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Balan Wonderworld (Yuji Naka + Square Enix)

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I don’t know what I can add here that hasn’t already been said 😂 

What the bloody hell did I just play? ...is mostly what my brain was saying throughout this whole escapade. It certainly had that dream-like feeling of what the fuckness going on from Naka’s previous outings - but with even less context and some very basic and boring platforming.

Powers were ripped straight from Mario Galaxy and Odyssey but used in very non interesting ways - the visual changes to the kids when powered up were horrifying, NPC’s were dancing all over the shop and it was creepy... and they kept vanishing... which I think was supposed to happen?? And the cutscene where you dance with the farmer at the end. Yeeesh.

So, I tried the PS4 demo, and visually and musically, it’s quite appealing, when you are standing still... sometimes.

I liked the deformed/unfolding level aspect as I mentioned before. That was one of the few things that was kinda unique, but this wasn’t consistent in every level and beyond getting a ball into a hole it was no more used than just a visual prop.

Also, on the very barren over-world island with barely anything going on there were tiny patches of grass. The grass rendered into (barely) even more grass in front my eyes as I walked up to it, actually no, sometimes it just rendered or appeared when I was stood still. Oh boy.

l will say that I like the character and design of Balan overall - it’s a very Sonic’y/NiGHTS approach which is no surprise. In fact, that the devs are seeming calling themselves the “Balan Company” (with a very familiar looking logo) is arrogantly ambitious considering.

Overall, I don’t know what this is supposed to be. It’s not terrible or broken... just... incoherent with every simple idea thrown at you and it’s all under-utilised.

IMO, Naka should have just made Balan the main character and continued building on the flying mechanic introduced in Rodea - which again had promise but was ill-served. 

Shame about this. If I hadn’t known who was behind or there was no PR I would have assumed it was from Steam and just another 3D platformer from a very small team of devs. Crazy.

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Just finished playing the demo on PC.

It's fine.

Mind you, I'm not saying it excels in anything particularly (expect for the character designs imo), just that it's inoffensive in just about everything it does. It's very much a "baby's first platformer" sort of game. The controls are a bit stiff, movement options are next to non-existent, and the graphical fidelity behind it looks like it could all run on a gd 360 (seriously, I've seen free fan-made unity games that have a better visual showing), but the overall experience made for something that I really can't actually be mad at. Though, not having an English audio option in the year 2021 is a bit bunk (especially for how little dialogue there actually seems to be). If the budget was so tight as to not include a few English VAs for an hour or two, that really says all it needs to.

Though, I will say that much of this is coming from someone who's spent most of the day reading opinions of "this is shit" so maybe my bar was too low coming in; idk. Fact is, I didn't hate it. Probably won't buy it for anything over barging bin pricing, but again; this shit is mostly inoffensive af. Now I fully understand how some of the things I mentioned here could easily be damning for a game like this for others but, honestly, I just don't seem to have the energy these days to go in on something like this.

I'm just bummed that this is the best Naka and his team can do. It's not a good look to say the very least. Not to mention it's probably going to axe platformers in general coming out of Square for the foreseeable future. It's a real shame because I do genuinely like a lot of the ideas on display here.

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This whole thing feels incredibly half-assed and bare, it feels like they slapped it together in a few months

It's not especially glitchy or broken, but it feels like something I'd see out of a Unity class project in a way? It's got a fantastic sense of style, but the game graphically is kind of ugly, movement just feels wrong, exploring is boring at best and tedious at worst and the costume system is so basic it just doesn't feel fun. It's probably fine for young kids, but me going on 23 needs something a little more engaging

All style, no substance is my veridct

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Damn, I kept expectations in check, but I didn't expect it to still look so underwhelming this close to release. Can't play it due to small hotspot data, but as usual, Switch port looks terrible (I'm really sick of this trend btw).

I'm also surprised considering it doesn't seem Naka and the team really learned how to polish 3D ideas after all these years. Then again, his track record hasn't been spectacular since departing Sega.

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There were mentions of playtesters when talking about using power-ups....I'm surprised the team didn't realize on how bad the game was at that point? Or was it too early/late in development that they didn't care?

I am completely lost on where the story is supposed to go, if there was any. I assumed Lance was the Big Bad that ties each chapter together but he appears in a midchapter minigame, acts cocky, and get's blasted away by Balan in a comical manner. I was expecting him to be at little more mysterious/threatening.

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So before starting up the game, I already thought it wouldn't look that great, but I also thought people were exagerrating on how not great the game is. Then I launched the game on my laptop. Max resolution for me was 765p and I couldn't go any higher. Off to an outstanding start already.

Anyway then I actually started playing and already I have a lot of questions in regards to game design:
- Why is jump/costume ability relegated to 6 different buttons
- Why do you need a key to get a costume when most of the times the key's just next to said costume
- Why do some costumes not allow you to jump
- Why is costume switching not instant
- What's the point of feeding tims
- What's the point of tims in general (not counting the Tims tower counter thing)
That was just some of the questions related to game's design, but I did the first 2 levels and I wasn't outright hating the thing, but I sure had a lot of "why do that?!" moments.

The character is very slow, yet also has weird momentum. While I was playing it, I had this really nagging feeling of Sonic 06-ness to movement and I can't really pinpoint why. But whatever, I didn't outright hate 06's movement (which is bad, sure, but I'll take that over Forces', uh, lack of proper control).

Today I went into stage 4 to check out one costume that caught my attention - the Box Fox. I thought people were lying about its ability because of how bad it was. So I checked it out. This is the worst power-up I've ever seen in a video game and whoever thought of it should probably be ashamed.
The gist of it is that you're a fox that transforms into a box... randomly. With no way to cancel out of it, no way to move the character, but it also carries all the momentum you had during the transformation. So that means if you run straight and you're suddenly close to tranforming, when you transform, you just slide forward, with no way to brake, right into the pit. This really soured my opinion on the game, which was already pretty low to begin with. Like, how does one think of this gimmick that seemingly has barely any use cases and go "yeah this is good."? Man.

Anyway yeah this game's bad and asking 60 dollars/euros for it is real ballsy (but also not very surprising) from Square.

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17 hours ago, Piko said:

You’d think so, wouldn’t you? This game is fucking Ocarina of Time compared to some of Naka’s post-Sonic Team work.

What else has he done?

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I've just installed the demo on my PC using a GTX 1650, 1920x1080, settings on high, FPS at 60 and with anti aliasing on, and first impressions were much better when compared to the PS4 version. Colours are still oversaturated so I changed the brightness to 8 which I thought made an improvement, the anti aliasing makes the game look great, framerate has dips but is no where near as bad, and even though I know what the game played like on my first playthrough yesterday, it actually felt enjoyable...

But no. Second stage, horrible textures and lighting, The bricks still look naff due to the overuse of contrast and the fact the textures don't match, and I noticed that when the screen uses the moving effect, it adds a jagged blur to the moving textures which is causing them to look shockingly bad. When you stop moving they sharpen after a few seconds. They need to remove this in the final build.

The game has its flaws game play mechanic wise and that won't change, I'd play it at a reasonable price, but the £50 price is gonna hit this game hard. Needs to be £29.99 unless we're getting some massive Kingdom Hearts style adventure, which based on the demo, we most certainly aren't. 

Edit: Music really reminds me of Croc

 

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So I just played the first level of the demo for myself.  And I can say, without the slightest hesitation, that this game sucks.

The opening movie and the soundtrack? Brilliant.

The art style and character design? Absolutely delightful.

Everything else? Tragic.

I don't even know where to begin, so I won't even bother. It's slow and clunky, it's by-the-numbers and the presentation is pathetic. There's just nothing good to say about the gameplay at all. Even the graphics are pretty bad. Not even the faintest glimmer in that opening level and what I think was a hub world. Utter rubbish.

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Yeah...this ain’t it. It’s just far too simple for me, and I think that’s what a lot of other people are feeling too. Conceptually it’s a fun idea, and there’s the whole warping worlds thing that reminds me of Soft Museum in NiGHTS, but the gameplay itself is a whole lot of nothing.

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Watched in a voice chat a mate go through the balan wonderworld demo and am intrigued, it does get better as it goes along
Demo should've just been levels 4-1 and 6-1, 1-1 and 1-2 are just too basic and give a bad first impression
(not only that you need 10 collectables to even get the other two better levels, and without any indication on the hub that they'll be available)
Lesson to learn here to be careful how you structure your demo
(also how you market your game, should've made it abundantly clear it's a puzzle platformer, and how you port your game, the switch version is a disgrace)

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I played the PC version and first impressions were not good.

Movement speed is far too slow, considering how big the stages can be and the jump feels too stiff. I don't understand why we can't just equip costumes in the menu, then switch between them instantaneously. Could do without the little costume change animation breaking up the pace also.

Given the cutscenes, I expected the stages to be far more interesting. They're just bland in appearance and uneventful in design. Surprisingly, while the character is fun, Balan's stages are not that. I wish they were full blown flying sections, without QTE's.

Lack of ability to alter subs is disappointing. Can’t read that with all the flashing imagery.

As for positives. The music sounds good so far and the cutscene presentation is great. Wish the rest of the game was this whimsical.

I want to give the demo another go at some point but for now, definitely not sold on this.

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You guys are aware the audio is in a fake language, right? Complaining about this is like complaining Klonoa isn't dubbed in English. No need to reel back in panic at hearing people talk in a fake foreign language.

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6 hours ago, The KKM said:

You guys are aware the audio is in a fake language, right? Complaining about this is like complaining Klonoa isn't dubbed in English. No need to reel back in panic at hearing people talk in a fake foreign language.

You are aware that there are people with limited eyesight that have trouble reading subtitles right? Not saying developers aren't allowed to have foreign languages in games, but don't be a jerk and act like there aren't reasons for people to prefer dubs over subs.

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7 hours ago, The KKM said:

You guys are aware the audio is in a fake language, right? Complaining about this is like complaining Klonoa isn't dubbed in English. No need to reel back in panic at hearing people talk in a fake foreign language.

 

43 minutes ago, pppp said:

You are aware that there are people with limited eyesight that have trouble reading subtitles right? Not saying developers aren't allowed to have foreign languages in games, but don't be a jerk and act like there aren't reasons for people to prefer dubs over subs.

I’ll admit that I wasn’t initially aware of the game using a made up language. I wasn’t paying attention to the voices because I wasn’t expecting to have to suddenly start struggling to read, after selecting a language.

I amended my comment to only mention the subs, but only after you posted your reply @The KKM. My initial and amended comment regarding the subs specifically still stands however. I know you didn’t have full context of what @pppp said, but please keep in mind that some of us require accessibility.

I’m no stranger to games with made up languages. Splatoon is one of my favourite games, but for the most part you can go through dialogue manually. The contrast is also far better than Balan’s. After LOU2 and Miles Morales, I expect better from big companies and even some indies.

 

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21 hours ago, pppp said:

You are aware that there are people with limited eyesight that have trouble reading subtitles right? Not saying developers aren't allowed to have foreign languages in games, but don't be a jerk and act like there aren't reasons for people to prefer dubs over subs.

Then the complaint should be the subs need to be better and more visible, which Kittea edited to. This isn't a subs vs dubs thing, because there ISN'T an original dub. There's fake language being acted. In terms of accessibility, it's literally the same as if everyone were mute. Whether American or Japanese or Senegalese, you're meant to read the subtitles and use the audio as just intention cues. It's literally the same as Banjo Kazooie or Undertale. My complaint is in the latter since it's obvious it's not a real language, no one would make this complaint; but because here it sounds closer to Japanese, immediately you get people going "ew foreign language replace please" even when it's not a language at all. It's the suggestion of it being a legitimate foreign language that makes it go from "random noise with subtitles that need to be better" to "if you're going to speak speak English".

 

What does that say of how English-speaking people view foreign languages in these cases?

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4 minutes ago, The KKM said:

My complaint is in the latter since it's obvious it's not a real language, no one would make this complaint; but because here it sounds closer to Japanese, immediately you get people going "ew foreign language replace please" even when it's not a language at all. What does that say of how people view foreign languages?

Except no one here made that "ew foreign language replace please" complaint, so no need for you to start ranting about people that do that out of nowhere.

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Huh I thought Kittea mentioned problem with audio, since KKM's post was respond to that? Maybe I remembered incorecctly.

 Either way, there were a few other who thought it was Japanese voiceover like PC the Hedgehog in the previous page and preferred English dub, so I think it's reasonable for KKM to point out it's fictional. And for pppp and Kittea to specify the trouble with subtitles.

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10 minutes ago, KoDaiko said:

Huh I thought Kittea mentioned problem with audio, since KKM's post was respond to that? Maybe I remembered incorecctly.

 Either way, there were a few other who thought it was Japanese voiceover like PC the Hedgehog in the previous page and preferred English dub, so I think it's reasonable for KKM to point out it's fictional. And for pppp and Kittea to specify the trouble with subtitles.

No, you’re right. Initially, my comment was something along the lines of “disappointed in the lack of English audio and the subs aren’t good enough to make up for it.”

Like I said In my reply to The KKM and pppp, I didn’t clock the language was fake at first, because I was too focused on trying to read the subs. After seeing their reply I edited my initial comment, removing the part about the audio.

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I just replayed the demo. Turns out I was so fed up with it on my first playthrough that didn't even finish the second act. This time I did clear it though, and the boss battle and game up in Chapter 4 (the third act of the demo). This game is hot garbage.

Why... why does the Box Fox costume exist? It's got to be the worst power-up I've ever seen in a game ever. I didn't use it for long before quitting due to an unholy marriage of frustration and boredom, but this was just God awful. The Fox Box costume turns you, at random, into an immobile box. You'll maintain whatever moment you had before you first picked it up. And where do you pick it up? On a narrow path surrounded by a death pit. The dialogue box explaining what the power-up even does will likely expire before you get to fully read it, so you'll probably go flying straight off the edge within seconds. You'll have to pause the game to re-read the explanation.

And what the hell is with changing suits? Why does it take a full three seconds? God forbid you accidentally change to the wrong suit. Good fucking lord it's so bad. This whole game is just so bad to play. There's supposed to be some trippy effects with the world warping into place as you approach things, and distorting as you get further away. Except everything in the distance is a blatant low-detail model, the warping animation is choppy as fuck (tilt the camera so you can see it more clearly).

There's another suit, the Aero Acrobat, that basically gives you a Sonic style homing attack. But it's incredibly slow, and the despite having a decent range it put the targets really close together. If you ever see me complaining about how much I dislike the homing attack in another Sonic game, do me a favour and remind me how much worse it could be. 

This is a disappointing game considering the artistry on display.

This is a rubbish platformer by basic and simple platformer standards. 

This is an absolutely terrible and insulting product based on the premium price tag.

And it's a travesty that Naka's position at Square Enix is pretty much dependent on this game being a success. 

Bad game. Will not buy. Will not recommend to anyone. At best, I'll tell you to listen to some of the soundtrack on YouTube. Chapter 1 was nothing to write home about, but Chapter 4 and Chapter 6 (I haven't played the latter) are stellar.

 
I'm not seething with anger at the game. I already thought some of it looked a bit suspect from the reveal trailer, like the character animations for one or the absurdly high number of costumes for another. I'm just so baffled by what this game is. I just can't believe that a company like Square would put something like this out in 2021. If this was a £15 - £20 indie title? Sure, I'd be much more forgiving. Even if it was a small project from Naka and/or Oshima unassociated with a big company I'd give it some slack. But that's not what it is, so I can't. I almost think that the demo has done more harm than good. It was obviously going to have niche appeal at best, and the demo has put would-be-buyers like me off entirely. 

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43 minutes ago, Jovahexeon Jax Joranvexeon said:

I cannot fathom who thought it was a good idea to make "powerups" that literally take up your ability to jump because practically everything is mapped to one goddamn button.

Right? Although you can fathom it was Naka. Dude was obsessed with giving Sonic as few buttons as possible, which is why none of the Classic games used an action button and why all actions other than jumping were mapped to a single button in SA1 to '06. The whole lightdash VS bounce attack or rail switching potluck was down to him insisting upon a one- or two-button control scheme. It wasn't until Unleashed, the first 3D Sonic game that Naka was not a part of, that we finally got separate buttons for all of Sonic's actions.

The costumes in this game should be split into pieces; heads, torso/arms and legs. And then you could carry three abilities at once. Jump would be a universally available action (B on a Switch), whilst each of the other pieces would be mapped to the remaining buttons (Y, X and A on a Switch) . To take inspiration from the demo... the dragon's head could be a headpiece that lets you shoot fire, the wolf's gloves could be a torso/arms piece that lets you so a tornado jump (/turn into a tornado mid-jump) and the jumping jack could be a leg-piece that lets you do a flutter-jump. And to take thing a step further, let's say you managed to find three pieces of the same suit; you'd then get granted a bonus or enhanced ability, perhaps?

The game as it is offers absolutely no incentive to play creatively or do things your own way. It's lock and key gameplay, where the key is found ten-feet from the lock and can't do anything except open the lock. And man, I'm not even talking about the actual locks and keys in the game that are found next to each other.

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On 1/28/2021 at 6:04 PM, azoo said:

I feel like the worst I've seen people say outside of the fandom is that it's not good (valid) while everyone on Sonic forums are going over the top about it being horrible in every facet. When I.. didn't find that to be the case?

Even walking out of that demo last night not really liking much of anything about it, I'm not sure if I follow. The reaction seems kinda amplified by people's anger with Naka, I guess? At least that's the best explanation I can make of it.

I'm not mad; I'm sad.  Yuji Naka had been, to me, someone I was aware of since I started reading about Sonic games online but didn't really value until he was gone.  I'm a very amateur programmer so how much I can attribute good games to talented programming is iffy, but it was easy to assume he was a big part of Sonic game's quality when 06, the game that he abandoned, ended up so broken, and while most Sonic games since haven't been as broken, they still have big flaws with physics.  Naoto Oshima I've known about for an even shorter amount of time, so I can't get a huge feel for how great his track record is but come on; he designed one of the most successful game characters of all time.  In fact, looking at the part of a series' success attributed solely to its character's narrative appeal, I'd go as far as to say that Sonic is the most successful game character of all time.  It's easy to have a gleefully evil laugh when an obviously profit-driven, fairly dispensable game by the likes of EA or Zynga bombs hard, because then nothing of value is lost and karma seems about on-point.  But this was a passion project of obvious artistic vision by people who have made beloved games in the past; and its failure would tarnish their reputation.  Worse, since we're still not quite out of the phase when some critics opine that Sonic was never good, it seems like watching Sonic's power-players fall so hard will just fuel those people's derision further.

Now for my thoughts...

*Upon reading this thread all the way through, I feel alone on this: Am I the only one here who worried he was about to witness pedophilia in that scene after the boss fight?!  I mean, even that intro scene when the protagonists meet Balan is kind of iffy, but when the hero or heroine starts looking the farmer right in the face, it looks right out of countless other media (like Sonic Adventure 2) where characters are about to kiss!  Maybe Sonic Says has just put me a bit on edge about this, but the scene overall is just so weird that the mind almost can't help but connect the dots.

*Then of course, it turns into disco dancing, and things like this are of note mostly because to me they're so close yet so far.  It's really hard to discern what this game is about; it seems as if it's just supposed to be set within dreams, and while that's been done a lot before, I've noticed that most media treat dreams as romantic; possibly because "dream" can mean both "conscious aspiration" and "unconscious hallucination".  Dreams get played for fantasy, and they get played for horror, but the weird thing is most of my dreams aren't really scary or beautiful; they're just absurdly random.  This game might actually be on the threshold of deriving some really big laughs from such dreams as these, but it seems so intent on dragging random occurrences out into visual spectacles that instead it comes off as utterly pretentious.  I might seem like an ugly American for looking down my nose at such media, and for all I know fans of Square Enix are really satisfied with such dazzle, but to me this is style over substance in the worst way.

*Having said that, I do at least like the game's visuals.  There's more than enough color and detail that I can forgive such things as grass just being a flat texture.  I don't expect this sort of game to look realistic.  But I don't think any amount of "this is a fantasy" can make me ignore how a running animation is being used for a walking speed.  Now is about the time to segue into gameplay.

 

On 1/29/2021 at 12:06 AM, Strickerx5 said:

It's very much a "baby's first platformer" sort of game.

That's on point much of the time, but even from that angle the costumes that disable jumps don't make much sense.  A "baby's first platformer", to me, implies one where platforming is easy; for example no pits that punish failure, no moving platforms, maybe a slow rate of falling.  The sort of things that introduce the basic mechanics of platforming in such ways as set the right expectations for harder and more complex platformers, without their bits that would turn newcomers off.  But if one is targeting young players; how does it make any sense to give them a game wherein jumping is initially the only thing buttons do, only to yank that ability away later and ask them to do something completely different?  A baby's first bike is one that has training wheels, but what some of these costumes do seems like the equivalent of suddenly replacing the training wheels with a plow hitch. 
 

Merely being simple is going to alienate a lot of more experienced players, but it’s not the only problem with this game’s design and I’d argue not even the biggest.  That would be how it features protagonists who are far weaker than the genre norms and power-ups with hyper-specific strengths and weaknesses, and these seem to be deliberate choices made so that even simple gameplay feats are harder to do.  Keep especially in mind that they’ve promised eighty different power-ups and presumably much of the challenge is intended to be keeping track of which do what and knowing which to use when, and also that currently it’s possible to fill up with power-ups that don’t jump and if that happens there isn’t even the option to return to the base character.  That completely loses the “baby’s first platformer” quality.  It’s not surprising that in a demo showing early levels, simplicity is what you see, but in later stages just how awkward and bizarre the mechanics are could make this into a frustrating mess.
 

Also, while there's absolutely nothing wrong with making things for babies, most media for babies are very honest about their being for babies.  Certainly, media for babies aren't usually asking babies for their attention on the basis that famous people made them; babies won't know who they are.  So I don't feel like letting the creators off the hook on the assumption that they chose to make a babies' game when their use of star power in promotion inevitably resonates most with experienced adult gamers.

 

3 hours ago, Blue Blood said:

Right? Although you can fathom it was Naka. Dude was obsessed with giving Sonic as few buttons as possible, which is why none of the Classic games used an action button and why all actions other than jumping were mapped to a single button in SA1 to '06. The whole lightdash VS bounce attack or rail switching potluck was down to him insisting upon a one- or two-button control scheme. It wasn't until Unleashed, the first 3D Sonic game that Naka was not a part of, that we finally got separate buttons for all of Sonic's actions.

Excesses aside, there was a genuine method to doing this in early Sonic games.  Utilizing combinations of buttons allows players to use less buttons overall, and while maybe initially it takes some getting used to, when you do it’s quite good for a fast-paced game, since it allows thumbs to rest comfortably on the d-pad and jump button at all times, accomplishing all sorts of things with minimal movement.  This philosophy may have been pushed past it’s breaking point in the 3D Sonic games, but we also got to see its ideal evolution in the Banjo-Kazooie series, which brought in a plethora of advanced moves activated gracefully by pressing other buttons while holding jump.

This is a very different matter.  Likely the only reason people are drawing parallels between this and Sonic is because Naka made it.  Sure; almost every button is jump in Classic Sonic but the characters can do plenty else when those buttons are combined with directions.  These characters require costumes to do those.  Sonic’s movement is very graceful once you just get muscle memory down; these characters are always clunky and tying almost all better moves to a boatload of power-ups is just complicating things.

Edited by Strickerx5
Merging 3 post into 1

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1 hour ago, Scritch the Cat said:

Excesses aside, there was a genuine method to doing this in early Sonic games.  Utilizing combinations of buttons allows players to use less buttons overall, and while maybe initially it takes some getting used to, when you do it’s quite good for a fast-paced game, since it allows thumbs to rest comfortably on the d-pad and jump button at all times, accomplishing all sorts of things with minimal movement.  This philosophy may have been pushed past it’s breaking point in the 3D Sonic games, but we also got to see its ideal evolution in the Banjo-Kazooie series, which brought in a plethora of advanced moves activated gracefully by pressing other buttons while holding jump.

This is a very different matter.  Likely the only reason people are drawing parallels between this and Sonic is because Naka made it.  Sure; almost every button is jump in Classic Sonic but the characters can do plenty else when those buttons are combined with directions.  These characters require costumes to do those.  Sonic’s movement is very graceful once you just get muscle memory down; these characters are always clunky and tying almost all better moves to a boatload of power-ups is just complicating things.

Sure. The 1-button design philosophy is all that Sonic needed. It worked very much in favour for 2D Sonic and has it's place in other games. But here it's another story entirely. There aren't even any awkward button combos. It's just one suit = one basic platformer ability. You have to choose between all of these dead basic platformer abilities, one at  a time. Movement in Balan is limited to a slow walk too, so it's even less nuanced than most games based on that alone. 

This game is Baby's First Platformer. As in, not the first platformer for a baby, but the first platformer that feels like it was designed by a baby. 

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