Since it was first revealed last year, Balan Wonderworld has received mixed reactions. While many praise the platformer’s central concept, its characters, and its soundtrack, others have criticised the visuals and somewhat simplistic gameplay featured in the recently released demo.
Balan Wonderworld is a platformer that centres around using costumes, and their accompanying effects, to solve puzzles and work your way through each level. The game has up to 80 different outfits to try out, each with its own effect. You can also use these costumes in other levels, conferring a kind of metroidvania effect, as you discover new collectables and items by backtracking.
We recently got the chance to speak to Balan’s producer, Noriyoshi Fujimoto, about the criticism that the game has received, whether anything is being done to assuage those concerns, and whether there’s more to Balan Wonderworld than meets the eye.
Pocket Tactics: So what was the original inspiration behind Balan Wonderworld? What did the team set out to create?
Noriyoshi Fujimoto: To first answer your question about what the team wanted to create, the development staff is a collection of people skilled at creating platformers. Our goal was to combine their experience with SQEX’s flair for storytelling and create an all-new kind of platformer.
As we were working on this goal, we drew a lot of inspiration from musicals. The way things are expressed in many areas of the game is quite influenced by musicals.
PT: Where did the idea for the costumes come from? What are some of the crazier costumes that you can get in-game?
NF: From the very start of development, our goal was to implement over 80 actions. Rather than just have 80 different actions that looked the same, we wanted to create a costume for each action, adding in the fun of imagining what kind of action each costume would perform based on its appearance.
To give an example of one of the crazier costumes, there is the Lucky Egg costume. It’s a costume where you wear an eggshell. By pressing the action button, you can perform a jump, but if you bump into something – while jumping or not – then the shell will break, and the costume falls off and disappears. In other words, you’ll lose the costume if you try anything even slightly unusual.
However, the costume has the ability to draw in all the drops from slightly further away. It really feels like an achievement when you clear a stage with this delicate, easily broken costume!
PT: It seems like Balan received a mixed reception in regards to the demo. Would you say that the criticisms over it being simplistic in comparison to many platformers stem from the game being aimed at a younger audience? Or do you think people haven’t seen the full extent of what Balan has to show yet?
NF: When developing Balan Wonderworld, our aim was to balance the game so anyone could complete it, from casual to hardcore gamers and including all kinds of people. The difficulty of the action is somewhat simpler than in other platformers, because we wanted beginners and young children to be able to play the game as well.
On the other hand, collecting all the statues requires the player to solve more difficult puzzles (how to reach the statue and which costume to use). Additional elements will be unlocked after clearing the game once, and these require a little bit more thought and more skilled manoeuvring.
As for the demo, based on the feedback we received, we took another look at some areas and will be implementing a day one patch to rebalance these. Specifically, we’ve adjusted the character controls, which includes increasing movement speed slightly, improved the camera, and rebalanced the difficulty in the latter half of the game.
PT: If Balan is aimed at a younger audience, would you say there is a clear message at its core, or a wisdom that the game is trying to impart?
NF: Balan Wonderworld was developed as a game for everyone, from children to adults.
While everyone experiences happy and unhappy times in their life, our message is that none of that time is meaningless – that every moment is an adventure.
That’s the underlying message of the plot, but I hope that players will also be able to experience it for themselves through the gameplay, opening up new paths through repeated trial and error and treating every moment as an adventure!
PT: In Balan, costumes change the way you play levels. Does that mean there are multiple routes to approach completing levels? If so, how was the game designed with that replayability in mind?
NF: You’re absolutely right. I’m sure people will have completely different approaches.
In Balan Wonderworld, we’ve made it so you can take the costumes you find in each stage and use them in different stages, a game design that allows for new discoveries.
For example, if you find a costume that allows you to double-jump, you might discover that you can reach some unexpected areas if you explore previous stages with that costume. It’s in these kinds of places that you’ll uncover hidden statues and rare costumes.
When you gain a new costume, do try going back to explore some of the previous stages again!
PT: Some people also voiced criticism in regards to the game’s visuals. What was the intention behind Balan’s look? Considering what has been said in regards to the Switch visuals specifically, is the team working on any kind of optimisation pre-launch?
NF: The cast of the twelve chapters are each expressed through their own inner world with a totally unique atmosphere. The worlds have a mysterious feel to them, depicted as unlike anything found in reality.
As I mentioned when I spoke about the upgrade/optimisation, we’re planning to implement a day one patch on release to adjust the action controls and camera.
For the Switch version, the power of the console is another factor, so the graphics will remain as they are. However, the day one patch should improve the overall gameplay experience, so please do play after installing the patch.
PT: I feel like Balan is a really strong character and well-supported by the soundtrack. Is Balan’s somewhat crazy and over-the-top nature supposed to reflect the overall vibrancy of the game’s setting? How did you go about characterising Balan through his soundtrack?
NF: Balan is a mysterious presence, and interactions with the player even leave it unclear whether Balan is a friend or foe. Sometimes kind, sometimes crazy, Balan is a character whose personality and identity can’t be pinned down. But if you play to the end of the game, you might figure it out.
In much the same way, the soundtrack is also full of variety, at times mysterious, at times gentle, or sometimes over-the-top and showy. Although there is a lot of variety, the melody of the theme song is very important. The other songs branched off from this initial piece. I think that’s one way in which the soundtrack and Balan are somewhat alike.
Balan Wonderworld comes to Nintendo Switch on March 26