A few years ago, Sonic creator Yuji Naka took up residence at Square Enix to make his next game. Naka, for anyone who doesn’t know, is the creator of Sonic the Hedgehog and the director of the Blue Blur’s first few games, as well as a few other Sega classics like Nights Into Dreams and Billy Hatcher. There was high anticipation for what he was about to create next.
Naka set up an internal studio at Square called “Balan Company” and began work on a project meant to revive a dead genre: the 3D mascot platformer. A noble goal — this reporter misses them terribly. Unfortunately, what he ended up creating was one of 2021’s biggest bombs.
Balan Wonderworld, as it came to be called, released its demo earlier this year. We played it and were massively disappointed. The environments, despite having a colorful and creative design, felt empty and lifeless. The tasks you had to perform felt simplistic and boring. And the framerate was incredibly bad, dipping into the teens in some cases despite no visual evidence that the hardware was being pushed. There might have been time to fix these issues, but the game was due out in two months and Sega did not order a delay. In the finished product, the issues were even worse.
Sega also told Naka Balan Wonderworld was his “one chance” to make a platformer for them, which makes us wonder if he was set up to fail. As of today, he has announced his departure from the company. We’re not sure where Naka will wind up next, but it probably won’t be back at Sega — he has not worked for the company that made him famous since 2006.
NOTE: When IGN reported this news, they used the headline “Balan Wonderworld Creator Unexpectedly Leaves Square Enix.” There is nothing unexpected about this at all. We have used the correct headline to show them how it’s done.