To be honest, while i knew of this title since it was announced… i also kinda forgot about it, knew was coming out, but i didn’t particularly care, even if did look like Nights Into Dreams platformer, fairly obvious since this was from Yuji Naka and Naoto Ohshima’s new company, formed specifically to make this new title, the aptly titled Balan Company. It looked a bit cheapish, but whatever, could be fun, though i wondered why we didn’t see reviews already out for it.
Then i saw people in the internet calling it a “dumpster fire”, the press giving it low scores (very low scores), the fact that the demo could accidentally cause seizures due to an unforeseen bug, that Square Enix (who published the title) didn’t actually give out review codes for it, and then this week Square Enix removed the demo with just a couple of days notice before doing it, so people that want to see for themselves if the game it’s as bad as they heard now will have to pay the full 60 bucks. Or pirate it.
Thankfully i downloaded the demo on PS4 (and Switch and PC just for kicks) long before, so i was able to play that… and even from that you can get a grip of many problems pointed out in reviews for the full game.
And i really feel like i should say SOMETHING, because this is kinda tragic.
The PS4 demo at least ran without problems (i had a video glitch that lasted for a second, but nothing major), the controls work fine (collision detection could be a bit better, though) and it’s not as short as you may think, since it lets you play the first world (complete with the boss fight) and a level from world 4 and 6, respectively, but it’s long enough to make you realized how the game it’s both excessively basic and overcomplicated at the same times, and how many design decisions are just… there, regardless if they make sense or are any good.
Like, each costumes has abilities… most of them being some kind of jump, meaning if that costume doesn’t let you do some kind of jump ability, you can’t jump. In a platformer. It’s not because they couldn’t, there’s plenty of buttons on the controller, but no, all buttons jump OR use the costume ability, the shoulder buttons are for choosing another one of the costumes, with 3 being the max you can carry and toggle between. Did Yuji Naka developed the game with an Atari 2600 controller in mind?
Costumes are encased in crystals, which require a key to open…. i dunno why even bother putting this system in place when you’re gonna let the player collect more keys or more importantly, when the key can ALWAYS be found within 2 feet of the crystal it opens. What’s the point? You can collect more costumes and get them from the wardrobes (accessed via the checkpoints), but only because you lose a costume when hit by an enemy, and of course getting a new costume might overwrite one of the slots.
To say nothing how many costumes in the demo already feel like like they should be one single costume, since some costumes have specific abilities and let you jump, some just let you jump and that’s it. And there’s no consistency to them, like, the “aero acrobat” (just missing “The”) gives you the 3D Sonic style homing jump attack, but doesn’t let you fly or float. NO NO, the sheep costume lets you glide and ride wind currents. You can’t jump AND use an ability that isn’t related to jump, as you could assume.
And frankly it’s kinda of sad to see how 2 costumes are rip-offs of Mario, like the rabbit letting you do the Yoshi jump or the plant costume letting you extend your legs in a manner exactly like the potted plant enemy in Super Mario Odissey. Seriously, it’s absurd how sometimes you’ll be glad to have lost the costume, as your base main character (boy or girl) can jump. Can’t do anything else, but can jump.
Did i tell you one of the 80 costumes featured in the demo is a “box fox”, as in you turn into a square box that slides around after getting minimum momentum? And the demo introduces in while on a thin downward slope? I’m not saying that it’s completely useless… but i struggle to think what use it could have in the rest of the game. Even more tragic, some of the costume designs are nice, i’m not dissing on the art style, even if i don’t particularly dig the human designs, especially their long ass and huge hands.
Talking about the level themselves, they’re not very well designed, and while you have to collect Balan statues to open a new world (oddly by riding a train in the sky over the same hub world, what’s the point of the “Polar Express” cutscene if the train doesn’t actually bring me anywhere?), the levels themselves aren’t really designed around the collectables, making them feel like disjointed jumble of platforming challenges and hazards more than cohesive levels, as they have a theme to them, certaintly, but they don’t feel constructed with any regard to make its elements feel less like a loose assembly of stuff that just happens to NOT clash against each other.
Yeah, finishing a regular level never nets you a Balan statue, i guess in order to force the player to backtrack more and more into levels you don’t really wanna go back too, because they’re boring and dull. The boss fight nets you a Balan statue for beating it, but to get all the collectibles for a boss fight you should use different costumes to hit the boss, as the game counts them as “fighting styles”, so unless you know beforehand it’s a cheap trick to make you redo a level again.
And even after a few levels, i wasn’t REALLY hyped at the idea of going back for extra items (and i even like Donkey Kong 64), mileage may vary, but it felt more like busywork than fun to complete a level here in Balan Wonderla- Really, they should have called it that, sounds better than “Wonderworld”.
Speaking of the “just because”, in the levels you can find Balan’s golden hat, which makes you face a QTE rhythm mini-game where Balan flies into the sky and destroys evil obstacles, unclear why he does that or what purpose they serve, since they don’t reward you with Balan statue, but with gems.
The gems aren’t used for 1UPs since there’s no lives system nor any in-game shop where they work as currency, but to feed the Tims in the overworld.
What are the Tims?
Good question, the game doesn’t explain it, but by implication i figured out they are the birb things you can see in the hub world. And you can feed them gems to make them grow… bigger, which also increases a a counter. The game tells you that the secondary objective is to construct the “Tower of Tims” by raising that counter… dunno why or what the hell that implies besides raising the counter via the aforementioned method, because this demo doesn’t explain shit, like we see an evil version of Balan sometimes appaearing in the levels to spawn enemies and then Tuxedo Masking it, no clue what’s his name is or anything else, aside from the fact Balan kidnap-lured two children that are sad (no clear reason why , exactly) and has them saving people hearts from the darkness or something, i guess to feel better themselves.
Also, when you beat the boss you get a little musical number, which fits the theme of the “fantasy-circus performance” (you do enter into Balan’s theather, after all), at least there’s that, and the music is nice.
Frankly, i can’t wait for the PS4 version to have a huge price-drop very soon (hopefully, i want a retail copy but i’m not paying full price for this crap) so i can get an used copy for 20 bucks and review the full game.
I will say this and repeat it when i get around to do a full review: this is quite sad, because i doubt Naka or Ohshima wanted to be subject of the next “dumpster fire discourse”, but even from the demo you’d just find yourself asking a lot of questions about how the hell this wasn’t canned and started from scratch long ago.