Balan Wonderworld woke up a feeling I haven’t skilled since 2019, after I noticed director Tom Hooper’s adaptation of the musical Cats in a movie show.

The similar sense of confusion and awe at witnessing Judi Dench and Idris Elba in singing cat kind is evoked by Balan Wonderworld. I sat shocked after watching an in-game musical quantity starring my participant character and a corn farmer, who had simply minutes earlier than been remodeled into a big clownish canine by an evil wizard. I beat him again into human kind with a couple punches to the paw and a blast to the derrière, and we celebrated with tune and dance. Balan Wonderworld had already featured lots of ambient dancing, however this spectacle was on a wholly new degree.

I noticed Cats on a lark out of morbid curiosity, and nonetheless have conflicted emotions about the entire jellicle expertise. But I’m glad to have recognized such weirdness. The similar holds true for my time with Balan Wonderworld’s new playable demo, which arrives Thursday, Jan. 28 on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. (The full recreation drops in March.)

Balan Wonderworld is a new challenge from recreation director Yuji Naka and artist Naoto Ohshima, and it harkens again to that duo’s early inventive works at Sega. The 3D action-platformer’s recreation world is wealthy with the grassy greens and energizing blue skies of a 16-bit Sonic the Hedgehog recreation. Its characters really feel ripped from a Nights into Dreams sequel — notably the eponymous Balan, a flamboyant showman who pulls a younger man and lady into a colourful fantasyland.

A screenshot of the first level of Balan Wonderworld

The big pleasant farmer of Balan Wonderworld haunts me.
Image: Balan Company/Square Enix

The recreation’s demo stretches throughout three worlds and one boss battle. In every world, gamers can entry a selection of costumes to achieve new skills. The preliminary degree options outfits just like the Tornado Wolf, which provides the participant a spin leap; Jumping Jack, a kangaroo ’match which provides a lengthy leap; and Elastiplant, which lets the participant stretch to new heights. Later ranges embrace a sheep costume that lets gamers float and a gear-shaped skirt that’s used to control a clockwork world. Publisher Square Enix says we will count on 80 costumes within the full recreation; the demo contains at the very least 10.

With its dozens of costumes, Balan Wonderworld feels large however shallow. The participant’s fundamental capability is to leap, and lots of of the costumes supply variations on that leap. Other getups, like a fire-breathing dragon outfit, don’t really feel notably helpful since enemies are straightforward to dispatch by way of different means — leaping on their heads whereas sporting nearly every other costume, for instance. The costume-based gameplay provides little pleasure or shock to in any other case simplistic 3D platform-jumping.

Where Balan Wonderworld’s costume-switching gameplay could shine is in its native cooperative mode. Two gamers can mix their outfit’s abilities to achieve locations within the recreation world that may in any other case be inaccessible to a single participant, Square Enix says. It’s a function I wasn’t capable of take a look at by myself, however feels preferrred for a parent-and-child duo. (Balan Wonderworld is not notably tough, as trendy 3D platformers go.)

A screenshot of Balan Wonderworld’s controls menu

A shot of the sport’s controls, displaying that the majority buttons allow you to leap.
Image: Balan Company/Square Enix

There’s extra to find within the recreation’s demo, together with well-hidden collectible statues and a hub world generally known as the Isle of Tims. Here, gamers can each evolve the colourful fuzzy creatures generally known as Tims — there are vibes of Chao Gardens of some Sonic video games right here — and assemble a fantastical construction.

Players may even often take management of Balan himself in the event that they discover golden high hats, and these sections are simply as strange and skinny as the remaining of the sport. Balan Bouts, as they’re known as, consist of timing-based minigames as Balan soars by way of the air. Balan Bouts reward the participant with gems known as Drops, that are additionally collected elsewhere within the recreation, however the actual purpose for the minigames’ existence appears to be a hit of nostalgia for Nights into Dreams’ flying ranges.

With Balan Wonderworld’s launch simply two months away, I’m uncertain that my reservations about its gameplay veneer will change a lot. But the sport’s quirky, Cats-flashback-inspiring musical moments may have a sturdy sufficient gravitational pull to lure me in for one more look, simply to see how bizarre Naka and Ohshima get.