After going hands on with the Balan Wonderworld demo for PS5, it’s clear the game has no shortage of charming characters and colorful worlds.
It’s easy to tell even before trying Balan Wonderworld on PlayStation 5 that the game is going to look pretty. The platformer oozes charm in each of its trailers, and the character designs and colorful worlds are captivating, even if the art style isn’t necessarily to everyone’s taste. While aesthetically pleasing platformers are almost always fun to watch, making them fun to play can sometimes be a challenge – one that, so far, Balan Wonderworld has no issue meeting, thanks to a combination of slick mechanics and a diversity in options that sets it apart from similar modern titles.
For those unfamiliar with the story behind Balan Wonderworld, the game has quite a pedigree behind it. Balan Wonderworld is being developed by Yuji Naka, the creator of Sonic, with Square Enix as a publisher. That combination means expectations are pretty high for the platformer, which will feature a few interesting design decisions, including the decision to have no spoken dialogue save Balan’s opening speech in the intro scenes that set up the game. A Balan Wonderworld demo was announced by Square Enix for the end of January, and Screen Rant was given a chance to go hands-on with the roughly two hour experience ahead of schedule. What’s there is intriguing, and suggests there will be a surprising level of depth to the game that might not have been obvious at first glance.
Loading up the Balan Wonderworld demo on PS5 makes it clear that current-gen is the best place to experience the game when it launches. Balan Wonderworld‘s load time is blisteringly fast on PS5, with virtually no downtime between navigating the game’s hub world and its various stages. Everything renders smooth and crisp, with character models really popping out visually even among equally eye-grabbing environmental design. From a pure performance standpoint, Balan Wonderworld isn’t necessarily the best measure of the PS5’s capabilities given its relative simplicity when it comes to gameplay, but it’s still a great experience on current-gen that benefits from the strengths of the PlayStation 5 platform.
Balan Wonderworld is first and foremost a feast for the eyes. Balan Wonderworld‘s design from top to bottom is meant to be memorable, and it succeeds in nearly every respect, although its character designs for humans can feel a little off-putting at moments. Everywhere else, however, the game shines – whether it’s exploring the farm fields of the game’s most in-depth world demo or fighting that location’s boss, it feels like there’s always something to look at or explore. Level layouts are easy to navigate for a straightforward playthrough but contain depth for completionists, and acquiring various costumes is never too tricky, with the game generously offering chances to re-up on any of the ones lost during combat at key points.
Costumes are a huge part of Balan Wonderworld gameplay, and the ones featured in the PS5 demo do enough to set themselves apart from each other that the game’s ambitious system feels like it might be pulled off. There are nine costumes on offer across the three different worlds available in the Balan Wonderworld demo, and they’re not just slight re-skins of each other that do little to distinguish themselves. Each Balan Wonderworld costume has a niche, and though they generally only add one or two abilities, they’re all useful in some way. Costumes like the Aero Acrobat and Tornado Wolf are staple mobility options, while more restrictive options like the Elastiplant feel more like they simply add a few quirky solutions to puzzles.
Those puzzles are relatively simple so far, though only the game’s first world is fleshed out in the Balan Wonderworld demo, so it’s fair to expect they’ll get more complex as the game progresses. With over 80 costumes planned for launch, Balan Wonderworld‘s depth should be a pleasant surprise if its executed as well as it is in the demo. Handling the protagonist is at its weirdest when they’re simply human – every other costume feels fine-tuned, but the human version feels almost as though its running on ice at times. It’s by no means impactful, though, as every level in the demo is completed by using a combination of Balan Wonderworld costumes.
Beyond puzzles and pretty standard enemies – many of whom would not feel out of place in a modern day Sonic the Hedgehog game – there are boss fights and Balan Bouts. Only one boss fight, against Barktholomew, is available in the demo, and it’s very basic. In fact, the biggest detriment thus far for Balan Wonderworld is how easy everything feels, which is at its most evident in its boss fight. However, a first boss is usually a cakewalk, and the design at play – integrating multiple costumes into one sound strategy – makes it seem like difficulty will scale up in boss battles, too. Balan Bouts are small QTE-style mini games that help break up the exploration of levels while offering some materials in exchange for skillful completion.
Balan Wonderworld collectibles feel in line with most platformers, with a variety of statues, tophats, and drops available scattered across stages. The game’s hub world, the Isle of Tims, is a base that lets players choose the stages they want to explore. It’s also where players can use the drops they collect to alter their Tims – small creatures that follow them throughout the game – to change how they help. Different Tims excel at different game elements, and it seems like they’ll be fun to experiment with in the full game. They’re reminiscent of Sonic‘s Chaos, though it remains to be seen if they thrive the same way those creatures did when they were introduced.
Ultimately, the Balan Wonderworld demo on PS5 is an excellent introduction to what the new IP will deliver when it releases in March. It’s hard to ascertain how some of its gameplay decisions will feel when they’re repeated more often throughout the full game’s 12 stages, especially when it comes to the costume system. If they’re all as interesting and memorable as the ones present in the demo, Balan Wonderworld should be great. Even if the costumes are more hit-and-miss, however, the game’s combination of gorgeous world design and charming, simple platforming should make it a hit among fans of the genre. Balan Wonderworld is a game to watch, and it will be exciting to see where it ends up. Anyone interested will want to give the demo a look themselves when it drops on Thursday, January 28 at 9:00pm PT.
Balan Wonderworld releases on March 26, 2021 for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, and Xbox One. Screen Rant was provided early access to the PS5 version of the Balan Wonderworld demo for the purpose of this preview.
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