Friday, March 13, 2020

Wunderling (NSW, PC) Review

Let's cap off the week with some much needed levity with a look at an enjoyable auto-runner with a twist. It's Wunderling from Retroid Interactive, and here is the SPC review.

Small Wunder

Last Friday, I took a look at a game starring a minion that was a satire of the RPG genre with my review of Underhero. This week, I'm taking on a look at Retroid Interactive's Wunderling, which puts its own spin on 2D platformers, particularly a specific one featuring a popular portly plumber. With lovely pixel art, cool tunes, and an addicting "one more try" approach to its design, Wunderling is a delightful auto-runner with a unique take on the genre.

Wunderling starts you out as playing as the Mario-like hero (though one that's quite a bit more of a braggart) Carrot Man, and playing through a Super Mario Bros. 1-1-styled platforming level, stomping on Goomba-like enemies along the way. Upon smashing the final enemy and landing on the flagpole, our supposed hero sashays away with another victory under his hat, or in this case, leafy top. From there, a witchy sorceress arrives to revive one of her fallen underlings and tasks it with pursuing Carrot Man, hoping to siphon his supply of lives in the process.

However, that's easier said than done because like any Goomba-like underling in a 2D platformer, our vegetable minion marches forward and cannot stop or turn around until it collides with a wall. Wunderling's true gameplay then reveals itself as an auto-runner with you controlling the underling's jumps and other abilities that unlock throughout the progression of the game.

Discovering how to get around each stage successfully gives Wunderling
a puzzle/platforming-type feel.
New abilities include the power to temporarily dash to launch yourself across wide chasms, the power to fly, and a wall jump ability. These abilities unlock at a steady pace, one per world, and they give you just enough time to become acquainted with all of their tricks and mechanic nuances before a new one gets introduced. Thus, there's plenty of time to experiment, and not just for the player but also for the level designers to craft some inventive courses for you to get the most out of each ability. Worlds are fifteen levels in length, so they don't linger or overstay their welcome.

It takes a few seconds for your boost ability to recharge, so use it wisely.
Your controllable minion moves on his own and only changes direction when bumping into a solid structure, but it also can't just linger and loiter around in one place for a lengthy amount of time. You have a health bar, indicated by a small heart symbol that slowly depletes and reveals itself when the underling hasn't collected a flower bud in a while. Only through collecting an abundance of flower buds does the underling's health return to normal. If it depletes completely, the underling dies and the level is failed. Many levels have it where you don't want to immediately collect every accessible flower bud, as you'll often have to do some backtracking. Therefore, leaving behind some flower buds to pick up and collect on the way back can be the difference between having enough health to finish the level and a shortened life expectancy.

These yellow buds serve not only as collectibles but also as a means to keep your minion alive.
Flower buds, which turn into flowers when collected, are but one of the main collectibles in Wunderling. Each level houses a secret treasure chest that when collected and brought to the goal successfully unlocks a new costume piece for your minion. The amount of costume pieces and combinations are immense, and they're enjoyable to collect for numerous reasons. For one, they're generally hidden well and require you to take on different approaches to levels than you normally would. A basic run through a level is simple enough, but when you aim to collect everything possible in a level, including the treasure and--in some level's cases--song-unlocking cassette tapes, runs become more complicated and require smart strategies to successfully complete.

There is a lot of trial and error in Wunderling, and this is most apparent when searching high and low for treasure chests and other secrets, such as warp portals leading to one of three extra levels in each world. Many are hidden behind fake walls, which for this type of game leads to a copious amount of deaths as you practically have to guess most times which walls are real and which walls are hiding something behind them. Generally this isn't a huge problem as levels are usually short enough that deaths don't make you repeat too much work, and the ones that are lengthy have checkpoints in them.

Take flight with the wing power-up, and carefully soar to success.
Levels in Wunderling have a great amount of unique gimmicks and mechanics to them, obviously helped by the abilities our minion receives, but also because of the mechanisms in place. There are locked gates requiring specially colored keys to unlock, doors that open and shut when buttons are pressed, boost pads that speed up our unlikely underling hero, lava and ice floors that prevent the ability to jump, Donkey Kong Country barrel cannon-style launchers that blast the minion across levels, and hazards like spikes to avoid. Much like each new ability added to the underling's arsenal of moves, each gimmick and gameplay mechanism is introduced slowly and steadily as to not overstay its welcome nor bore the player by seeing it repeatedly without much alteration.

Use these colored keys to unlock their associated blocks, or else meet a spike-filled fate!
Wunderling is a stellar auto-runner with beautiful pixel art and a catchy soundtrack. The only stumbling point I see with potential purchasers is its $15 asking price, something I perceive as higher than the usual asking price for a game of its genre. That said, if you enjoy games with humor, levels that push you to master them and fully explore their secrets, and are intrigued by its novel approach to the auto runner genre of platformer, then Wunderling certainly earns a recommendation from me. March on, minion. March on.

[SPC Says: B]

A code was provided by the developer for the purpose of this review.

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