By bigsocrates 23 Comments
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.