[Big Daddy Digest] In Defense of Balan Wonderworld

It’s funny how perception of a game can shape our thoughts and feelings either positively or negatively. In the months leading up to Cyberpunk 2077, most everyone believed it to be the second coming. Then reviews came out and the internet was abuzz with all the controversies. Needless to say, I assumed everyone hated the game based on people I only knew from the internet. Then I spoke to family and friends who are more casual gamers. They had enjoyed the game, glitches be damned!

This brings me to Balan Wonderworld, a game that has received more negative press based on its pre-release footage and demos. It’s got me thinking about whether the online gaming masses are too demanding of a studio’s first title, working together as a team that is, or if they are right and the game needs more time to cook.

The Facts

Balan Wonderworld is the first title by Yuji Naka, of Sonic fame, to be released by Square Enix under their development studio Balan Company. This title also sees Naka working with art director Naoto Ohshima, with the duo previously working on Nights and Sonic Adventure during their tenure at Sega. So far so good, right?

Helping with development is the Japanese game developer Arzest Corporation, Ohshima’s company, which features other former members of Sega. Arzest are credited with titles such as: Yoshi’s New Island, Poochy & Yoshi’s Woolly World, Terra Battle and Terra Wars, among others. My point is, these devs are not green by any sense. They have been in the industry for many years with many projects under their collective belts.

The Bad Takes

A demo was released on January 28th and some of the more prominent gaming YouTubers let their feelings be known and it wasn’t all sunshine and roses. A duo of gamers stated their disappointment with the game claiming it was extremely stiff and dull. Their impressions of the Nintendo Switch version mired with slowdown and odd graphical glitches, such as the characters going into the T-pose when they weren’t supposed to be on camera.

Another poster claimed this demo was the worst thing he had ever experienced. Claiming the simplistic controls put him to sleep and the lack of high end textures to the grass made it overly dull. Since these were the top results for Balan Wonderworld on YouTube, it would be safe to assume that the world at large hated this game. That, however, would be only one side of the coin.

The Not So Bad Takes

While digging further through impressions, I found this channel’s video and it gave a more balanced take. I had never watched The Gaming Résumé’s channel, but from listening to his video, he is a big fan of Yuji Naka’s past games. He seemed more hopeful of the title, but still not giving it a glowing recommendation. At one point in the video, he stated that it wasn’t as bad as everyone was making it out to be.

When stepping away from YouTube, I found more optimistic impressions from Game Reactor and Screenrant which highlighted the good and bad things about Balan, instead of just focusing on the aspects that aren’t liked. The creativity of the design and the hope of the later demo levels gave these writers something to look forward to in the full release.

My Hot Take

I believe that many gamers have become too entitled. There I said it. I won’t say that Balan is a perfect demo, not even a great demo, but calling it ‘the worst thing that someone has played’ has never been to a trade show or played shovel-ware games. Yes, it is a very simplistic platformer that has an old-school design to it, but that is intentional I believe. This title has an aesthetic that harkens back to Saturn and Dreamcast designs.

Another important thing to remember, this is a demo and a very early one if I am being honest. But wait, the game is releasing in March, how can this game actually be better when the demo was just released in January? It’s possible that this is the demo that the internal team used to originally show off the game. The set-up was almost identical, so that means the demo and its content is probably months old by the time it was released.

I played through the demo on the PS5, and frankly, I was neither appalled or hyped. I think the game was an interesting idea that needs to be fleshed out, which I am positive it will be. Balan Wonderworld will not be the next Mario Odyssey by a long shot, but it could be the next cult classic platformer that people will talk about in small circles. Not every game needs to be the ‘second coming’. Sometimes a fun experience is enough.

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