First thoughts on Balan Wonderworld (PS4, demo)

Balan Wonderworld received a demo for each available format, and being intrigued by the stylings of Yuji Naka and Naoto Oshima of the Balan Company, I figured I would give the trial a spin. Based solely on the announcement trailer that debuted the game to the public, I was expecting way more Nights Into Dreams from the experience, but what was delivered so far is definitely a callback to the collect-a-thon mascot titles of the fifth generation of consoles that included the SEGA Saturn.

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Most of the promotional materials featured the character Balan, which heavily echoes the character Nights in his stylings and flight ability. The children in the Nights game would transform into the Nights character, but, in Balan Wonderworld, Balan remains on his own and guides Leo or Emma through Wonderworld.

This puts the characters through a number of areas based on stories that reflect different people’s doubts and dreams. The areas are littered with items to collect that allow them to progress further, use in the game’s hub area and unlock access to other areas. Players will only be able to scoop up all of these collectibles by using powers unlocked by a number of different costumes.

Players can sample these costumes in the trial, but the full game is promising more than 80 costumes. That’s sounding mighty impressive as most games with similar mechanics tend to offer a handful of abilities through the course of a game. It sounds like Balan Wonderwold sprinkles in a few costumes per area, and the replayability of the game will hinge on taking costumes found in later stages back to earlier areas to access more areas and collectibles.

The trial lets you play the majority of the first area, as well as sample the fourth and sixth areas. The game’s website indicates the full game will have 12 full areas.

The first area is filled with greenery and plants, being based on a farm, while the sample of the fourth area tasks players with navigating a windy valley and the sixth area takes players through a clock tower. Meeting the second goal of collecting statues unlocks the second and third areas of the game; however, these are not accessible in the demo. The areas are very colorful, and areas such as the insides of the clock tower have a lot of moving parts and scenery to look at.

Naoto Oshima has been credited as designer/artist in many SEGA classics such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Nights and Burning Rangers, and eventually moving on to games such as Blix: The Time Sweeper and Blue Dragon. Yuji Naka’s credits include producing and programming games such as Phantasy Star, Sonic the Hedgehog, Nights, Burning Rangers, ChuChu Rocket! and Samba de Amigo.

In essence, the game looks and sounds like what I would expect from this classic teamup, presenting plenty of assets clearly inspired by the likes of Sonic and Nights.

In yet another SEGA nod, the game features tiny creatures named Tims, that follow the player around at all times. During the stages they can run off and bring the player a variety of items to collect, and the gems collected during each stage can be brought back to the game’s hub area, which serves as Balan Wonderworld’s “Chao Garden.”

The stages feature hidden eggs to collect that hatch even more Tims that run around the hub, and feeding them gems gives them energy to power a generator in the middle of the hub. Reaching target amounts of energy unlocks more features in the hub, including a tower that the Tims can play on. The demo seems to cut the unlockables off after a few upgrades, so there will likely be even more incentives in the full game’s hub.

My sons watched me play the demo, and they were captivated by the Tims. My younger son even drew pictures of the Tims he saw in the game while I was exploring the first area:

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And I think that is my impression of the demo – it’s clearly going to appeal more to younger gamers and possibly families that play games together. I have no huge gripes about the experience, and it’s a well-done demo, but I can’t say anything in it gripped me enough to lay down full price for the game for me to play it on my own. The demo for Balan Wonderworld hits all of the notes and checks all of the boxes for the style of platforming game that was popular in the mid- to late-90s, but the sampling lacks any real punch that sets it apart from that stack of games.

We’ll see what the full game offers up, because my only real complaint is that the segments with Balan are mere quick-time events instead of letting players fly through the Wonderworld, even if it is just for a short time. Still, other mini-games can be uncovered, so there is a bit of variety that lets you collect even more items for the hub area.

So, as it stands, this is currently a purchasing decision I’ll leave up to the kids. They had a great reaction to the presentation of the game, and, honestly, it does play fairly well. Hopefully there is more of a punch to the gameplay when the full world is available to players, as the enemies released by the game’s villain, Lance, were fairly sparse in the trial. Still, there are other reasons to use the multiple abilities in the game, and exploration is rewarded with the collectibles.

Plucked from my time with the Playstation 4 version, check out some video clips and photos posted below! Balan Wonderworld is currently scheduled to release on March 26 for Playstation 4/5, Xbox One/Series X, Nintendo Switch and Steam.

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Categories: GemuBaka Feature, GemuBaka Preview

Author:indiesnack

Indie Snack is a video gaming Web site focusing on independent developers and game releases. Indie Snack will also soon have services made available to independent developers to include tools aiding them in public relations and game marketing.

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