Balan Wonderworld Articles RSS Feed | Balan Wonderworld RSS Feed on en Launch Media Network Balan Wonderworld Review: Not Much Magic Tue, 30 Mar 2021 15:34:03 -0400 Jordan Baranowski

Balan Wonderworld looks so promising. It's bright and colorful, comes from a Square Enix subsidiary led by the creator of Nights Into Dreams and Sonic the Hedgehog, and gives off more than its fair share of classic, 3D platformer vibes. Even the opening cinematic, revealing the kinetic clown/maestro/god(?) Balan is full of wild energy and big, brassy music. It's hard to imagine this game going poorly.

Then... it does.

The opening cinematic is, unfortunately, the high point here. Nothing is abjectly terrible in Balan Wonderworld, but almost nothing works. Its design and sensibilities feel hopelessly dated, the controls are oversimplified and lack tightness, and none of its elements live up to their potential. 

Balan Wonderworld Review: Not Much Magic

Though the story is convoluted and difficult to make out since very little is explained either narratively or mechanically, the basic premise of Balan Wonderworld is this: you play as either Leo or Emma, or both if there are two players, who are each going through rough patches.

Depending on the character you choose, the game begins a bit differently. Emma begins by seeing people whispering behind her back everywhere she goes. Leo begins by dancing in the park, impressing people and then walking away without talking to anyone.

Regardless of which character you play as, they both end up in a dilapidated theater called Balan Wonderworld. Inside, they are greeted by Balan, an extremely well-dressed clown who performs a booming musical number and whisks them off to a magical world where they help other people who have lost their way.

Each "chapter" of Balan Wonderworld is themed around a different person, such as "The Man Who Rages at the Storm." In each chapter, you collect costumes with different abilities and use them to then solve puzzles, and by doing so, collect different colored gems and Balan Statues. After collecting enough statues, new chapters open up in the hub. 

The general idea is that each chapter has certain puzzles that require backtracking; you encounter objectives in early chapters that can only be solved after unlocking costumes in later chapters. It's a creative way to add difficulty to Balan Wonderworld's simplified take on puzzles and platforming.

Everything else quickly comes off the rails. 

Controls are important to every platformer's success, but Balan's controls are often loose and unresponsive. You can move, perform actions while in a costume, and change your costume. If you aren't in a costume, all you can do is jump, an action that gets mapped to all of the buttons.

If you change to your dragon costume, for example, that input switches to a fireball attack — but then you can't jump. To jump again, you must switch to a different costume: one that has jump as its action. It's extremely frustrating that such a basic action, one so pivotal to not just the game but the entire genre, isn't useable at will. 

Considering how much Balan Wonderworld hypes its massive selection of costumes, it shouldn't be surprising that some of them are not exceptionally useful. Box Fox, for example, turns you into a fox and, periodically, into a box. If you're on a slope when the costume decides to morph, you'll very likely be starting the level over. It's about as fun as it sounds.

I found myself always bringing along a costume that had a good attack move, one that had a good navigation move, and one that had some sort of specialty that helped solve puzzles.

Level design is imaginative, but everything looks horribly dated, making it difficult to gauge distances or even tell what's a platform and what's not. The lack of sharpness causes more than its fair share of frustration. There were multiple instances where I used a costume ability to "reach" a tough spot I thought was sure would have a Balan Statue, only to fall straight through the platform because it was not actually part of the level. 

Each area also lacks clear urgency and goals. Balan Statues are strangely placed and don't truly feel like objectives, removing any sense of accomplishment gained by nabbing them. Unlike Jiggies in Banjo-Kazooie or any objective in the Mario games, Balan Statues are just there. You grab them, just like you will the various colored gems scattered about. The latter of which brings us to yet another mysterious aspect of Balan Wonderworld: the Isle of Tims. 

The Isle of Tims is a hub populated by Marshmallow Peep-looking critters called Tims that connects all of Balan Wonderworld's chapters. You can feed the gems you find in levels to these Tims, and they change colors and sometimes lay eggs. Other times, they jump on a wheel, which builds a giant tower in the middle of the hub space after a set number of rotations.

Different colored Tims have, supposedly, different abilities, though the jury is still out on that. The tower they build? It's a thing the game tells me to do, but there's no indication when it will be done or what it will do when it is. You just put your Tims to work, feeding them and watching them rotate a wheel until the tower reaches another tier. What a horrible life to be a Tim.

Balan Wonderworld Review  The Bottom Line


  • Sense of wonder and magic in the cutscenes and worldbuilding
  • Soundtrack is strong
  • Lots of good ideas...


  • ...but equally poor execution
  • Camera and controls leave a lot to be desired
  • Animations and graphics are ugly and oversimplified
  • Incredibly frustrating

Everything in Balan Wonderworld feels unfinished. If the gameplay could capture half the magic that the cutscenes exude, it would be a game worth a look.

Every chapter ends with an outrageous musical number, where the main character, the chapter subject, and a bunch of the costume characters sing, dance, and clap in a kaleidoscope of joy. Then you're booted back to the Isle of Tims to watch your pet marshmallows build a clockwork idol.

That's on top of the game's weird sense of scale, where worlds roll into view nauseatingly, which literally made me dizzy more often than not. 

With just a little (ok, a lot) more polish, Balan Wonderworld could be one of those delightfully weird games that develops a cult following. Instead, it seems to be a pretty significant misstep for Square Enix, who seemingly had high hopes that this would become a major hit.

It's impossible to recommend Balan Wonderworld. It's too simple for people who grew up on 3D platformers and likely too frustrating for newcomers. For every bold design choice or strong idea it presents, there are innumerable missteps. There is no real joy to be found in playing Balan Wonderworld. 

Don't be fooled into thinking this is like Kingdom HeartsBanjo-Kazooie, Crash Bandicoot, or any other nostalgic, colorful action-platformer. Balan Wonderworld is a game that even patches and fixes won't be able to mold into something you'll want to play. Its flaws run far too deep.

[Note: Square Enix provided the copy of Balan Wonderworld used for this review.]

New Balan Wonderworld Trailer Highlights Co Op Mode Tue, 23 Mar 2021 14:07:34 -0400 Josh Broadwell

Balan Wonderworld puts Leo or Emma center stage as they break through their emotional barriers, but the latest Balan trailer shows it's better not to go alone.

Co op in Balan Wonderworld means combining costume powers to make navigating the depths of the soul just a bit easier. The new trailer shows Leo and Emma pairing up to cross massive gaps by pairing hover and platform-creating costumes, for example.

Another segment has one hero making ice blocks for the other to position and overcome one of the game's many obstacles, and co-op makes gathering collectibles safer with one character acting as a guard so the other can vacuum everything in sight.

In short, Balan Wonderworld wants you to play it with someone else, which makes sense considering Balan is about coming to terms with emotional hardship and restoring connections with humanity. However, you'll only be able to play Balan Wonderworld's co op in local multiplayer. As yet, there's no online multiplayer support.

We enjoyed our early time with Balan Wonderworld back in January, though it did feel a bit like a relic from another time. We said that "if the gameplay itself can capture some of the magic and style that it clearly has, it could be a fun, bombastic brainteaser of a 3D platformer. As of right now, it kind of feels like someone slapped a shiny coat of paint on a GameCube launch title."

Read more about our hands-on impressions while you wait for the game's release later this week. 

Balan Wonderworld Demo Impressions: Old School to a Fault Wed, 27 Jan 2021 03:00:01 -0500 Jordan Baranowski

Balan Wonderworld is a game to get excited about. It's helmed by Yuji Naka and Naoto Ohshima, who also were responsible for Sonic Adventures and Nights Into Dreams. It's published by Square Enix, and it flexes those big names to deliver a unique and delightfully odd style.

The full game doesn't release until March 2021, but there's a free demo coming on January 28 (available on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S, and Switch) that will let you get your hands on Balan Wonderworld early to see if it's up your alley. We got to put the demo through its paces a few days ahead of its release. Here's what we thought.

Balan Wonderworld Demo Impressions: Old School to a Fault

So, you're going to have to bare with me a bit in trying to describe Balan Wonderworld. It's a weird duck.

The game focuses on two kids, Emma and Leo, who are seemingly disinterested in the world. That changes when they stumble into a run-down theater and encounter Balan, who's is a well-dressed maestro that seemingly draws more than a little influence from sources like The Cat in the Hat and Looney Tunes. Balan zips around and whisks Emma and Leo off to a magical dream world, where their goal is to (I think) travel into people's minds and help them stave off depression.

They do this, seemingly, by donning a variety of costumes that grant them different abilities and by collecting gems. Still with me?

It could be easy to watch gameplay footage of Balan Wonderworld and assume it plays like Kingdom Hearts. If you go in with that mentality, you're going to be disappointed. This is an unapologetically old-school platformer whose gameplay would feel right at home with so many Banjos, Bubsys and Bandicoots.

Wrapping your brain around the controls in Balan Wonderworld takes no time at all; there are literally only two controls to utilize alongside movement. There's a swap costume button and an action button. And that's where the world-building elements of Balan Wonderworld are likely going to make or break it for many players.

When you aren't in a costume, the action button jumps. The bulk of each level is figuring out which costume changes (you can have up to three in your inventory at a time) to bring with you in order to achieve your goals. One costume dresses your character as a plant and allows them to stretch and become extremely tall. Another is a dragon that blows fire, which can defeat enemies and break blocks. One is a sheep that can float on air currents.

It is as bizarre as can be, with each world looking like the inside of a pinball machine. The three areas included in the demo are pretty inventive, and it looks like there are plenty of opportunities for the developers to create difficult combinations that will test your platforming abilities.

Along the way, there's lots of dancing. Seriously, you'll encounter phantom-like characters who just... dance. You'll run across more than a few frustrating level sections, as any salty veteran of 3D platformers will know. You'll encounter over-the-top color and music. And, unfortunately, you'll discover a game that seems like it may not have as many tricks up its sleeve as we had hoped for.

Balan Wonderworld sets an impressive stage. My jaw was literally hanging open during the opening cutscene, as Balan zipped around the screen and characters put together a choreographed dance number that would make a Broadway playwright jealous.

The game itself, though, at least so far, never quite lives up to the moments that the cutscenes set out.

Movement feels clunky and imprecise. The levels, though clearly inspired by dreamscapes and imagination, all have this weird scale where the background kind of rolls into view as you move. It literally gave me motion sickness on occasion, and that's never a thing I've dealt with while gaming before.

On top of that, there's sort of the question of "why"? Why is my goal to collect all these gems? Why do I feed them to little marshmallow peeps called Tims who chirp incessantly and (this is true) build a tower once I feed them enough? Why are there bizarre QTE minigames where the goal is literally to press a button when two pictures line up?

For right now, it just feels oddly put ogether.

Sometimes, a game is made better by selling out to totally bizarre concepts. Sometimes that really works, and I'm not necessarily arguing that Balan Wonderworld doesn't work. However, the small sections of gameplay that the demo provides don't inspire confidence that it has enough substance to back up its very appealing style.

I hope this isn't the case.

There is a moment, after a particularly tricky section, where the game stops so several of the characters can get together and dance. Balan flies around, and dozens of creatures on a series of moving platforms just go nuts. It's delightful.

But then I pop back into the game, slowly running around a mostly empty world, jumping in the air to collect a lone red gem. Then I encounter a puzzle I can't move past unless I backtrack to a different portion of the level and swap out a costume. The game itself is far too slow and methodical, whereas the fantastic cutscenes make everything feel like it should be flying past at warp speed.

I want to explore these imaginative worlds like Balan would, flying through the air, laughing and spinning all the while. Instead, I'm trundling along with a clumsy jump, trying to avoid getting hit so I don't have to go back to the beginning of the level.

All that said, we've still got high hopes for Balan Wonderworld. If the gameplay itself can capture some of the magic and style that it clearly has, it could be a fun, bombastic brainteaser of a 3D platformer. As of right now, it kind of feels like someone slapped a shiny coat of paint on a GameCube launch title. Fingers crossed.

[Note: Square Enix provided the demo copy of Balan Wonderworld used for this impressions piece.]

Balan Wonderworld Demo Arrives Next Week Tue, 19 Jan 2021 13:14:19 -0500 Dylan Webb

We’ve been quite intrigued by Balan Wonderworld since its initial announcement. Developed by Yuji Naka, creator of Sonic the Hedgehog, this new 3D platformer takes us to a world of theatre, where you’ll look to restore balance within the human heart. Published by Square Enix, it’s been confirmed that a demo will arrive on January 28. 

The demo will release on PC (Steam), PS5, PS4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X|S, and Xbox One. Better yet, it can be fully experienced in local co-op, alongside a single-player component. 

Of Balan Wonderworld’s 12 different magical worlds, the upcoming demo features three, taking us to unique settings between the hearts of different humans. World 1 will feature two acts and a boss battle, while World 4 and World 6 only include their respective first acts. 

Speaking previously about the upcoming adventure game, Naka gave us a more in-depth look at its characters, offering profiles for sibling protagonists Leo and Emma. If you’re curious to learn more about this world before the demo drops, it’s worth taking a look. We’ll keep you up to speed at GameSkinny as more news comes in about this intriguing platformer.

Yuji Naka Gives More Details on Balan Wonderworld Characters, Raising Tims Mon, 28 Sep 2020 16:30:05 -0400 Josh Broadwell

Balan Wonderworld Director Yuji Naka, of NiGHTS fame, published a new blog post going in-depth on the characters of Balan and some of the critters players can expect to see during their time on the stage.

Leo Craig and Emma Cole are Balan's two protagonists. Like all who come to Balan theater, both have a gnawing darkness eating away at the happiness in their hearts.

For Leo, it's loneliness; he's been by himself after a big fight with his best friend. Emma deals with anxiety, always putting on a happy front but worrying what people think behind her back.

Then there's Lance, a dark figure who traps people in their darkness and creates monsters out of negative emotions. Thus was the fate of Balan's 12 inhabitants, who now act as bosses at the end of the game's 12 levels.

While Square Enix is still keeping quiet about the particulars of these 12 levels, Naka opened up about a side world Leo and Emma will visit during their journey: The Isle of Tims.

Tims are small floofballs born from people's happiness and positive emotions, and the protagonists can raise them and interact with them on the Isle.

Tims all have different personalities and can follow Leo and Emma into Balan's other worlds. There, the fuzzy-wuzzies can consume different drops to take on new elements and abilities to lend a helping Tim-hand, such as attacking enemies or finding items.

Finally, Naka offered a bit more information about Balan Wonderworld's multiplayer. When players control Leo and Emma together in local co op, the combined powers of their costumes could open new paths in each stage.

Balan Wonderworld releases March 26 for current and next-gen systems plus PC. Stay tuned to GameSkinny for more Balan news as it develops.

[Source: Square Enix]

Balan Wonderworld Takes the Stage in Spring 2021 Thu, 17 Sep 2020 16:24:10 -0400 Josh Broadwell

Square Enix raised the curtain on some new Balan Wonderworld details during the September Nintendo Mini-Direct. It also put the spotlight on Balan Wonderworld's release date: March 26, 2021 for current- and next-gen platforms.

Balan Wonderworld takes place in a theatrical dream world. Siblings Leo and Emma are drawn to the theatre by the magical maestro Balan, where they confront the things they've left behind and restore balance to their emotions.

The journey unfolds across 12 different worlds divided into chapters and acts. Leo and Emma must collect trophies in each stage to unlock new paths, and doing that requires making use of special abilities.

These abilities manifest themselves through specific costumes. The Soaring Sheep costume, for example, inflates so players can glide on the wind, while the Pumpkin Puncher shoots out extendable pumpkin hands to make quick work of obstacles.

Balan Wonderworld's multiplayer lets two players work together with separate abilities to make the journey even smoother. The Switch version makes use of both Joy-Con for multiplayer, and presumably, the other console versions require separate controllers.

Balan Wonderworld pre-orders are open on the Square Enix store. Stay tuned to GameSkinny for more Balan Wonderworld news as it develops.

Balan Wonderworld is a Platformer All About Heart and Theater Thu, 23 Jul 2020 15:23:45 -0400 Josh Broadwell

Square Enix has been teasing a new game from its spinoff studio, Balan Company, for a while now. And during the Xbox Games Showcase, we finally got to see what that new game is: Balan Wonderworld, a 3D platformer adventure game tasking you with restoring balance to the human heart.

According to the developers, Balan Wonderworld is built around a mysterious musical theatre that appears when the balance between positive and negative emotions is lost. Everyone comes to Balan at some point, where their emotions are purified and what ails them gets set right.

Though all of this takes place on the stage of that person’s emotions, Inside Out this is not. Balan Wonderworld unfolds over a series of fantastical worlds, ranging from snowy wonderlands to neon underwater landscapes. You'll solve puzzles using 80 different costumes with their own unique abilities and approaches to dealing with enemies as well.

Balan Wonderworld is set for a spring 2021 launch, and despite premiering during the Xbox Game Showcase, it’s coming to PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Nintendo Switch as well. Stay tuned to GameSkinny for more Balan Wonderworld news as it develops.