Little fuss was made when it was announced that former Sonic Team Lead, Yuji Naka, would be helming a new team at Square Enix back in 2018. The studio, Balan Company, was said to be working on a new action title that would utilise the iconic art direction of Naoto Ohshima – the man made famous for designing Dr. Robotnik and the Blue Blur himself way back in the day.
Oh, and the ever-memorable Blinx the Cat.
Revealed during July’s Xbox Games Showcase, Balan Wonderworld will follow Emma and Leo, two children swept into a theatrically-charged platforming adventure by the titular clown, Balan. True to his previous work, Naka promises players a healthy helping of the kind of action the little Blue Hedgehog made his name on, with the addition of 80 unlockable “costume” power-ups.
This mechanic promises to keep levels feeling fresh, as players don the guise of insects, fire hydrants, and legally distinct spiny blue rodents in order to solve basic puzzles, explore environments, and beat-up a colourful assortment of baddies.
It really isn’t all that dissimilar from the kind of work Yuji Naka led Sonic Team to accomplish in the early 2000s, but I think that’s exactly what the team is going for. With Sega becoming increasingly focussed on rekindling Sonic’s fluctuating popularity around the turn of the decade, similar platformers were only going to create additional competition for their biggest moneymaker.
It’s refreshing to see some of these creatives seek to satisfy the niche left in their absence, and that’s all without mentioning the whimsical art direction from Naoto Ohshima. I swear, if you were to squint your eyes, you wouldn’t be mistaken for thinking Balan Wonderworld was some kind of sequel to Sonic Team’s Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg.
Regardless, 3D platformers have always been my bread and butter and I’m excited to see more from Balan Wonderworld as we creep closer to release.
Balan Wonderworld is currently set for release in early 2021 on all platforms.