Wunderling won’t blow you away with its presentation, but it’s got one heck of an ability to keep you coming back for more.
Developers: Retroid Interactive
Publishers: Retroid Interactive
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PC
Release Date: March 5, 2020
Don’t you just love underdog stories? Like, sure, they’re one of the more rampant cliches you’ll find out there, but that doesn’t take away from how endlessly charming they can be. When executed to their best, it’s irresistible. If you’re one of those ivory-tower chumps living the frontrunner life, then honestly all I can say is that you’re the epitome of wack and don’t deserve any credence for your opinions. I’m 95 percent joking, of course.
But in all seriousness, it’s my love for the underdog story that somewhat piqued my interest in Wunderling, a puzzle-platformer where you play as a low-level that has just gained the ability to jump. With this newfound power, it is your job to chase after the elusive hero Carrot Man. Basically, just imagine if you were a Boomba being tasked with stopping Mario. In many ways, it’s a simple concept, but the game has enough gimmicks and ideas to make it something that occasionally reminds you of other great platformers you’ve played before. Even if it runs into a few speed bumps along the way, Wunderling is a treat.
When you break it down, the core gameplay of Wunderling revolves around trial and error. As a low-level goon, you can’t stop yourself from walking in a certain direction. At first, the main mechanic you’ll have to master is the revolutionary power of jumping. Once you make contact with a wall, your minion creature starts walking in the opposite direction. It sounds easy, right? Well, for the most part, it is, except that you’ll also have to eat little yellow pellets along the way because, without them, your meager body will explode.
Don’t worry! This implosion isn’t overly violent or anything (it’s actually kind of funny to see this little fool helplessly explode), but that’s where the puzzle factor starts to come into play. Often times, you’ll have to manage when you want to collect the pellets in order to maximize the amount of time you’re alive. Of course, the longer you progress the more power-ups will be introduced. The queen leader, out of frustration, will bestow powers upon you like a temporary speed boost and wall jumping — all of which make for a litany of possible level mechanics that keep things fresh.
Gaining different powers is another highlight of the game, and there were several times when it reminded me, ever so slightly, of other games I’d played before. As a whole, it reminds me of the mobile Rayman games, with the speed boosts making me feel the rush of Sonic, and the brief moments when you can fly being akin to Flappy Bird. The lattermost of those comparisons might illicit some nightmarish memories for some, but I promise it was just the first thing that popped into my head and not an indictment on the game itself. Perhaps concluding by saying there’s also a Metroidvania element with Wunderling as you go back to previous levels in an effort to make unlocking everything a bit easier will ease all of your minds (seriously though, remember Flappy Bird?)
You might die plenty of times when trying to figure out the best way to complete a level, but it never feels unfair. Instead, it feels like you’re being rewarded for keeping at it. While there were some levels I felt had some annoyingly specific timings that you had to match in order to progress, the majority of levels were excellent. In all honesty, though, the thing that makes Wunderling interesting is that the basic task of reaching the portal at the end of each level isn’t too difficult. Reaching the end portal while also collecting each pellet and treasure chest, however, is a whole other question entirely.
The inclusion of these treasure chests might be my favorite thing about Wunderling. Each one gives you a different customization item for your little goon, including hands, pants, hats, glasses, and even different color schemes. One of my greatest weaknesses, as a gamer, is my insatiable appetite for unlockable costumes, and Wunderling fulfills my desires in every way I ever could’ve asked for. What better way to get me hellbent on beating the game 100% than providing me the ability to dress up my little idiot goon in whatever way I choose? My look of choice involved some super cool sunglasses, a cowboy hat, dinger dud trousers, and “pear” arms that looked more like little watermelon arms.
My only main criticisms of Wunderling are almost entirely in terms of its presentational features. Graphically, this isn’t supposed to be a game that truly astounds you, but I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that it was just missing something. I never saw anything visually, aside from the different costume items I collected, that particularly excited me. There’s the typical forest, dessert, and ice sort of worlds that you see in many platformers, yet I feel like this was a game that could’ve done more. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad looking game. It’s got an almost 16-bit-era style charm to it, except I feel as if there was some lost potential.
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Furthermore, the game’s personality is also a bit rough around the edges. While I enjoy satire and a more irreverent personality just as much as the next guy, Wunderling falls short. Yes, the basic premise of playing as an ugly little munchkin trying to stop the good guy from saving the kingdom is amusing, but all the true brilliance stops there. The levels don’t capitalize enough on this — nor does the dialogue and cutscenes, which feel like they’re trying to be way too cute and smart than they actually are. At times the whole vibe feels cringey, even.
In between completing some worlds, there are brief moments where you have to mash a single button that felt completely out of place and probably would’ve been better served as a being just a cutscene. Is it cool seeing my little fool turn into a dragon in an attempt to burn Carrot Man to a crisp? Yes, but I wish it lived up to be as epic as typing that suggests.
But even with all of that being said, I greatly enjoyed my time with Wunderling. Perhaps it’s the fact that my personal life has been a bit weird (not bad, just weird!) and a nice platformer always seems to be the right cure. I was irritated by some levels and didn’t care for the story, but the core gameplay and being encouraged to 100% every level (I love dressing up my dumb little goon!) was delightful.
A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.