Nothing anyone can say can keep me from wanting to play Balan Wonderworld

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bigsocrates

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Edited By bigsocrates

Balan Wonderworld is a bad game. I know that not just because of the Bombcast, and every review I've seen on the game, but because I played the whole demo and it was not impressive. This was one of my most anticipated releases of the year and it turned out to be a kusoge.

Yet none of this, including my own negative experience with the game, has stopped me from wanting to play it.

Part of this impulse is based on my recently rediscovered love of 3D Platformers. Over the last few years I've played a lot of them, and in 2021 alone I've platinumed Astro's Playroom, Sly Cooper 1, and Spyro Reignited 3, as well as played through 4 Ratchet & Clank games (though only 2 of them were really platformers.) I also bought and finished Mario 3D World and Bowser's Fury. Then I played Super Mario Galaxy. That's a lot of platforming in a few months. I've played through most of Ice Age: Scrat's Nutty Adventure this year, and that game is way worse than Balan Wonderworld in oh so many ways.

Part of this impulse is the way I'm drawn to flawed games with strong pedigrees because of how interesting I find them. There's something about a game that is polished in some respects but deeply misguided in others that I just love experiencing and analyzing. My favorite games are all games I'd argue are genuinely great, like Breath of the Wild or the Forza Horizon series, but a lot of the most memorable games I've played are kind of bad, and often games I knew were kind of bad when I played them. Some of my fondest gaming memories are of being surprised at some terrible decision or mechanic. Balan Wonderworld's demo is full of such decisions, like the fact that you can't jump unless you have a costume with that ability, or the weirdo Tower of Tims that is an incredible slog to build up and, based on reviews, doesn't have a clear purpose even in the main game.

I also like easy games, which Balan Wonderworld definitely is, and chill games (it's chill enough to be legitimately boring), and I still dig Balan Wonderworld's weirdo Dreamcast aesthetic. At a time when games seem to either be going for extremely high fidelity or a low budget indie look, Balan Wonderworld is aimed squarely at a seemingly accidental tweener retro vibe, where the textures and models are all of decent quality but the level geometry and character/environment designs all look like they're ripping off 40 Winks. It's fantastic. They absolutely do not make them like this anymore.

I obviously can't justify $60 for Balan Wonderworld and I'll probably play it when it hits $30 or lower or inevitably comes to Game Pass, because free is probably the right price for the experience. Honestly a large part of why I'm not even considering it at $60, despite everything, is that I'm currently playing Werewolf:The Apocalypse - Earthblood, and that game is so bad it's a legitimately unpleasant experience to force myself through. I spent $30 on it, and I regret every penny. But I'm still drawn to Balan more than a lot of good games I know I'd have more fun with.

There are so many better games that I could play instead of Balan Wonderworld, including 3D platformers. I never played the Crash remakes, or Crash 4, and those are all obviously superior games. I'm like 1/3rd of the way through Sly Cooper 2 and I could just go back to that. I have Moons left in Mario Odyssey, Shines left in Bowser's Fury, Stars left in both 3D World and Galaxy. I never played A Hat in Time and the DLC for that is finally coming to consoles other than the Switch. Ratchet & Clank PS4 just got a 60 FPS mode on PS5 and guess who hasn't played that game yet. All of these options would be better uses of my time, and there are, of course, others.

But Balan Wonderworld calls to me because I want to understand it better. I want to get how it ticks. I want to dissect it and figure out how this game came together in the way it did in the year of our lord 2021 despite being designed by Yuji Naka and put out by Square Enix. Of course this game could ONLY be made in 2021 by Yuji Naka and with a major publisher's support, which is part of its appeal. It's a singular, terrible, vision of the type we so rarely get these days because games are made by huge teams and committees and someone, at some point, has the intelligence to say "no" to most of the terrible ideas. Nobody said "no" on Balan Wonderworld. They just said "yes, yes, yes, Mr. Naka."

I need to experience the result of all of Mr. Naka's hubris and misguided enthusiasm.

I just don't $60 need it.

There needs to be some kind of term to describe a game that you really want to play, maybe more than anything else that's coming out, but not at the price for which it's being offered. This happened to me with Ryse: Son of Rome, and that game ended up being exactly the kind of brainless but pretty action experience I hoped it would. I had similar hopes for Werewolf, and those did not pan out at all. But I remain optimistic about Balan. Based on the demo it seems just bad enough in all the right ways to end up amazing.

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Morningstar

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I want to play it as well. A sale or gamepass at some point. Its not a 60 dollars game.

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wchigo

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I couldn’t be less interested, but then again I don’t have much nostalgia for Sega’s catalogue cause I never owned any of their consoles, and as such had very little experience with Yuji Naka. All I know at first glance was that I was pretty off-put by the characters, and from what I’ve seen the gameplay just looks downright coma inducing.

That being said, more power to ya for knowing what you want and sticking to your guns. I think the only legitimately bad games I’ve purposely gone after were for the purposes of trophy hunting, otherwise they were simply more divisive games ala FF XIII.

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bigsocrates

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@wchigo: It doesn't always work out.

In fact it often doesn't.

your "only play games I think I'll like" approach may have some advantages.

As for me, I only ever owned a Dreamcast as a Sega console but I've played a bunch of Sonic over the years, and Chu Chu Rocket was dope as heck. Yuji Naka is a legend, and deservedly so, so I'll always be interested in his output, even though it hasn't been great recently.

The gameplay is, indeed, very boring. A good wind down to sleep game. By which I mean a bad game that will make you want to sleep if only so you can stop playing!

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brian_

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#4  Edited By brian_

I grew up a Genesis kid. Sonic the Hedgehog is probably to blame for getting me into video games. I thought the Wii version of Rodea the Sky Solider was a pretty fun time. I find flawed games interesting. But nothing about Balan Wonderworld grabs me. I don't even think it's that weird of a game. I just find it boring. Half-baked. Probably due to a lack of funding or publisher interest. Just taking a wild guess on that. But I doubt Yuji Naka's platformer for children was high up on Square Enix's priorities.

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bigsocrates

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@brian_: Strong disagree that Balan Wonderworld is what it is because of lack of funding. Maybe lack of interest (again, someone to tell Yuji Naka "no") but not funding.

It's not like you need FUNDING to have buttons do multiple things in video games. The cheapest zero budget indies still feature multiple button presses. Likewise the game's other choices (like having you lose costumes when you get hit, and forcing you to re-collect costumes and have an inventory rather than just letting you use any you've collected) aren't a matter of funding. The game has 36 levels, 80!!! costumes, runs reasonably well, has great music and very fancy and attractive CG cut scenes etc... There's no evidence it was under funded (again, you don't need money to add a jump button; that's not a line item in a game budget.)

I'll grant you half-baked in certain ways (and OVERBAKED in others, which is what makes it interesting) but this doesn't appear to have been a funding thing.

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Scalith

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I'm also really intrigued and want to play Balan, but yeah there is no way that I'm ever paying $110 AUD for it.

I had a similar intrigue with Metal Gear Survive, though I would say that game is 100x better than Balan.

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brian_

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#7  Edited By brian_

@bigsocrates: I actually suspect plenty of people at Square told him no on this one, and a lot of why this game is the way that it is is due to a lot of time spent trying figure out how to get Square to say yes. I think this is less "Yuji Naka's grand vision for a video game" and more "Well, this game needs to be like this, this, and this, otherwise Square's not going to give me the money to make it". Saying your game has 80 costumes, with unique abilities, sounds like the crazy pitch you make to the boss when you need to do anything to get them interested in your project. When I see him out there talking about how he had to study The Hero's Journey because Square prides itself on having the best stories, I can't imagine this was his vision for his perfect game.

People like the narrative of the "crazy Auteur visionary" but I just think this story is a lot more boring and mundane, behind the scene business dealings. I don't think any of his past works actually indicate that he's some Kojima-esque figure. I also don't think Yuji Naka actually has that sort of cache behind his name. Certainly not enough for a company like Square to just let him do whatever he wants.

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MrGreenMan

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There is a whole weird rabbit hole with this game. Apparently this is a franchise that goes beyond this game no one even really knows about and it is all weirdly terrible.

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bigsocrates

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@brian_: I'm not saying there was no publisher interference at all. I'm sure Square had some input on some level. My main point in response to you is that this doesn't seem like a game whose problems come from underfunding. It has lavish CG cutscenes, tons of content, and none of the other issues that are telltale signs of an underfunded game. I'm sure COVID didn't help its development either and this is not exactly the game Naka wanted to make.

Is it possible that some executive mandated that this be a one button game? I suppose so. But Sonic the Hedgehog was also a one button game so it seems more likely that Naka wanted to go back to basics and just came up with a design that didn't work.

The 80 costumes and the fact that some overlap and render others irrelevant does seem more like a publisher mandate, but who knows.

Regardless, it doesn't really matter whose bad ideas were implemented (it's also possible that a subordinate came up with them and Naka just went along because they sounded good or he wasn't really that invested or whatever, who knows?) It could be a collaborative bad vision. The real issue is that at some point somebody needed to step up and stop some of this stuff from happening, and nobody did, and now we have this very strange game that's bad in ways that almost no games are bad anymore.

I'm not interested in laying the blame on Yuji Naka or saying he's a bad designer. He's made some really fantastic games. He made Sonic the Hedgehog and Chu Chu Rocket. That's a legendary resume! What I want is to experience a game that's going to be unlike any other ever made because of its weirdo choices. I miss that experience from the days when Naka was at his peak. When Sonic Adventure, a game sold on going fast, could feature Big the Cat and his horrible fishing play style because nobody really knew what they were doing.

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FRANZlSKA

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#10  Edited By FRANZlSKA

@mrgreenman: This would certainly be the first time I'm hearing about it, and that seems like the sort of thing that would come up sooner.

There's absolutely heavy comparisons that can be made to some of Naka's previous titles (NiGHTS and Billy Hatcher especially), both visually and thematically, but unless there's some cameos somewhere deeper into Balan, they're very much so their own universes.

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theonewhoplays

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I really fail to see how any of the problems with this game could be attributed to publisher interference. I sincerely doubt S-E at any point told the devs to not let some costumes jump.

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brian_

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#12  Edited By brian_

@bigsocrates: I'm not saying the publisher came in and mandated features for the game. I'm saying that during the pitch process, if I went to Square and said "I want to make a 3D platformer", they would probably ask me why. "How does this fit in with are company?" "What's the hook?". If I tell them my game is going to have 80 different abilities in it, that's a hook, and you'll be more likely to get approval to go ahead and make that, than you would if you said you're just making a standard platformer, for a company that's not interested in putting out a platformer and my most recent projects in the genre haven't done well in the sales numbers.

Then, when it comes time to make good on your claim of 80 different costumes, you have to figure out how you're actually going to do that. If you're going to do that properly, in a more deep game than Balan Wonderworld is, you're going to need either a lot of time, a lot of money, or a lot of talented people helping you out. I'm not saying Square gave him no funding to do anything, but I don't think they gave him enough to make a compelling game around those 80 costumes. Instead a more simple game was made in order to pad out the content and funding was better spent in other areas, like the cutscenes, or the music, which are more areas that Square cares about anyways.

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bigsocrates

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@brian_: None of the stuff you're talking about is what makes the game interesting or weird, though.

The fact that there are 80 costumes and some are bad and overlap...that's common. The fact that there's no jump button, and even in menus there's no back out button you have to select "exit menu" like it's another menu option...that's what's interesting.

The bizarre and weird story that's confusing everyone, the character designs and level themes, the choices about not being able to just change into any costume you've gotten but having to recollect them and the backtracking...

The fact that the hub world has a huge mechanic about feeding "tims" and building a giant tower and nobody seems to know what it does or why it's there...

All that stuff is probably not influenced by Square Enix.

This is what makes the game interesting and bad and auteury.

If it was just that the game overpromised and underdelivered in a boring way then we'd be having a different conversation. All the things I'm talking about are active choices someone made, and they don't really relate to funding. As I said, they didn't run out of money to let you cancel out of menus by pressing a different button. That's not why that choice is in there.

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LyndBako

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As a lifelong contrarian I know the feeling of wanting to check out critically panned games. I bought and played The Quiet Man for crying out loud.

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bigsocrates

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@lyndbako: How'd it work out for you? Was it full price? Did you love it? Do you run the world's only Quiet Man fanpage and fanfic repository now?

I don't know if I would say this impulse is contrarian (I don't expect the game to be good) I'm just fascinated by this kind of project.

I like weird games and I will not lie. You other players can deny.

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wardcleaver

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#16  Edited By wardcleaver

If anything, looking at this game, it appears that SE took a very hands-off approach.

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There needs to be some kind of term to describe a game that you really want to play, maybe more than anything else that's coming out, but not at the price for which it's being offered

Boy, I know this feeling. It's a weird one isn't?

for me it's not so much that I want to play something very badly but am unwilling to pay full price
but the other side of that coin in which I'm perfectly happy to full price for some other things that I don't want to play as badly


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HeelBill

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The Deus Ex sequel to finish out a trilogy died so that Balan Wonderworld may live. ( I know that's not REALLY the case but Square Enix's business decisions infuriate me as a fan of Deus Ex and Tomb Raider.)

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@wchigo: It doesn't always work out.

In fact it often doesn't.

your "only play games I think I'll like" approach may have some advantages.

As for me, I only ever owned a Dreamcast as a Sega console but I've played a bunch of Sonic over the years, and Chu Chu Rocket was dope as heck. Yuji Naka is a legend, and deservedly so, so I'll always be interested in his output, even though it hasn't been great recently.

The gameplay is, indeed, very boring. A good wind down to sleep game. By which I mean a bad game that will make you want to sleep if only so you can stop playing!

Haha, ooh boy... I read through your reviews of those two games and woof. I'm surprised Fast & Furious Crossroads wasn't one of your reviews, though maybe the price on that hasn't dropped low enough yet...

Well it works out most of the time I guess? But sometimes I think I'll really jive with a game and it will end up not doing a thing for me (like The Witness) or I'll struggle to really sink my teeth into it (like NieR:Automata). Other times I'll like what I've seen but just end up falling off for one reason or another (like with Xenoblade Chronicles 2)...

Actually, I guess a slight correction on my part is necessary. I did own a Sega Game Gear and I remember loving that thing, but I also remember just playing a shitload of Columns on it and not much else. I've played bits of Sonic and some other franchises like Golden Axe and Pit Fighter on the Genesis because my cousins owned one, but I never had a Genesis/Saturn/Dreamcast myself.

I'm actually watching the archived video of Jeff playing through Balan right now and just oof... absolutely nothing about that game looks enticing. But yeah, for your sake I hope the game gets a price drop soon, so you can satisfy your curiosity. ;D