Balan Wonderworld (PlayStation 4) Review

By Nayu 31.03.2021 3

Review for Balan Wonderworld on PlayStation 4

This Alice in Wonderland level of wackiness action platformer on PlayStation 4 is a kaleidoscope of colour and pure fun. Developed by Arzest and Square Enix's Balan Company, and published by Square Enix, Balan Wonderworld is a visual delight with a strong musical theme. It sees the protagonist, either the girl Emma or the boy Leo, led to the Balan theatre by a small fluffy creature, known as a Tims, where the decidedly odd looking Balan clown sends them to Wonderworld to mend their own hearts by fixing others'. Both protagonists have unsettling issues in their lives, and it's only by helping others throughout the game that they can help themselves.

It is advisable that anyone playing this title knows that it is strongly based on musical theatre. There are twelve chapters, each chapter having three acts, with the third being the boss fight. Included in each chapter are two video clips, one showing how the person needing help from Emma or Leo loves their hobby or job and is passionate about it, but due to circumstances outside their control - often by other people not understanding them - their passion becomes their enemy. There are a variety of characters and stories, including a farmer whose crop destruction ruined his confidence or a diver whose love for the ocean and playing with a dolphin is being put to the test.

Each of the two levels in any chapter are a real feast for the eyes. There is so much to look at, all being connected to the chapter's theme. One chapter has a multitude of coral, bodies of water to traverse, shells and sand, while another has giant leaves and spider webs to climb upon. That initial overview showing what's ahead is breath taking, providing excitement of what is there to explore. Each chapter ends with a musical number upon defeating the boss, using the same catchy theme song that sticks in the mind and will be hummed long after the scene ends.

Both the song lyrics and the language used in Balan is entirely made up. A major theme throughout the game is that words are not needed to understand a person's suffering and joy, that is why spoken language isn't English or Japanese, or real at all. There are subtitles when characters speak, but that's only for Emma, Leo and the Balan clown. Everyone else is intelligible. This allows player interpretation of the story, making them draw on the emotions each scene evokes. There are moments, especially when the game is starting, when either a few more scenes or narration in English would help explain more of what was going on, as it can be confusing to know what to do, what the Tims are and what they need as their world is rebuilt. Overall, the act of not voicing what the problems to each character were makes sense and the images alone do convey why people lose their way. The non-voiced sections where the chapter's focus is explained could do with being a fraction slower in how quickly they are shown, sometimes it feels a single blink can cause missing parts of it, but they are captivating and really help immerse Emma or Leo into that particular world.

Screenshot for Balan Wonderworld on PlayStation 4

There are around eighty costumes to be unlocked, each relating to the chapter content and providing different skills. There is almost always a flying outfit, an outfit with weapons, and outfits with unique talents, such as the fireman whose ladder is needed at certain points to climb up walls, the aerial acrobat that locks on to enemies in mid-air. Previous chapters' costumes can be used anytime, so favourites often can be used in multiple chapters, but generally the first time through a chapter, it's best to collect whatever costume the game provides. Every chapter also has a hard-to-find piece of clothing that frequently needs outfits from a higher numbered level to reach them but provide game changing skills.

Game progression involves collecting various coloured drops which are used to feed the Tims in their base hub where chapters are accessed, a couple of top hats that invoke a mini game with the Balan clown, and the sometimes easy but normally hard to reach Balan statues needed to unlock new areas. The puzzles within levels can take some time to figure out. Some require outfits not yet acquired, others need more than one button pressed to activate change to that level. Mirrors are cleverly used as warp portals. The act of going into a mirror produces ripples across it until fully on the other side. Using objects to jump across areas keeps gameplay fresh and engaging across all the levels even if the basic required actions are similar.

Feeding the Tims with drops is necessary to provide them with energy to grow bigger and create more Tims to build a tower which doesn't seem to have much of a purpose but can be watched for an indefinite amount of time by climbing on a special platform. Seeing the different coloured Tims bounce and roll about is relaxing. After all, who doesn't want the fluffy looking, bright coloured creatures smile with joy as they bounce on unlockable trampolines? Tims follow the protagonist around in the game's levels, sometimes getting caught up in enemy traps, but often bringing random coloured drops which are the sole currency (not that anything is bought in the game) and costume keys to the player. Tims hatch from eggs found in levels, and also seem to multiply on their own. Once back on the hub the eggs need to be touched so they can hatch, a necessary requirement for some PlayStation achievements.

Screenshot for Balan Wonderworld on PlayStation 4

Tims are central to finishing each chapter's act in a cute scene where a heart is found and put in what could be the chapter's character's soul. Even though some Tims get lost along the way, they return at the level end tree to perform the level completion scene where they chant something intelligible that brings a smile to match the jubilation on completing another area. It feels impossible to not want to help the innocent creatures be happy at the main hub with the odd Tim Tower, the multi-coloured flower patches where each colour drop is released for Tims to eat, resulting in hearts appearing above their adorable heads. There is a bird statue in the Tim hub which needs special rainbow drops collected either in chapter from similar statues or comes from replaying an act for the first time.

The doorways or gates to chapters are scattered around the Tims hub like a clock but not in numerical order. Chapters are unlocked three at a time by collecting a set number of Balan statues in the levels. Perfect execution of the Balan Bout mini game provides a statue as prize. The Balan clown fights the antagonist in an aerial battle, where matching the clown's shadow at the right time leads to a good, great, or excellent that in turn multiples the drops collected so far in the area to be multiplied. Failing to match the shadow gets an oops and results in a lower grade and less drops multiplied. The mini game is set in the same sky area for every single chapter. While it would have been more interesting to have the background correlate to the chapter's theme, and the shadow matching to increase in difficulty in the later chapters, they do provide a break from traversing the level which is needed later in the game when the levels get harder.

The Balan statues are fun to collect. A few can be found without using any costume skills, but most do need a bit of thought on how to reach them, with several being hidden away, providing reasons to replay levels during and after the main story is finished. Once the goal number has been reached, the Balan clown makes a train appear for Emma or Leo to ride, viewing the Isle of Tims, and creating the next chapters. Available chapters technically can be played in any order, although game elements are revealed in them so taking them on chronologically does make sense. The mechanics and puzzles within each chapter vary and are fun to perform, although frustrating when an ill-placed step lands Emma or Leo to a lower level. There is no death in the game: if the protagonist falls off a ledge they simply reappear at the last checkpoint. Occasional frame drops on the PlayStation 4 can result in making mistakes, but these are not frequent. The costume worn at the time of the fall will disappear though, something that proved tricky at the final boss area since there is only one save file: manual saves are possible but the game autosaves too, rendering it necessary to be quick in resetting the game to avoid replaying levels to find more costumes of that type. The final boss fight itself has a twist in terms of which costumes are available for use, and the heart-warming moment might move some to tears.

Screenshot for Balan Wonderworld on PlayStation 4

Furthermore, only three costumes can be held at a time during play. Initially this feels restrictive, but it is easy to become accustomed to, and it's possible to enter the dressing room from a checkpoint to swap outfits around or replace ones lost through being hit by an enemy or falling off a ledge. Costumes are found throughout the levels and need a key to unlock them, usually found close by. If all three outfit slots are filled, the last one will be replaced with the newest acquired piece of clothing. The sheer number of costumes is mind-blowing: depending on playstyle a few do seem pointless, but most make sense and are enjoyable to run around in. Who doesn't want to float as a puffed-up sheep through the air? The clothes match the general cute style of Balan Wonderworld which not everyone will like, but those that do will be in heaven, spending dozens of hours enjoying exploring the levels which would benefit from being a bit longer to use all the available skills.

The game's difficulty may put off some players from enjoying the game. It feels that it is aimed a lower to medium levelled players, and certainly the main story will not challenge the most experienced. There is little advancement in difficulty until the last few chapters; boss fights do get tricky but only require three hits to be killed and it is fairly easy to work out the patterns. This will be an issue for those wanting a challenge, however for newbies to the genre, or people who simply want to play an enjoyable game that isn't frustrating and allows to play with the collectables, it is perfect. Once the main story is completed each chapter gets an additional act, which is harder to traverse and will test player skills. Thankfully, levels can be left at any time, returning to the Tims hub. They will need to be replayed from the start, and after the first run of a level both acts and the boss need to be replayed in order to get more costumes to spawn, but any drops and statues collected seem to stay in the inventory. Having a small stock of costumes is recommended, but the chapters are so delightful that boredom from replaying them is not an issue.

Screenshot for Balan Wonderworld on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Balan Wonderworld is perfect for those who want a relatively relaxed game that delights the mind while not being overly tricky, fills up the cuteness meter, and rewards those who seek out every collectable. There are occasional frame rate drops and some potential confusion at the start due to lack of narration or knowledge about musicals. Along with what for some will be an issue with minimal lack of difficulty increase outside of boss battles and post-game content, this means overall enjoyment may be restricted for some players. However, for the ideal target audience the world of Balan is a joy to explore; the various textures of clothing, the world and items make it feel immersive. The whimsical and unique costumes add more than a style change, they are central to the thrill of helping chapter characters regain their happiness for their passion, be it a hobby or a job. The darker elements of the bosses' appearance and the regular enemies balance the predominantly cute style, making Balan Wonderworld a great new title from Square Enix.

Developer

Arzest

Publisher

Square Enix

Genre

3D Platformer

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

I wasn't a big fan of the demo, but sounds like it's shaped up to be a good final product. I may have to give it another chance!

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

UNITE714: Weekly Prayers | Bible Verses

Let me know if you do give it a go!

Human (guest) 14.04.2021#3

So how much were you paid to write this review?

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