Exploring intricate game worlds is the key to a great 3D platformer and thankfully, Balan Wonderworld is here to provide just that.
Balan Wonderworld is a simple 3D platformer that has you run around large and elaborate stages while using a single button to perform actions depending on your equipped costume. This is what makes its gameplay special as you can swap between up to 3 costumes at any given time and each one offers unique abilities. If you have an array of 3 and collect another costume, the furthest right one is placed in your inventory that you can access at any checkpoint by standing still on it until a changing room appears. All of this adds up to a formula that feels puzzle-like in its approach as the key to progressing as well as acquiring each level's collectible statues depends on your ability to deploy the right abilities. Whether you're climbing spider webs, lighting torches on fire with your head, moving gears with your belly, or latching onto nodes with a chameleon-like tongue; there's a great deal of variety. In fact, there are over 80 costumes in total!
With all of that being said, Balan Wonderworld's simplistic controls which basically involves using one button makes its gameplay rather unchallenging. However, if you want an easy-breezy adventure that rewards you for your ability to amass a large collection of costumes then you'll have an excellent time with it. As I played, I didn't think much of it at first but once it all started to click, I found it very difficult to put down. Although this has a lot to do with its gameplay, the story and game world really got their hooks in me, too.
Balan Wonderworld's premise involves mastering 12 imaginative worlds that each correspond to a real-world character who's facing hard times. Once you complete one, their hardships are resolved and you're treated to a heartfelt cutscene and a beautifully-choreographed dance number. These absolutely warmed my heart, especially with the top-notch upbeat soundtrack featuring lovely vocals during the dance routines. One example of a story involves a little girl who loves bugs but that makes her peers scared of her so once you complete her world, she shows everyone that a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly and everyone is amazed as she makes new friends.
After reading that, if you're not at least a little bit verklempt then you might be too jaded to appreciate the beautiful stories that are told throughout Balan Wonderworld and that's okay. Personally, I was thoroughly captivated by each world and its touching story complete with a couple of memorable stages and a clever boss fight. Plus, there is a ton of variety throughout such as a level that adapts to where you move so you have to stand in a certain spot to guide a rolling boulder. There are also mini-games such as ones based on sports like soccer and bowling and another where you have to time button presses as an action scene plays out. Even though the stages are memorable and diverse, it must be said that the visuals remain quite dated; bright, cute, and colourful as they may be.
In addition to completing stages, Balan Wonderworld features a lot of replay value. The primary reason to replay levels is to snag any statues that you may have missed so revisiting worlds after collecting more costumes may result in your ability to discover some cool new areas. Also, between levels, you'll raise little chick-like critters named Tims in the central hub area. As they grow in number and size, they'll work on restoring some weird Rube Goldberg-esque tower. It's all quite a sight and oddly satisfying to watch it gradually unfold.
If you have a soft spot for classic 3D platformers and imaginative game worlds, you'll have a lovely time with Balan Wonderworld. With a heartfelt story, plenty of cuteness, a clever costume system, and oodles of stages to master; it's one incredible adventure.
- + Simple platforming gameplay with a smart puzzle-like costume system
- + Wonderful story, world, and music
- + Tons of variety and replay value
- - Core gameplay is a bit too simple which makes it generally unchallenging
- - Although cute and colourful, the overall visuals are rather dated