Balan Wonderworld review

I wish Yuji Naka a very stop making games

You shouldn’t play Balan Wonderworld. You might read this review or watch our Quick Play of the first level and think, “I’m a connoisseur of bad games, I’ve played my Ride To Hells and Rogue Warriors, Balan Wonderworld is perfect for me!” Stop. Don’t do it. It’s not just a bad game, it’s worse, it’s an incredibly boring bad game. 

You might think this impossible, especially when it stars a character that if he moved into your street, he’d have to come to your door and tell you some things about his past. Not to mention the musical motif, which is as confused and unsettling as it is laughably poorly executed.

But through it’s terrible controls, turgid, dated collect-a-thon bullshit and general lack of any indication that it was developed with anything other than a seething hatred for the rubes that will pay £50 for the pleasure, what actually is Balan Wonderworld?

It’s a platformer, a revolutionary one at that, being the first game in the genre, at least to my knowledge, that employs 6 different buttons to make your character jump. 

You play as Leo Craig or Emma Cole, two utterly soulless wee freaks who’s dead eyes and annoying haircuts will make you wonder what haunted Dreamcast they were found trapped inside. You’re taken into the Balan theatre by Balan, a nightmarish creature that looks like a cross between a racist caricature that you’d find on old jars of jam and a cancelled former kids TV presenter. 

After dazzling you with what can only be described as an aural assault of music and lights, you’re thrown into the Wonderworld, a different dimension in which people enjoy hunting round awful looking levels for statues of the creepy prick himself. 

In each level, you’ll overcome obstacles using different costumes you can pick up. You need to collect keys to get these costumes. But don’t you dare think that once you have a costume, you can then use it forever, or that you’ll then be able to take it to other worlds and unlock hitherto inaccessible statues, because if one of the game’s enemies so much as looks at you, you’ll lose that costume. And if you want it back, you’ll need to go back to the level you found it in. 

This becomes a problem, as progression is gated by how many statues you collect in each level. So you’re constantly going in and out of these terrible looking, identity-less, blocky masses looking for one of these things. Or you’re looking for the golden top hats that let you take part in Balan’s Bout, a mini-game in which you’ll watch the same animation play over and over and it’s your job to press X when the dancing pervert lines up with a still of himself that slides in from off screen. 

These aren’t only boring, and all practically identical, if you don’t get an Excellent rating on them, you don’t get a statue, what’s worse is that if you don’t get an Excellent rating, you can’t just try again right then and there, the prick fucks off, presumably a condition of his parole, and you have to start the level again to be granted the privilege of engaging with this Guitar Hero if the guitar only had one button bullshit. 

The whole thing is just so shoddily put together, save for the CG cutscenes, which while utterly incomprehensible, are at least well animated. Although, I can’t help get the feeling that this was the result of a spreadsheet mistake in which all of the budget was funnelled towards those shorts and about £2.50 was left over to make an actual game. 

It’s never fun. Not once. Sure, while playing it for a video there’s plenty to laugh about, and me and Harry had a great time ripping the piss out of it, but when I was sitting there, alone, hours later, wondering how I’d gotten to a point in my life where I was spending my Friday night playing Balan fucking Wonderworld, I wasn’t laughing. 

I didn’t laugh when the costume I’d painstakingly grabbed from one level and had taken to the end of another for a puzzle was robbed from me by clipping through a platform. I didn’t laugh when a later level refused to spawn the costume I needed to proceed, entirely blocking my progress. I just thought, “This is £50”. 

But, honestly, there’s no price at which you should pay for Balan Wonderworld. Even if you were one of those unfortunate souls that found themselves with a lifelong Sonic perversion, Yuji Naka has conned you. This is a game for no-one. It’s such a bad platformer that if Shigeru Miyamoto was forced to play it, he might die on the spot. 

This isn’t a review, it’s a public service announcement. A free copy of Balan Wonderworld is better used as a frisbee, or something to burn for warmth, rather than a video game. The gameplay is awful. The music is awful. The mechanics are awful. You use 6 different buttons to jump. Sure, the CG cutscenes aren’t the worst thing in the world, but that’s like saying, sure, Notre Dame is on fire, but at least it gave the Paris skies a nice smoky glow. 

I can’t wait until I never have to speak about this game again. If anyone tells you they enjoyed Balan Wonderworld, you treat them the way you would someone talking to you about government mind control on the last train out of Glasgow Central on a Saturday night. Just smile and nod, there’s no helping them. 

  • Developer

    Square Enix

  • Platform

    PC, PS4, PS5, Switch, Xbox One, XSX

  • Release Date

    26th March 2021

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