In Defense of Balan’s Wonderland World, Worst Game of 2021

Image: Square Enix

Soapbox features allow individual authors to give their own opinions on trending topics or random things they thought about. Today Stewart talks about his love and admiration for what has been called the “worst” game in the past year …

Hello, my name is Stuart Gipp and I think Balan Wonder World is not bad.

Not only that, but the overwhelming majority of the criticism I see doesn’t really strike me as particularly well-founded. I firmly believe that Yuji Naki’s seemingly swan song isn’t “the worst game of the year,” but actually an amazingly enjoyable game that we all should have seen, and one day it will get the respect it deserves. …

But that won’t happen on Switch. I am not idiot; I know what boji work is when I see it. Balan Wonderworld on Switch is a bit of a hopeless disaster, running at less than 30fps and ridiculously low resolution. I hold my hands up to the point that almost any other option is preferable – Xbox Series S / X, PS4 / 5, or PC. Everyone makes Balan better. Meanwhile, the owners of Nintendo finally there is a good reason to want Switch Pro – to play Balan Wonderworld at an acceptable level.

Nintendo owners finally there is a good reason to want Switch Pro – to play Balan Wonderworld to acceptable standards.

So what’s the story here? What happened to Balan, who became the punching bag in the industry? I personally explain this by the “Sonic effect” – Yuji Naka, as one of the de facto creators of Sonic the Hedgehog (tip of the hat in favor of Naoto Oshima), tends to put his projects under the same critical point of view, that is, he is a little disingenuous and often poorly informed.

You see, whether you like it or not, Sonic became a joke for years to come. The continuous stream of convoluted, pointless games in the series (which admittedly sometimes bore golden fruit) made memes like ‘Sound cycle‘, and an unscrupulous reading of the worst corners of the fandom has led to a lot of Sonic’s pregnant “humor”. So the new game from the creator of Sonic seems like a good game to look out for. And here’s what worries me about the swing mentioned – you can criticize Balan until the cows return home, provided that your criticism is correct and true. And that often didn’t happen.

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Image: Square Enix

One small but telling example is actually quite recent – James Stephanie Sterling. The ugliest games of 2021 the video summons Balan’s Wonder World in a particularly pointless tirade, but the smoking gun for me was a concrete emphasis on what is admittedly an odd feature; In Balan, you’ll find dancing NPCs in every world pacing their belongings to the background music. When you get close to them, they disappear and disappear. It’s a bit strange? Yes. Does this make the game bad? No, of course not. It’s not even a criticism, and an instant thought provides two equally compelling reasons why.

When you come up [dancing NPCs], they disappear and disappear. It’s a bit strange? Yes. Does this make the game bad? No, of course not.

First, it is Wonderful world, fabulous landscape. Strange things are common. Oddities appear and disappear. This is a hilly area. Waves of pure energy erupt across the landscape to the rhythm of the background music. Disappearing dancers are just part of that aesthetic. Second, and more practical, they also clean up clutter from the area where you move your character. Many games do this! Many games make NPCs invisible or transparent when you move the camera to certain positions. Balan does it too, but in a more visible and effective way that fits with the strange, unearthly world created by the developers.

It may sound like a small thing, but it is just a microcosm of most of the problems I see with the game from reviewers – they either don’t matter, are easily explained, or they just don’t exist.

Another example: the so-called one-button control scheme. You see, in this game you collect costumes that will radically change your abilities. I mean what they give you an ability. Without a suit, you can only jump, but with a suit you have different abilities – for example, a spider suit allows you to climb walls, a pig suit allows you to jump on the ground. a la Yoshi, and the dragon costume allows you to breathe fire, but not jump. This is where the game strategy comes to the rescue – the costumes are extremely situational, yes, but levels are designed around this… This is where the problem comes from.

This whole one-button thing is not a problem – firstly, it’s not exactly one button, because you have to use the bumpers to change the suit. Getting hit results in the loss of the suit you are wearing, which may require re-moving around the stage to collect that last little thing. Loss of progress due to poor game play is a normal condition for a medium and cannot be justified against Balan of the Miraculous World. Sometimes you need to bring costumes / powers from different stages because the outfit in question is not available at the level you need. Pretty standard, again – Kirby does it a lot. But since this is Balan Wonder World, it is now bad

The freedom to explore a game that was reminiscent of the platformers I loved when I was young, but with smooth and simple controls, was, frankly, a bit of a joy.

I was happy when I visited Balan Wonderworld again for this feature because I found I really like it even more now than when we graduated, which was a lot. With the AAA scene continuing to hold the player’s hand so resolutely, I was more than happy that Balan just threw me out into the world and let me continue. I’m missing a few collectibles even when I’ve completely rinsed the stages, which is tempting for the exploration buff. I also played silly little sports tricks to scale up parts of the level that didn’t seem “supposed” available, only to find hidden gems – as with the very best Mario games, the developers were one step ahead of even the most outrageous moves.

None of this means that Balan’s wonderland is flawless. This is clearly not the case. The Switch port, as mentioned, causes diarrhea. The one-button control scheme works in game, but can be inconvenient in the menu. But other than that, it’s hard for me to imagine a new version of the game that I would like so much. The freedom to explore the title, reminiscent of the platformer games I loved in my younger years, but with smooth, simple controls – I’ll never understand reviews that called it “inaccurate” – was, frankly, a bit of a joy.

I fully expect the game to receive some posthumous boost in community ratings, especially given that it has become increasingly scarce over time. It’s perfect? Of course not. Is this the worst game of 2021? Of course not. I would prefer another Balan Wonder World to another Bowser Fury.

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Image: Square Enix

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