Platformers are almost as old as modern video games. It was a platformer that launched the console that saved the industry. Their mascots became household names and their mechanics still resonate with modern designers. Even if pure platforming adventures aren't the megahits they once were, there's a healthy market for innovative takes on the 8-bit blockbusters of yesteryear. That niche is right where you'll find Wunderling, a pixel-art throwback that asks what a Goomba would do with the power to jump.
Dancing to a New Harmonica
A kingdom of vegetables is under siege by an evil witch and her bovine second in command. They've kidnapped the princess (of course) and a carrot hero is on his way to save her. You take control of said hero throughout the introduction, and a game staring this character would be fine, but probably not very noteworthy. The true game begins when you stomp on a meandering baddie and jump into a portal. The witch swoops in, revives said baddie and gifts him with upward movement. For the rest of Wunderling, you play as a tiny minion that still walks back and forth, but can now give chase thanks to well-timed leaps.
Gameplay-wise, the early stages of Wunderling play out like a Mario-centric version of Bit.Trip Runner. Your character can't stop marching forward, and it can't change direction without hitting a wall first. Your only control comes from jumping, so you have to position your character onto the right platforms to keep moving forward and avoid spikes. You also have to keep collecting seeds to power your magical jumping ability. Meander around too long and you'll end up exploding and warping back to a checkpoint. Thankfully, there's no lives system in play, but you'll still die plenty of times as you try to master these tricky mazes with your limited skillset.
Variety Isn't Always That Spicy
When Wunderling presents you with just this basic setup, the game sings. It may seem simplistic, but each level has plenty of secret collectibles and clever shortcuts to discover, and completionists will have a great time trying to root out each one. Even just the main path can be a fun puzzle to solve in some cases, and the mechanics layered on later only add to the high stakes walking. Boost pads that force you to run make your timing even more important and giant plants launch you around like Donkey Kong's barrels. By the end of the first world, I was hooked.
However, that's about where Wunderling started losing the plot by layering on even more desperate mechanics. You first get a "boost berry" that lets you speed up whenever you need to. This facilitates some longer jumps, but also means that you have one more move to remember and one more reason to try and fail before achieving that success. After that, you find a P-Wing type power-up that lets your Wunderling fly through the sky like Flappy Bird. This sets up a string of levels filled with spikes that play like the sewer levels in the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on NES. When a mechanic has entire other games dedicated to pointing out how masochistic it is, I don't like to see it upon up in otherwise fun endeavors.
Wunderling Impressions | Final Thoughts
It was as I played through those levels that I forgot what I liked about Wunderling in the first place. It felt like a completely different game, and I could imagine players not bound by professional duty would stop here at the drop of a hat. Thankfully (although not noted anywhere in the game as far as I could tell), Wunderling does have a nonlinear progression of sorts. You don't have to finish every level, and you can skip around in a world if you get stuck and want to try something else. The mechanics still roll out traditionally, but there's nothing here that's going to throw you for a loop once you get a handle on how this little Goomba controls.
Overall, Wunderling has a great style to it, with beautiful art and chiptune music that can rock with the best of them. The dialogue is a little heavy on the references, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit to chuckling at some of the jokes anyway. It's truly a wonderful platformer with a lot of unique ideas, I just wish that all those ideas gelled into a more cohesive whole. If you're just looking for a brand new platformer to conquer, Wunderling will more than satisfy with its complex level layouts and one-button gameplay. If you're willing to accept an occasional WarioWare-esque change-up in gameplay styles, you might even enjoy the later stages and rescue the princess for yourself.
TechRaptor covered Wunderling on Nintendo Switch with a copy provided by the developers.