Wow! This demo kicks off with an incredulous wonderful high-budget CG intro. Kids have discovered a magical realm where all their dreams can come true! The magician is overwhelmingly energetic in his motions to sweep you off your feet to a brand new world with infinite possibilities. His design is a bit creepy, but that just enhances the sense that he’s an otherworldly magical being. You can’t see all the possibilities in life until you cut two eyeholes in your hat. This brand new 3D platformer by Yuji Naka, creator of Sonic the Hedgehog, NiGHTS and Billy Hatcher, was shaping up to be an exciting prospect.
The second the gameplay starts you realise that your dreams are already dead. The bare environment, struggling framerate and unresponsive controls give you a much more realistic glimpse of adulthood. Surprise! Your life is over. The character moves very slow, and your only ability is a very unimpressive jump motion. It feels like you are permanently tired and stressed. The aesthetic and promise remains intriguing however, so let’s see how the first actual level treats us. This is only the hub world after all. These cute little bouncy bobs offer a sliver of hope.
When you get into the first real level the graphics look quite amazing but it’s still a jarring experience. This game has a surreal effect where the background kinda moves up and down, and “unfolds” when you get closer. Unfortunately this tanks the framerate so bad where the game struggles to even load everything. The draw distance is bad on top of this to make the effect look half-arsed at times, with the feeling of wonder quickly replaced by feelings of confusion and anxiety.
Like a really difficult poop, this game has a hard time processing giant corn. They say walking around is meant to help digestion, but in Balan Wonderworld every step increases your chance of vomiting.
You start off with a simple jump ability, but get more as you find different transformations. These are quite cool and open up more of the world for you, either giving you more attack options or movement options. The level design is quite open and non-linear, encouraging you to go back to previous areas after you get a new transformation. Collectible trophies and gems are scattered about the level to give you a good incentive to explore. The concept, design and ideas are quite fun, but the execution just sucks. There’s no nice way to say it, the game is not fun to actually play.
The downside with the transformations is that if you get an attack like this fireball, you can’t jump anymore. You can cycle between three different transformations, but here I have a unique combo that has taken away my ability to jump. Not jumping in a 3D platformer? Ambitious…. innovative…. frustrating. The one button gameplay suddenly doesn’t feel so accessible.
The word “unplayable” is often overused and exaggerated but this is one case where it is warranted. The graphics are so unoptimised that it started to hurt my head before the end. I haven’t felt this sick from a videogame since playing Breath of the Wild in VR. The mere act of jumping from one platform to another in Balan Wonderworld is painful. My brain was starting to doubt whether or not the 3rd dimension existed, and I had to look around my house to just reorient myself with the concept of distance.
It’s a shame because I do love the aesthetic and the gameplay is quite charming. I appreciate the direction and innovation very much, but this just can’t be successful in this state. It would be a good kids game if you wanted to cripple their spatial awareness for life. I’m not even sure why they released this demo, the game seems unsalvageable given its out next month. It simply needs more time. Unless it somehow gets a huge graphical upgrade to smooth out the framerate, avoid this game like a creepy clown magician. There is no icecream in the van.