The demo for Balan Wonderworld, Yuji Naka's upcoming cheery and colorful puzzle platformer, is almost out. It's a game I've been looking forward to since it was first announced last year. From the trailer alone, longtime Sega fans will recognize the aesthetics of Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg and NiGHTS Into Dreams. After getting my hands on the game, I realized I won't enjoy it as much as I thought, but that's not to say that plenty out there won't. As Square Enix stated with their press release last week, the demo contains World 1 Chapters 1, 2, and a Boss Fight, World 4 Chapter 1, and World 6 Chapter 1.
The demo has a surprising amount to offer. While they said it was two hours' worth of content, taking the time to go back to previous areas with new powerups ended up taking closer to three to four hours. The core gameplay loop is visiting each of the Chapters and exploring the world, using the various powerups that you've unlocked. On your first trip through a level, you'll unlock new transformations and discover the secrets of the world. You won't be able to collect all of the golden Balan Statues in a single run of a level, but as you continue to earn new transformations, there are chances to go back and mop up what's left.
I did enjoy the demo, but not as much as I was hoping I would. The worlds are colorful, the power-ups are interesting (even if you can understand their inspiration), but everything was just too simple or limited. At any point in time, you can only have three transformation abilities with you; they also work as your health, so if you're planning on using one, it can be a hassle if you lose it early in the level. These transformations are the best part of the game, but only having access to three at a time feels like it's holding the player back or adding tedium, forcing the player to constantly be swapping out transformations at checkpoints. This frustration is enhanced by how limited each transformation is with what it can do.
There are 80 different transformations in Balan Wonderworld, but each can only do a single action. Just taking a quick glance at the controller layout, you can see why "simple" is a thought I'm having. If you transform into Whirling Wolf every face button aside from the bumpers now allows you to jump and spin, as Jumping Jack you get a Yoshi-like flutter, and some transformations don't even have the ability to jump like the fire breathing Dainty Dragon. The B button doesn't even work to go back if you're in a menu, it will just select what icon you're on.
The demo also suffered from frequent hiccups. I do want to try the demo again on PC, but playing via Xbox One S, the game suffered from low-quality resolution and even a few complete lockups in moments of enemies spawning. With a little under a month to go until its full release, Balan Wonderworld definitely doesn't have time to iron out any slight hiccups like this though.
While a lot of what I've said has been about what limitations I saw in Balan Wonderworld, the biggest thing I came to realize is that even though I have loving memories of early Sega platforming, stylized character designs, and know far too much about the mechanics of Chao Karate, Balan Wonderworld is for the next generation of gamers. Those who didn't grow up with Billy Hatcher, but that Balan Wonderworld might be a Billy Hatcher to them. Balan Wonderworld, through limiting the number of transformations at a time, helps put up blinders for a kid to focus on what they can do, instead of trying to do everything at once. Players can return to levels with a goal in mind to spider-climb a wall, instead of getting lost mindlessly running around in circles.
Balan Wonderworld was a game I was definitely looking forward to playing this year. Now I might not have the drive to play it for myself, but I'm hoping that it's a successful launch of a style of game that we don't see as much anymore, for better or worse. If you're reading this as a fan of the kinds of titles I've mentioned and aren't sure whether you want to take my word for it, then get your hands on the Balan Wonderworld demo yourself and give it a spin.
Do you feel the same after trying out the Balan Wonderworld demo? Am I completely incorrect in my feelings about the game? What are you most excited for about it?