The SNES was a great era for gaming – sure, a lot of garbage was put onto the system, but it’s where a lot of us started our gaming journey. These days, we love replaying the games we grew up with, games that were simple yet challenging, something a lot of modern retro-style games over-complicate when they try to replicate. Well, that’s about to change as the game I’m taking a look at today is the pixel-art puzzle-platformer, Wunderling, on the Nintendo Switch – both developed and published by Retroid Interactive.
The developers are one of Sweden’s biggest video game porting studios, often doing the development work but partnering with publishers to get their games out there – like Thunderful. However, they’ve opted to self-publish Wunderling this time around on both the PC and the Switch, which makes this particular release more special as it’s their own creation. As far as I’m aware, the last original game the developers created was PictoParty, a title for the Wii U – although they have been active since then, most recently via porting the brilliant Lonely Mountains from Megagon Industries, to consoles.
Wunderling has an interesting story, you initially play as Carrot Man in his venture to protect the Vegetable Kingdom by saving Princess Pea. However, your role of Carrot Man as the protagonist is short-lived and usurped by a villain, the Wunderling. You see, Carrot Man was a constant thorn in a witch named Kohlrabi’s side, thwarting every one of her evil plans. As such, she decided it was her time to foil Carrot Man once and for all. Using her magical powers, she took the low-level goons that Carrot Man was so fond of stomping, the Wunderlings, and granted one of the new abilities in order to seek her Vengeance.
The game has an interesting concept which you don’t see too often – after the initial opening chapter, the roles are flipped and the enemy, the Wunderling, becomes the protagonist and the hero, Carrot Man, becomes the antagonist. So, the purpose of the game is no longer to save Princess Pea, it’s to track down and stop the ‘hero’ at all costs on his quest to save the princess. But don’t worry, you’re not in this alone, Kohlrabi continues to closely monitor and follow you around on your adventure via her ‘Kohlrabi News’ updates.
Wunderling is a 2D platformer that mixes things up with the inability to stop moving once the level has started. I really have come to enjoy this mechanic in the few platformers I have played that utilised this, such as Super Mario Run and Jack ‘n Jill, though Wunderling does it best by far. Our little podgy protagonist is like Forrest Gump, he just can’t stop running forward, well, until he hits a wall. Once he does smack his face upon a wall, he does a 180 and continues to endlessly run in the opposite direction, just like in the above games. This forces you to plan ahead, check out different routes, and replay levels as without remaining 100% focused, you’ll end up dying, a lot.
Throughout Wunderling you’ll play across multiple worlds, each adding a new characteristic to your Wunderling alongside a new theme. The goal of each of these levels is to reach the portal, a simple goal which gradually gets a lot harder – this is not an introductory level platformer – though I highly recommend everyone tries it out as the satisfaction you get once you’ve mastered the controls and levels is worth it. You can clearly see the inspiration, parodying, and portraying of the infamous Mario games, providing quite a humorous atmosphere.
A few examples of the developer’s obsession with Mario are: Carrot Man wants to rescue the princess to save the kingdom, you’ll have a meeting in the castle reminiscent of Mario games, you have a cow with a camera like Lakitu, a witch that looks like the Magikoopas, Pipe travelling, and even more visual references. Though it doesn’t stop there, a lot of the dialogue contains references too, such as the cow talking about ‘Wunderkart 64’!
What started out as, what I felt was, a Mario-esque knock off turned out to be a completely stand-alone gem with its top-grade parodies. The first thing you’ll notice is crisp visuals with its simplistic, retro graphics, but the vibrant and colourful palette really brings the game to life.
Speaking of the visuals, I want to talk about the Wunderling itself. Every single level in Wunderling has a treasure chest, sometimes other collectables too like a cassette or bonus portals. These treasure chests all contain different accessories and items to dress up your Wunderling. The game proudly boasts over ’27 million combinations’ and I truly believe it with how many pieces you obtain! Normally I’d care more about the gameplay itself than the visual aesthetics of my characters, but Wunderling’s focus on the appearance of the protagonist actually got me really excited to change my look on every level and experiment as much as possible.
The levels themselves are really well polished and actually feel reminiscent of old-school platformers. I want to specifically bring up Donkey Kong Country, a childhood favourite of mine. In DKC, and other platformers of retro days, it was common-place to leap into pits without knowing what’s beneath them, sometimes finding hidden barrels or levels. This has become a lost practice in games these days as games tend to hide things in plain sight or behind a wall, nothing too diverse. Wunderling fixes that as you’ll be throwing yourself into pits and danger all the time, giving you that sense of adventure I haven’t found in many 2D platformers for a long long time.
During the game, there are different power-ups to be found to change the pace of the game, such as:
• A blueberry that grants the Wunderling the ability to boost, surpassing its regular jumping distances.
• Wings that bestow the ability to take flight – but be careful, the inability to stop walking also applies when flying as well.
• Your Wunderling will also get the ability to wall jump, allowing you to access new heights.
Powers aside, the puzzling element of this game is a very heavy theme too, it’s equally shared with the focus on platforming. You’ll have to take into consideration crumbling blocks, boosting platforms, keys, doors, switches, spikes, pits, bubbles, cannons, and bouncing cactuses, amongst many other hindrances created by your characters refusal to stop moving. Despite everything that’s against you, many of these ‘hazards’ actually work in your favour, so make use of them all!
The Wunderling, like any animal, gets hungry when they expend all their energy, requiring food to refill their energy. The collectable seeds within the game are not only collectables, but they are also the perfect energy source for your Wunderling. How they approached this is really creative – Instead of having a set timer constantly breathing down your neck, or a constantly depleting energy bar causing unnecessary worry, it’s a mix of the both without the stress. There’s a hidden timer you can’t see, which is essentially how long before the Wunderlings stomach gets hungry, and once it’s hungry, a little on-screen meter appears next to your Wunderling that’ll constantly deplete, meaning you’ll have to feed it before it pops and forces you to restart the level.
If you manage to fill the hunger meter to the top, the invisible timer restarts, meaning the Wunderling will be full for a period of time. This actually adds a puzzle element into the gameplay as, thanks to your inability to stop moving, you need to ensure you don’t run out of seeds to eat as you jump around. This may sound simple, but due to the lack of control over your Wunderling, it’s very easy to go the wrong way and end up returning to a place you’ve been, where you’ve already eaten the seeds, thus starving yourself.
Unlike other games with timers and survival elements, this wasn’t a threat within every level. Multiple levels I completed without triggering the hunger meter, and when it did pop up, I was able to fend it off with ease most of the time – a few times I had to figure out how to plan the eating, but it was enjoyable nonetheless.
Wunderling was clearly polished and tested out thoroughly before being published as it shows in the quality of everything it offers. Although only having limited control over your character, the jumping was solid and not once did I ever feel the fault of my downfalls were the games doing.
The Wunderling’s speed was not only manageable but easy enough to keep the flow going at all times. The jumping was so on point and precise that it felt invigorating having the level of control over the little fellow that you do. You could literally wait until just the tip of your heel was left on the final pixel of the cliff and your jumps will still connect flawlessly. Holding down the jump button allows you to extend the Wunderling’s jump and pushing it in short bursts provides much smaller jumps. So, although you can play the game one-handed thanks to its very limited control scheme, you still have full control over the acrobatic ability of the Wunderling.
Not necessarily a mechanic, but I did want to point out the detail they put into the game. You’ll notice that the backgrounds of every level are not static. As you ascend different heights and move through the level you’ll see different angles and positioning of the backgrounds, which further enhance the immersion and the overall quality of the game. However, although providing eye-candy, it’s never enough to distract you from the actual game.
The puzzling aspects of the game have been well implemented and well thought out. There are big blocks that have just enough time to bump a wall to turn around then jump off them before they crumble, the speed boosts make things hectic and easier to crash into things, the non-stop flight ability requires you to jump into walls and manages the rebound to your advantage, and the blueberries are placed appropriately so you’re never struggling to make bigger jumps or get to places.
The one thing that could put some people off is that some of the levels require multiple runs to collect everything due to a number of branching pathways, meaning you sometimes can’t do a perfect singular run. With that being said though, this game is not punishing to those who meet failure; When you die you keep ALL collected flower progress (the seeds turn into flowers once gobbled up), which makes reaching 100% a little easier, though it doesn’t keep chests, cassettes, or other pick-ups unless you hit a checkpoint. So, you could repeat a level over and over (through choice or when you die) and you don’t have to keep collecting the seeds you grabbed previously.
Wunderling will appeal to a wide demographic of gamers; it’s accessible by people of all ages and skill levels, those who like platform games will love the challenge presented by the bonus stages, and perfectionists are covered with the bombardment of collectables and items to unlock. For such a simple game where all you do it control the jump of your character as he mindlessly runs from left to right, it’s brought me hours of enjoyment and entertainment so far. Sometimes, simple is better.
If you own a Switch or PC, I highly recommend you check out Wunderling today.
- - Character customisation
- - The levels have a decent length to them
- - Tight controls
- - A good array of hazards and collectibles
- - Forgiving to players who aren’t great at this genre
- - Would’ve appreciated some more environmental levels (Rising waters, running from giant stone, etc.)
- - Only one main playable character