What if the bad guy was the protagonist? One with hopes and dreams, and not some common thing to be stomped on. This is the premise of Wunderling – a clever little puzzle platformer where players have access to the quintessential jump button and a few other tricks. While largely simple in both gameplay mechanics and game design, Wunderling functions well thanks to its bite-sized levels with focused design which provides players with instant gratification.
Wunderling certainly has the charm of a SEGA Mega Drive platformer, with the visuals exhibiting a similar zaniness as games like Dynamite Headdy and Earthworm Jim. The presentation is charming and vibrant with good use of colours and smooth spite animations. Although largely a lower budget title, it has the spirit of being something bigger than what it is. What’s great is that while the experience is relatively inexpensive, it doesn’t come across as a lowkey indie project, but rather something which would look rather nice on a Mega Drive cartridge even.
The premise is an interesting one, with the story delivered in a charming and whimsical fashion. In this vegetable-themed world a heroic carrot is off to rescue a princess who happens to be a pea (not a peach), and in the opening moments it appears to be a typical platformer… until the evil vegetable sorceress decides enough is enough. Picking one of the plant baddies (who sort of look like Goombas) at random, she decides to bestow it with the ability to jump, and from thereon this little fella becomes the unlikely hero.
Still being a mindless underling means that our hero doesn’t quite have the wherewithal of most platformer heroes. For one thing, he rushes on headstrong – much like the aforementioned Goombas in Super Mario Bros. who will mindlessly bump into walls or fall off ledges; players can’t control the general walking direction. So, the primary player input initially is the jump button, but this is a nuanced mechanic sensitive to both timing and pressure. Later on, the evil sorceress grants our mindless hero additional abilities to complement the core jumping mechanic.
The level design is generally fun, with stages being short and filled with all sorts of collectibles to add replay value. There are other moments of cool set pieces, such as when the underling gets transformed into the boss battle itself. There is some self-aware meta-commentary on platformer game design here, which adds some memorable variety to the standard puzzle platforming.
What is most enjoyable about the whole presentation is the writing, which really takes after classic Rare platformers as the style of humour is quite similar to games like Banjo-Kazooie. The satire on platformers is always amusing, especially with an oddball cast including a talking cow who serves as a cameraman to the evil sorceress. The whole anti-hero setup works very well too, both in the storytelling and game design.
Still, even with the attention to detail in the presentation and writing, this is still very much a casual indie affair with stages being short and designed to be completed as quickly as possible. Despite the interesting setup, the actual puzzle-platforming design can be a bit on the simple side. There are a few neat ideas as the adventure progresses along, but aside from the clever set pieces now and then, this is a standard puzzle platformer largely built around the whole jump gimmick.
Wunderling on Xbox is a fun little puzzle platformer, and even if you’re not too blown away by its bite-sized casual platforming action, then the rest of the presentation will be something that genre fans will appreciate and enjoy. The writing is silly and whimsical, the idea behind the premise is interesting, and while the execution isn’t quite as remarkable, the experience as a whole does serve as a fun meta-commentary on platformers – one where the bad guy is the hero.