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Home Gaming Balan Wonderworld review: an archaic throwback as clumsy as it is enjoyable

Balan Wonderworld review: an archaic throwback as clumsy as it is enjoyable

Maybe it’s simply a case of being careful of what you wish for. Balan Wonderworld is a curious time capsule, a 3D platformer that’s full of the exuberance, colour and straight-up weirdness of a beloved and bygone period frequently yearned for, and all from the very people that helped define that same era. Imagine the team behind Sonic Adventure had a crack at their own Mario Odyssey, that late 90s exuberance finding itself into a maximalist journey that throws a hundred different ideas at the player, and you’ve pretty much got Balan Wonderworld down pat. If you’ve an honest recollection of how Sonic Adventure played, you’ll also have a pretty good idea of how horrifying, fascinating, frustrating and occasionally brilliant this can be.

Balan Wonderworld marks the grand return of Yuji Naka (an impeccably stylish dev, I was lucky enough to meet him once and was impressed how his socks, tie and pocket square all matched, a fact that might have been unremarkable were they not all a searingly bright orange). Here the Sonic the Hedgehog programmer is reunited with the designer of Sega’s mascot Naoto Ohshima – a man who can also boast Nights into Dreams, Burning Rangers, and perhaps most appropriately this time out Blinx: The Time Sweeper on his CV. The two are together for the first time since 1998’s Sonic Adventure, a pairing that promises a certain type of game that Balan Wonderworld certainly delivers on.

This is a platformer that feels like it’s been lifted from a different time altogether, the traces of 90s Sonic Team evident from the fundamentals up. Like Nights into Dreams, you’re one of two children ushered into a fantastical theatrical world by an unsettlingly proportioned character, though the atmosphere this time out is tipped more firmly into nightmare territory: Balan is a freaky, horrifying thing, his grin a thing of dumb menace. Like Nights into Dreams there’s also a tug of melancholy beneath the strangeness, each of the 12 worlds themed around a different character’s inner turmoil, all underpinned by Ryo Yamazaki’s wistful score.

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Maybe it’s simply a case of being careful of what you wish for. Balan Wonderworld is a curious time capsule, a 3D platformer that’s full of the exuberance, colour and straight-up weirdness of a beloved and bygone period frequently yearned for, and all from the very people that helped define that same era. Imagine the team behind Sonic Adventure had a crack at their own Mario Odyssey, that late 90s exuberance finding itself into a maximalist journey that throws a hundred different ideas at the player, and you’ve pretty much got Balan Wonderworld down pat. If you’ve an honest recollection of how Sonic Adventure played, you’ll also have a pretty good idea of how horrifying, fascinating, frustrating and occasionally brilliant this can be.

Balan Wonderworld marks the grand return of Yuji Naka (an impeccably stylish dev, I was lucky enough to meet him once and was impressed how his socks, tie and pocket square all matched, a fact that might have been unremarkable were they not all a searingly bright orange). Here the Sonic the Hedgehog programmer is reunited with the designer of Sega’s mascot Naoto Ohshima – a man who can also boast Nights into Dreams, Burning Rangers, and perhaps most appropriately this time out Blinx: The Time Sweeper on his CV. The two are together for the first time since 1998’s Sonic Adventure, a pairing that promises a certain type of game that Balan Wonderworld certainly delivers on.

This is a platformer that feels like it’s been lifted from a different time altogether, the traces of 90s Sonic Team evident from the fundamentals up. Like Nights into Dreams, you’re one of two children ushered into a fantastical theatrical world by an unsettlingly proportioned character, though the atmosphere this time out is tipped more firmly into nightmare territory: Balan is a freaky, horrifying thing, his grin a thing of dumb menace. Like Nights into Dreams there’s also a tug of melancholy beneath the strangeness, each of the 12 worlds themed around a different character’s inner turmoil, all underpinned by Ryo Yamazaki’s wistful score.

Read more

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