Balan Wonderworld – Review


Based on the game’s trailer and screenshots, Balan Wonderworld looks fantastic. It has a Nights Into Dreams-like feel to it, and it comes from none other than Yuji Naka, the man behind Sonic The Hedgehog. So naturally, expectations were a bit high. The game has a lot of similarities to Nights in terms of appearance and concept. But does it really stand to the test as a 3D platformer that harkens back to the old days? Well, yes and no.

Balan Wonderworld revolves around the concept of costumes, that act as both a cosmetic and gameplay mechanic. In each level, you’ll come across several crystals that can be unlocked using keys found throughout the game. Your protagonist gets a new costume and a new ability upon retrieving a crystal. This could be a higher jump, a longer jump, the ability to float, a new attack, or a specific ability you’ll need to solve a puzzle.

At any given point of time, you can hold up to three costumes, so you’ll have to be aware of your costume inventory as you dive further and further into the levels.

Costume Change

Because you won’t find every costume in every level, you may have to hang on to a costume you don’t need for the majority of the level but must use just once near the end. It does help, however, that you can save your costumes in a sort of dressing room.

There are times when a specific costume isn’t required, and you can simply wear what you’re most at ease in. However, there are times when a level contains specific troubles and puzzles that require the use of the proper costume! The third costume in your quick slot is sent to your dressing room whenever you collect the fourth costume. You can also enter the dressing room at the beginning of each level or when you reach a checkpoint to change into any of the accessible costumes. Depending on the situation you’ll find yourself in need to equip the proper attire, but for a major portion you can keep on whichever costume you think looks the best. And there are quite a lot of options to choose from.


Each stage has a unique theme. Objects associated with it, both large and small, are scattered around the level. It has a dreamlike design that is reminiscent of old Sega Genesis games!

At the farm level, Balan Wonderworld follows a similar pattern as other games. Everything is littered with enormous corn cobs, pitchforks, wheelbarrows, and other such items. The library resembles a massive tree, with massive books strewn about. The cogs and moving objects abound in the clock tower. A massive whale that is also an island soars through the sky at the wind level. A lot of the joy comes from the discovery and looking at these levels while you’re in the game, so for the sake of spoilers we won’t reveal everything about the levels.

But the overall pattern is pretty standard and straightforward – in each stage, there are two levels, and at the end there’s a boss fight.


Balan Wonderworld is nothing short of a collectathon, so you’ll find collectables are stashed everywhere. Fans of old school platformers will feel right at home here. There are coins to collect, and golden hats that provide a reward challenge. To unlock more stages in the hub world, you must find golden statues.

Because gems are concealed in every corner of this game, you’ll need to explore every pixel. You frequently have to go back to get everything. Moreover, many of these golden statues require jumping through and over the background decoration.

The Good, the Bad, and Overall Experience

The number of buttons used in this game is something that people seem to make a fuss about, but it isn’t a concern. You can move around and control the camera, but in this game, you only have one main action. Every other button allows you to jump. Even some first-party Nintendo games follow that pattern, like having two buttons for jump and two for basic attacks. It’s just a matter of getting used to, which doesn’t really take long.

Lack of Momentum

The main problem with Balan Wonderworld is the way movement is handled, which feels entirely digital. When you run, you seem to reach your maximum speed and come to a complete stop almost instantaneously.

This might sound nice on paper and can be more precise, but the lack of momentum and weight in movement doesn’t feel good at all. While the lack of inertia may improve movement precision, the two-gear digital movement makes orienting your character a little more difficult. Considering that movement is the key to a good 3D platformer experience, it would be amazing if Square Enix can patch this issue soon.

Jumping feels unnatural. In mid-flight, you lose all momentum. When you jump instead of gaining more distance, some unseen force pushes you backwards. There is no real jump arc because your jump stops at its highest point. It’s similar to the strange jumping in Castlevania. While it may have worked in a 2D environment, it does not work in a 3D platformer.

Art Design and Soundtrack

The art design and music are both fantastic. The levels are vibrant, and the characters and costumes are imaginatively designed, even if the standard enemies are a little bland. The game, however, isn’t particularly impressive in terms of visual fidelity. It has quite a lot of charm and personality, but at the same time, it looks a bit dated.

While there were a few technical hitches here and there, we didn’t experience anything game-breaking that would hamper our experience. And the Day 1 patch seems to have removed the possible epileptic trigger, which is a huge plus, not that it should have existed in the first place. Without technical problems, the game makes for a nice experience for kids with some interesting concepts. If you’re looking for something with more depth, this might not be your cup of tea, because the game takes a pretty simple approach. However, I think It’s a great game for parents and their kids to play together. Unfortunately, though, there appears to be a lot of untapped potential here that is being overlooked.

Final Thoughts

It’s hard to recommend Balan Wonderworld at the full $60 price tag, but if you can find it on a sale, or if Square Enix decides to bring the price down, then it’s definitely worth a shot! It might not accomplish what a lot of other games in the genre have, but the concept, the ideas and the way the game represents them are worthy of being seen.

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