Balan Wonderworld is easily one of the most unexpected titles to release in 2021 due to Yuji Naka and Naoto Oshima’s unexpected collaboration. This title’s promotional material has done a fantastic job highlighting its majestical and whimsical nature, and the upcoming demo follows suit.
The demo of Balan Wonderworld is fairly brief but contains enough to give players an idea of the full adventure ahead. Players take control of either Emma or Leo and traverse the stages of troubled hearts. The main gimmick is the various costumes that will alter both Emma and Leo’s appearances and functionalities. There are a great variety of costumes with varying levels of practicality. While the costumes themselves were fun to play around with, the lengthy animation that plays whenever you change costumes can be a bit much.
The stages are not simply about finding your way from point A to point B, as numerous collectibles are strewn about. In particular, there are Balan statues players can collect that are usually only obtainable using the costume abilities. I was moderately impressed with the level layouts since they heavily incentivized methodical exploration and not mindless linear progression. There are several open spaces, diverging pathways, and costume exclusive areas. The aspect of this title the demo immediately makes apparent is that this is a game where you take your time and smell the roses. Exploring the levels and seeing all they have to offer is clearly the main draw here.
Visually speaking, Balan Wonderworld is legitimately breathtaking at points. Areas are distinctively scenic and feel relatively unique from one another. However, there’s an odd design choice where these figures of focal characters and other creatures spread throughout the level vanish when you get close to them. They also all do these similar dances that make the stages feel less special from each other. This was not a fundamental turn off, but I was disappointed since I was expecting there to be more character interaction given these numerous presences. At most, they come off as ornate decorative elements.
There is combat in this demo, but to be honest, it’s easily the most forgettable part of the experience. All combat was easily solved by spamming the action buttons with the appropriate costumes equipped. There was a boss battle as well, and it was incredibly underwhelming. It honestly felt like a normal enemy rather than a boss encounter, with its stark simplicity mirroring standard mobs’ movements. While I would not say the lackadaisical combat is a turn-off, it was a bit disappointing compared to the platforming and exploration. Fighting is clearly not an intended focal point of this game, but its more than questionable execution had made me wonder why the developers bothered incorporating it in the first place.
Performance-wise, this demo felt perfect on the PlayStation 5. There was no noticeable slowdown or any unsavory glitches at all. It all felt polished and buttery smooth for my entire duration of playing.
This demo of Balan Wonderworld accomplishes its job of showing players what to expect from the full game. The real strengths this demo demonstrates are the cutely brilliant art style and its open-ended level design. While there are a few questionable design choices, the core gameplay loop more than makes up for it with its whimsical exploration. If the full game is made up of the same enticing level design as this demo, this will certainly be a platformer to put on your radar.
Balan Wonderworld is coming to PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Nintendo Switch, and PC-via Steam on March 26, 2021.
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