Balan Wonderworld is a new IP from the minds behind the Sonic the Hedgehog 3D platformers (such as the much-loved Sonic Adventure 2) and Nights into Dreams.
What little I saw online as well as a small, well-intentioned review in this month’s Official PlayStation Magazine, was enough to get me curious. I threw the game in my cart alongside a few other pre-orders and then awaited its release. I should have played the demo before purchasing it, or at least looked at some gameplay videos, but… No…
When I first came to properly experience Balan Wonderworld, I’d gone on my PS5 to boot it up on launch day only to find the 2-hour timer I’d seen on it in the morning was now a 7-hour timer, so I thought I’d get the demo and play that for a little while instead. At least then, I could wrap my head around the intricacies of the game and make a head-start on the Trophy Guide.
I was first hit with a character selection screen; the art style is the same they’ve always used for Sonic the Hedgehog, but… There’s something so viscerally disgusting about this art style being applied to human characters. They have huge alien-like eyes and gargantuan hands fully-realized with knuckles and fingernails… No wonder the sonic characters all wear gloves; I would too, if this is what I was working with!
Getting past that, I was treated to an actually rather remarkable cutscene. I mean, the effort that went into this thing… It was Pixar-level. It was so good, in-fact, that I was able to overlook the hauntingly grotesque hands these poor children have been cursed with.
I was sold. With an introductory cutscene that grand, how could the game possibly be bad?
Before I could even finish that thought, I was hit in the face with a horrendous realization. The game looks nothing like those cutscenes. Not even close. Hell, I’ve played games on my phone with graphics better than this. What on earth have I purchased?
After recovering from the concussion I received from these events, I feverishly pushed the thumbsticks on my DualSense and played the game for about an hour.
Balan Wonderworld Platinum Review
Keeping my Dinner Down
The controls in this demo are atrocious. The camera feels like it’s constantly fighting me for control, and then as soon as I give it what it wants, it changes its mind. Moving around is sluggish and somewhat choppy. For some reason, all four face buttons are Jump/Accept. Pressing to leave the pause menu doesn’t work…
It didn’t feel like I was playing a AAA Square-Enix-published next-gen title. No, no, it’s more like when a Chinese company makes a cheap knock-off version of a popular mobile game, but I somehow ended up playing it.
There’s really no witty or creative way I can explain to you all the things that are wrong with my first experience with the game, so I’m just going to make a list…
- The animation is really weak and amateurish.
- The game looks bad.
- Other characters in the game either sit around idly or perform very poorly-animated dances; there’s no life to them at all.
- Whenever you approach another character, they slowly fade away. I don’t know why; the game didn’t tell me why. If there’s even a reason for it. So I’ll go ahead and assume that the developers couldn’t handle the hitbox detection and had to give up and do this instead.
- The game looks awful.
- The fact that doesn’t work as a back button messed with me pretty much every time I opened the pause menu.
Fed up, I decided to call it quits and wait for the full game to release the next day. My real hope was that this demo was somehow massively under-complete, and the full game would blow my socks off with its improvements over the demo.
This time I chose the female character to see how the intro changed, which it quite impressively did. The female character seems to be disgruntled because her house is full of gossiping maids, and the constant sound of whispering is bothersome, which is fair, I suppose. But then I realized I have no idea what was upsetting the male character?
His introductions started with him doing some sick end-of-a-sonic-level style breakdancing, followed by his peers thinking he’s the dopest kid on the block, followed by him looking sad and going off to mope about in an alleyway. What’s this kid’s deal?
Anyway, the game started up, and I found myself starting in the same murky, bland, lifeless, and poorly-textured green wasteland as before, and all my hopes died right there. There’s no improving this. Somehow, this is a PS5 game, and they’re calling it finished. Oh, how it reminds me of Sonic Boom.
And still, they just threw me in with little explanation of the game. No tutorial or anything; I’m just dumped on this ugly grass-stained platform and expected to get on with it.
To be fair, since every button does the same thing it’s not hard to figure out I suppose.
Nothing had really changed from the demo; everything I complained about was still an issue, except I was now playing as a female character who makes very annoying noises every time you jump… Which is a lot.
Getting Over Appearances
The game is split up into Chapters which are then subsequently split into Acts. These acts contain various collectibles, but your main objective seems to be collecting the 7+ golden Balan statues in each Act, which add up to a total of 228 throughout the game as a whole.
You unlock more levels by collecting a certain number of gold Balan statues. They’re not too hard to find, but this is mostly because the levels are pretty ridiculous in how small they are.
I can’t for the life of me figure out why, but there’s some sort of train involved with unlocking new levels? Once you reach a specified threshold of Balan Statues, Balan makes an appearance and grows a train out of thin air. Then he just rides around in a circle and you get off it.
The train doesn’t take you to the new levels, there’s no train line which becomes newly connected to those levels… You literally go on a train ride for no reason and this bizarre inconsistency doesn’t even make the top-ten list of things in this game which make no god-damn sense.
In each chapter, the story introduces us to a character who’s hit hard times and struggles with negative thoughts. We find out what the cause is and then help them find hope by literally battling their demons in the form of a thematic boss. A fairly wholesome premise for a story, I suppose.
There are 80 costumes in total, but you get about one or two new costumes per Act. Each costume is hidden inside a gem (for some reason) which is opened using a key (for some reason), and you then get new abilities by donning that costume (for some reason).
You can switch costumes at checkpoints and can equip up to three at once and switch between them with and . This way, you can plan which outfits you think you might need and then bring them with you.
When you get hit or fall from the level, though, your equipped costume is removed, and you need to go and equip it again, either from a weird locked gem thingy or a checkpoint.
You can also find large golden top hats in every stage, which start a minigame sequence called “Balan’s Bout,” in which you press a lot. Essentially, low-res png images of Balan appear on the screen, and you press when they line up with him. Isn’t this a TikTok filter?
Upon returning to the hub world between levels, you’re treated to something of a Chao Garden type experience. You get small balls of feathers and fluff called “Tims” from eggs you can find in stages (or by throwing a small Tim at a big Tim to make it explode into an egg… Why?), and then you look after them in this hub world.
You feed them the “Drops” you collect throughout each stage, which are essentially Sonic’s rings, or Mario’s coins, or however you want to imagine them. When fed, the Tims take on the color properties of the drops they’ve eaten the most and become a little bigger. They also repay you by running on some sort of hamster-wheel contraption in the middle of the garden.
The longer they run on this thing, the more the counter next to it increases, reaching “Sub-Objective” thresholds in the bottom left corner, which unlock additions to this Tim Garden, such as the Tower o’ Tims, which is important for some trophies so sign me right up for whatever the hell that is!
Getting It Over With
Honestly, as much as the game is hard to look at, awkward to play, and makes no sense, the actual concept is fairly decent so I just stuck with it. I had wasted money on this game after all.
It became evident very early on that I would need to revisit levels frequently with new costumes later down the line to acquire all of the Golden Balan Statues and even some of the other costumes, so I decided to forget about the trophy journey for now, and just play the game.
I worked my way through every act in every chapter, each one taking about 20 minutes or so. They’re not very long levels or even that challenging. But they’re also completely unremarkable. I have nothing to say in their favour or even just about the experience.
I could, of course, complain some more… But I think you get the idea by now.
Surprisingly, I did eventually start to enjoy the game, but by the time I reached Chapter 10 (of the 12 in the game) that had worn off. I don’t know what–other than sheer stubbornness–kept me playing the game.
Even after beating all 12 Chapters, I had days of gameplay ahead of me. I had to go back through every stage and get all of the gold statues, go through all 12 of the bonus end-game stages and collect the 72 new rainbow statues scattered throughout those, and let’s not forget the 48 infuriating Balan’s Bout minigames I would have to do.
The Balan’s Bout minigames started off okay, they were somewhat slow and hard to mess up for the first 4 chapters. After that, they got slightly faster and I started making more mistakes.
It was always the very last input that I would mess up. For some reason they had completely different timing to every other input in these minigames and would sort of slow down at the end as if to purposefully catch you out.
If that wasn’t enough, you can’t retry or reset them, the only way to get another attempt is to go and beat the level’s boss. Save-scumming is possible, though, by quitting the game when you mess up you can reload from the last saved checkpoint.
In the end, after several hours of playing these back-to-back I eventually got good enough at them that I could complete the last 10 or so without any mistakes. But it really took a long time for the muscle-memory to kick in, especially since they make it so hard to re-attempt them.
I frequently took breaks in my trophy journey, being exhausted after each Act, I’d mess around in the Island of Tims or spend some time getting miscellaneous trophies.
One set of trophies in particular which took up a lot of my time were those tied to the “Lanced” Negati minibosses. I couldn’t figure out for the life of me how to get them to spawn and, before my guide, there was no information online as to how you do it.
Eventually, after being on a hot no-death streak, I realised that some of the enemies were turning red. About 50 kills later, every enemy that spawned was red. Was this it? Had I found Hard Mode?
I had. And then, finally, the Lanced minibosses started to appear. I decided to go for them all in one run. As soon as I took a single hit, though, Hard Mode would end and I’d have to kill around 100 enemies again to increase the difficulty appropriately once more.
So, I started save-scumming again. Everytime I took a hit (or the “Lanced” version of the boss didnt spawn–RNG!) I would just quit the game and re-attempt the level. Over and over I did this until I’d killed all 5 secret hard difficulty enemies. Including one called “Ghostli” which had a small chance of appearing in any level.
Even once I’d somehow managed to do all of that, though, one final trophy gave me another 5 hours of endless grief. “The Tim of Legend.”
To get this trophy, I would have to feed two Tims 30 gems of each colour, fatten one up enough to grow big, throw the smaller one at the larger one to spawn an egg, and then hatch the egg with my fingers crossed. I was trying to get a little white Tim with a crown. Why?
Well, I’d given about 50 Rainbow-colored gems to a Mother Tim statue in the Island of Tims, which was now asking me for that little crowned Tim.
But the RNG was insane. I literally spent 5 hours doing that over and over, hoping the King Tim would come out of one of those damned eggs. By the time it did I just couldn’t believe it. I really thought it might never happen.
After that, exhausted and fed up with this ridiculous game, I realised I just had one last costume to collect. Using the new Balan Costume I got from the “Ultima Tim” I soared effortlessly over to the final costume in Chapter 12 Act 3 and collected my Platinum.
I will never touch this game again.
Completing the main story
Getting the Ultima Tim
Balan Wonderworld Trophy Guide
So, somehow my scathing review didn’t put you off, huh? Well, you’re brave. Luckily for you, I spent the entire excruciating time working on a full Balan Wonderworld Trophy Guide which includes detailed walkthrough-like collectible guides for every single Act. I know, I’m insane.
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