child “helps” in the passage, taking part in the game as much as possible.
Speaking of help, I should mention the funny Tims poking around here and there. They look like chickens and come in different colors. Strange creatures are a manifestation of positive emotions, as well as constant companions of the heroes on their journey.
It is worth noting that the color of Tims directly affects the abilities of the latter. For example, blue chicks can destroy objects shrouded in negative, while pink chickens can bring objects found in the area. Starting the level, the heroes are free to take one Tim with them, holding him in their arms. This opens up a certain scope for tactics and sometimes helps to pass this or that scene. You should also monitor the eggs found on the level and what color Tima can hatch from them.
In addition to costumes and Tims, Balan Wonderworld offers to look for maestro figurines. This is a very important part of the game that opens up access to new levels. Some of the golden mini-Balans are generously scattered around the location and are located in prominent places, however, some statuettes are hidden away, and to find them all you will need additional costumes from later stages of the game. From this follows a good replayability of the project, when users find something new at seemingly long passed levels.
This also includes the system of ranks issued for clearing a location. The authors set themselves the goal of creating an accessible adventure for players of any age and skill level, therefore they included in the project a system for automatic regulation of the difficulty of the stages. As the rank rises, the Negachi become stronger or grow in number, creating certain difficulties in passing.
The level of difficulty of the enemies will be indicated by their coloring. Weak Negati glows black, while reinforced Negati glows red or brown. Particularly skillful gamers may encounter a transparent Negati, but what stands out for defeating him is best kept secret.
There are three ranks in Balan Wonderworld, displayed in different colors at the end of the act: blue, yellow, and the highest red. The latter is issued after a complete cleanup and finding all the secrets in the location, and the lowest is activated due to receiving many hits or deaths.
The original presentation of the plot deserves special mention. The inhabitants of the World of Wonders communicate in their own invented language, a bit like Japanese. The authors wanted to tell a fairy tale without using words, and music helps them in this.
The source of inspiration for the developers was the theatrical stage genre of the musical. In addition to stunning musical numbers, one of its aspects is versatility. People from all over the world love to watch and listen to musicals, even if the lyrics are written in a different language. Stories of hope, friendship and restoring balance to the hearts of people have sparkled with new colors through music and dance in colorful costumes. The production looks much brighter than dialogues in any particular language.
The authors have not forgotten about the favorite entertainment of the Japanese – a fashion model. In this mode, players are free to rotate the camera as they please, stick it to a certain place, be it the main character or nearby objects, zoom out and zoom in, and change the photo frame by adding unique images.
If we are already talking about the technical component, it is necessary to note its decrepitude. In some places, a crooked camera, unable to move away and make objects transparent, low details and poorly rendered textures, as well as unresponsive controls seem to transport players to the days of the sixth generation of consoles.
Yes, newfangled features such as high resolution and support for DualSense adaptive triggers should daze users’ brains for a while, returning them to 2021 for a second, but this does not help. From the engine, as they say, sand pours, and not every player is interested in Balan Wonderworld, looking at the videos.
Of course, there is a narrow stratum of people who do not pay attention to the technical performance, which will even be happy to “return to childhood”, but given that the project was developed primarily for children who have not seen Dreamcast and GameCube, the bewilderment about the carelessness of the picture will accompany users throughout the game.
So what’s the salt?
Balan Wonderworld should attract players, and especially fans of the creativity of Yuji Naki and Naoto Oshima, with a variety of characters and a lot of opportunities for using their techniques. However, in reality, there are not so many unique heroes, and there are even fewer successful combinations.
There is no platforming in the game, and the search for secrets due to outdated level construction is not fun. The mechanics of the selection of keys for the subsequent selection of suits raises questions, and the clumsy execution of VQTE (Visual Quick Time Events) invented by the authors is annoying.
Burnt out gamers running The Last of Us Part II on realism in the evening or on the first try destroying the Valkyrie from God of War, the main backbone of the game will seem boring, despite the complexity of collecting secrets in the levels. But the child may like bright characters with a lot of possibilities.
The question is, how many modern children will be interested in flowers and animals, because large corporations have long taught young users to meat, blood and dismemberment. Fluffy Sonic from the 90s was exchanged by schoolchildren for Call of Duty: Mobile, and the study of the solar world to destroy the enemy.
As a result, we get a very outdated action platformer with a lot of flaws in the field of level design and technical execution, which will rather alienate fans of the genre than interest them.