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Balan Wonderworld (Yuji Naka + Square Enix)

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41 minutes ago, Milo said:

Balan Wonderworld is all those things, an almost too exacting facsimile of a type of second tier 90s platformer that never quite achieved greatness, even if it's fascinating all the same.

This reminds me of what Alex Navarro said about Drake and the 99 Dragons' rerelease.

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I don't know if it's better or worse that non-indie games mostly only exist as either incredibly high-budget triple-A experiences or mobile slot machines, with no middle ground in-between for mediocre genre trash. I'm generalizing of course, but it does feel like the whole midsection of gaming got sucked out sometime in the not-too-distant past, and the bottom rung largely became the domain of random garbage hucksters on Steam. A lot of that old stuff was major trash, but there was also something sort of comforting in the knowledge that those middle and budget (bad) tiers could even exist within a publisher's catalog," says Navarro. "Not so much at the time, because when you're reviewing McFarlane's Evil Prophecy and Robocop and Drake of the 99 Dragons, all you want is for developers to immediately stop making games like that. But in retrospect, it does feel like maybe we've lost something. Not something good, but something that felt like it should be there regardless.

For some strange reason, I kind of do miss the days when every major series would get some 3rd rate licensed platformer attached to it. So I can sort of see the Eurogamer reviewer's point, and why some people say it would have been acceptable as a budget title.

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Eurogamer's review really doesn't jive with me much at all. I mean sure, there's a few 3D platforming blunders back in the 90s, and there was a period of jank, but there was also a number of platformers that were simple, yet still able to be perfectly fun and explain the narrative - however simple as it may be - to the player. Mario 64, Crash Bandicoot, Banjo Kazooie, Gex, Rayman 2, Spyro, even Sonic Adventure.

And the games that were legitimately bad, the ones that fits the bill for that sentence of "clunky, unexplained, awkward, and downright frustrating", IE - games like Bubsy 3D, from what I know of - they were as hated back then as they are now, solely because Mario 64 was one of the first 3D platformers ever, and they already had a point of comparison of how to do it right.

That review is very, very odd to me. Almost like it's grabbing at straws to find a positive to talk about. I genuinely don't see how a badly designed game that is stuck in its ways can provide some kind of generalising nostalgia value. It just copies the things that people found bad in a few 3D platformers in the 90s, not every 3D platformer back then was like that, and it's beyond weird how the review conveys it as such.

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Nostalgia is weird. Charming imperfection or clumsiness is what drives bad movie fandom. Even though there's less of that for video games because they require so much more time and money investment (and why I ultimately don't think it justifies buying Balan for that reason), bad video game fandom still does exist.

I never expected Alex Navarro to admit he missed Drake of the 99 Dragons either, yet here we are. His reasoning that games are only either AAA or mobile trash these days sounds relevant to Balan's situation, and resonates with me for some reason (yes, I know indie games exist, but game development still requires a huge amount of upfront time and money investment that most people don't have).

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I feel like this couldn't have been more inevitable. The game was  already up against the odds with its niche visual appeal, but as soon as the demo dropped it was crystal clear hoe bad the game would be; a mediocre at best generic 3D platformer with an artstyle and  reminiscent NiGHTS and the most mystifying gameplay mechanics, from a publisher that is known for RPGs and epic stories that runs like absolute horse shit on the one console that it should have been targeting.

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This whole thing reeks of a typical rushed game situation. After the demo reception, I'm sure the employees were aware that the game was not ready to ship out, but it seems they had to meet a non-negotiable deadline. Which so happened to be timed with Monster Hunter Rise, a game that would eat it apart regardless. And was set by a company that's infamous for having development cycles that stretch on for a decade.

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You have a good point. I guess I was thinking that a delay might have at least made the game passable and the Switch port less disastrous, but when the game's design issues are so deep-rooted, it'd be hard to imagine how to make the game good.

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I'm in complete agreement with @Ryannumber1gamer on this. A delay might have improved the Switch version and they could have polished a few things, but as they say... you can't polish a turd. The problems with this game are rooted in design and concept. What could they realistically improve with a delay (or patches)? I think it's safe to say that there'll be no further significant updates and Square will sweep it under the rug.

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Post-"ladies and gentlemen, the weekend" update.

Opencritic - 49 "Weak", 44 reviews, 9% of critics recommend

Metacritic:
PS5 - 51 "Mixed and/or average", 20 reviews
PS4 - 46 "Generally unfavorable", 7 reviews
PC - 46 "Generally unfavorable", 6 reviews
Xbox Series X - 39 "Generally unfavorable", 5 reviews
Switch - 27 "Generally unfavorable", 4 reviews
-
Xbox One (1 review)

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On 4/2/2021 at 6:06 PM, Blue Blood said:

I'm in complete agreement with @Ryannumber1gamer on this. A delay might have improved the Switch version and they could have polished a few things, but as they say... you can't polish a turd. The problems with this game are rooted in design and concept. What could they realistically improve with a delay (or patches)? I think it's safe to say that there'll be no further significant updates and Square will sweep it under the rug.

I....I happen to know that it is possible to polish a turd. I learned that from a Discovery Channel programme, back when they'd make interesting TV shows.

Anyway, I didn't end up getting the game. I just got distracted by a Picross style Hatsune Miku game that was stealth dropped on Switch a week or two back. I think it was @Ryannumber1gamer that mentioned how the PS5 version was getting more attention from the devs which seemed to confirm why the Balan Switch Demo never updated with improved movement speed when others did so I figured if Square didn't care, why should I?

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11 hours ago, DanJ86 said:

I....I happen to know that it is possible to polish a turd. I learned that from a Discovery Channel programme, back when they'd make interesting TV shows.

Anyway, I didn't end up getting the game. I just got distracted by a Picross style Hatsune Miku game that was stealth dropped on Switch a week or two back. I think it was @Ryannumber1gamer that mentioned how the PS5 version was getting more attention from the devs which seemed to confirm why the Balan Switch Demo never updated with improved movement speed when others did so I figured if Square didn't care, why should I?

The demo won't get updated. It's too much effort to issue an update for the demo as well as the full game, especially when the full game has already bombed. It's unheard of for demos to get updates, seeing as they're free and only intended to be played short-term.

And as for polishing a turd... even if you technically can do it, it's still a turd.

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On 4/6/2021 at 5:42 AM, Blue Blood said:

The demo won't get updated. It's too much effort to issue an update for the demo as well as the full game, especially when the full game has already bombed. It's unheard of for demos to get updates, seeing as they're free and only intended to be played short-term.

And as for polishing a turd... even if you technically can do it, it's still a turd.

It would be theoretically possible to refine this game, with its formula of only one action button, meaning a very limited set of abilities, into something that isn't, figuratively, a turd.  If they could scale down the amount of costumes to just the useful and interesting ones, make levels that make creative use of those few abilities, and alter the costume-switching system so you could always change back into basic Emma/Leo on the chance that you needed to jump and none of the costumes you had in your inventory could, then they could make this into a good game for what it is.

However, what it is would still have limited appeal.  The possible defense offered for this game, that it is aimed at very young children, does not consider that such children are often quite finicky and judgmental.  If they've played other 3d platformers--and chances are high that they have--then they're likely to be discouraged by how weak Emma and Leo are compared to other protagonists.  Maybe some children will appreciate the game is easier than many of its peers--although even that might not be too true of this game in later stages--but that doesn't mean much if it isn't interesting enough for them to want to finish. 

And as for teenagers and adults, they might be able to temper their expectations when approaching a game like this, but why would they want to?   It's one thing to play a game with relatively weak protagonists when it's something like Five Nights at Freddy's, since that series is almost alone in its own niche and due to its unique scenario its protagonists can also do things that protagonists in most other games can't.  You do actually have the means to succeed in FNAF; it's just that the means are so different from what they are in most other games that they take some getting used to.  But Balan Wonderworld exists in a genre that's been oversaturated and its main distinction from almost every other platformer is how weak its protagonists are.  There is nothing to compensate; things that other platforming characters can do, if Emma and Leo can do at all, they do a lot worse.

I think if this game was to stand any chance at being a success for what it was, it would need to be up front about its protagonists' relative weaknesses compared to other platforming protagonists, promise to build a fun game around this seemingly limited premise, and then...get to work.  Probably they'd have to work hard, but if they succeeded, at least they'd be able to boast that they'd made a unique game.  Wario Ware's design is unorthodox and its simplicity seems like a disadvantage on first impression, but it still managed to make it work well enough to become a series, even if it probably won't ever be as popular as many other branches of the Mario franchise.  In practice, of course, this game's creators missed that mark about as widely as possible, in that much of their publicity pitch focused on Balan himself, which naturally gave people the wrong impression of this game.  Of course it wouldn't take long to determine that this was a collectathon platformer, but nobody would make the natural assumption that its protagonists were so weak.

On that note, Emma and Leo are also seriously weak protagonists on a narrative level, and since there are multiple ways you can do good game protagonists that is a really damning statement.  Characters like Link, Mario, the Pokemon avatars and Master Chief are viable game protagonists because, while they have very low amounts of details to indicate what sort of people they are, that means players can project their own traits onto them.  On the other hand characters like Sonic, Sly Cooper and Lara Croft are very specific sorts of characters, and some players won't be able to identify with them but if done well a game will make them entertaining characters for what they are.  But this game has somehow managed to fail both of those standards by giving its protagonists just enough identity that many players won't be able to see themselves in them but not enough development to make them admirable people, or even really sympathetic ones.  I've heard many opine that the "Just because they're rich doesn't mean they don't have problems" trope is hard to do, and I'm inclined to agree.  It's viable with characters like Adrien in Miraculous Ladybug, because the show constantly demonstrates that his father is a horrible person, but when this game's resident rich kid Emma's depressed just because her maids are whispering about her?   Oh, boo, fucking hoo!  For all we know, that's happening because she's a prick and her maids have legitimate grievances--and the worst bit is that Emma has the better story in this game!  Leo has no visible reason to be depressed, whatsoever.  By all evidence he's living a totally normal, totally fine life, so it's impossible to feel sorry for him.  In fact, he'd be a more likable protagonist if they skipped the depression bit altogether, though still quite a lame one relative to many other games.

It seems much of the world has settled against this game, but I'm actually still curious about what made them choose to make it like this.  Whose idea was it to do those really unpopular things?  What gave him or her that idea?  At what point was the Balan character added to the game and at what point was his role decided?  If nothing else good can come out of this game, let it at least become the tangible, brutal life lesson that all good tragedies become.

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1 hour ago, Scritch the Cat said:

I've heard many opine that the "Just because they're rich doesn't mean they don't have problems" trope is hard to do, and I'm inclined to agree.

The fundamental problem with writing rich people is that they have way more tools and are in a better position than the vast majority of people to deal with their own problems. It's effectively a superpower in its own right, and fiction writers often underestimate that by just treating it as a character quirk. The better examples are characters who don't have much control over their own lives despite their wealth, but one still has to deal with the fact that lower class folk often have the same problems without the safety net that wealth brings.

In the case of Emma and the maids, the social class difference between them also makes me instinctively side with the women stuck doing the domestic labour. 

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On 4/11/2021 at 4:46 PM, Azure Blue Tori said:

 

The fundamental problem with writing rich people is that they have way more tools and are in a better position than the vast majority of people to deal with their own problems. It's effectively a superpower in its own right, and fiction writers often underestimate that by just treating it as a character quirk. The better examples are characters who don't have much control over their own lives despite their wealth, but one still has to deal with the fact that lower class folk often have the same problems without the safety net that wealth brings.

In the case of Emma and the maids, the social class difference between them also makes me instinctively side with the women stuck doing the domestic labour. 

This calls back to what I mentioned about how this plot has the wrong amount of details to work.

Give me the task of writing Emma with the requirement that I had to keep everything from the game plot and I could add enough details to make her sympathetic.  It can be hard to sympathize with overly privileged adults but children never actually choose their parents or to inherit every implication that comes with them, so maybe I'd establish that her parents are horrible bosses, and their maids take their frustrations out on Emma even though she personally never did anything wrong to them.  Maybe getting to live in a mansion is the only real perk she actually gets from her parents' wealth, and she doesn't get any of it to spend on herself. 

Naturally, a subset gamers don't want to be inundated with plot, but the really pathetic thing here is how I could also improve the characters by taking them in the opposite direction.  If they just cut out every establishing bit of backstory we got for these characters and the only insight we got into them was that they looked sad at the start of this game, then it wouldn't be a deep portrayal of depression but at least it wouldn't be controversial.  Any child who has been depressed for any reason can relate to children who are depressed for an unspecified reason, but this game provided extremely half-assed reasons so instead it looks insulting for asking children to empathize with protagonists who probably have it a lot better than them.  Lots of games have simple plots but it's not every day you find one whose plot is trying to be profound but fails this badly.

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I have played Balan Wonderworld on Switch and at first it didn't feel like the terrible game people are claiming it is. But, after playing some worlds I got bored. Lots of costumes are pointless, having little difference to others or having skills that would work better combined in only one costume.

I think this game could be awesome if it was like a 3D Kirby game. A platformer where you could grab costumes from foes and that the costumes expand the move set of the character, not only replacing the only one action move available.

Also, the story doesn't work at all. I really like Nights Into Dreams storytelling without dialogs, but in Balan Wonderworld anything makes sense.

I don't know yet if the game is as bad as the metascore shows, but it's kinda boring and disappointing

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14 hours ago, Raphael Martins said:

I have played Balan Wonderworld on Switch and at first it didn't feel like the terrible game people are claiming it is. But, after playing some worlds I got bored. Lots of costumes are pointless, having little difference to others or having skills that would work better combined in only one costume.

I think this game could be awesome if it was like a 3D Kirby game. A platformer where you could grab costumes from foes and that the costumes expand the move set of the character, not only replacing the only one action move available.

Also, the story doesn't work at all. I really like Nights Into Dreams storytelling without dialogs, but in Balan Wonderworld anything makes sense.

I don't know yet if the game is as bad as the metascore shows, but it's kinda boring and disappointing

I'm assuming you mean nothing.

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https://old.reddit.com/r/PS5/comments/mqttug/balan_wonderworld_demo_to_be_taken_down/

And now they’re delisting the demo, as if it’s gonna make a difference lol. No explanation given for it either, so it’s obviously “we don’t want people to play and realise how bad it is, and not buy it”.

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Honest to God, releasing the demo was such a bad idea. It turned off so many people. Are Square so clueless when it comes to platformers and were they so swayed by Naka that they thought this game would be well received?

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3 hours ago, Jovahexeon The Undyne said:

When will companies learn how bad delisting demos make them look? More often than not, it comes off as admission of a game's poor quality and a cowardly method of pulling the wool over consuners' eyes.

It also seems like shutting the barn door after the horses have bolted.  The damage has already been done.

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