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Tuesday, December 20, 2022

The Potential of One Button, and the Square Enix Winter Sale 2022 Putting BALAN WONDERWORLD Last

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - The potential is there. But that doesn't mean the execution will follow.

When I saw the title of Masahiro Sakurai's video, The Potential of One Button [Planning & Game Design], I thought it'd be a BALAN WONDERWORLD reference. Watching it (and reading his post-upload note in the description), it's clear that by one button, that's all he means. Just the button. No direction pad or control stick. Here's the video:

Masahiro Sakurai's point is that you can have some pretty fun game interactions with just the A button. While button-mashing (or rapid timing) isn't all... he gives examples of more fun interactions based on timing, reaction, and holding down or letting go (alternating) of the A button. My favourite minigame of Kirby's Adventure happens to be Egg Catcher, where you hold down the button to open Kirby's mouth to eggs, but let go of the button to shut Kirby's mouth with incoming bombs. ...Really good music, too.

The lesson is that you can provide fun (but not necessarily deep) experiences with just using one button.

Masahiro Sakurai Potential of One Button pairing with other controls YouTube
And this thought will give rise to his upcoming Kirby Air Ride video, right?
But it also might have inspired the bad controls of BALAN WONDERWORLD.

In my article where I actually played the demo of BALAN WONDERWORLD, I didn't mention the fact that the game is controlled with one button (all the other buttons on your controller do the one thing too) and the control stick. It's strange, but not inherently a negative trait for a game to only be controlled by one action button, camera movement, character movement (forward, back, left, right), and pause. You can make many good games that way, including Kirby Air Ride and many rhythm games. And that's why the next statement Sakurai made after the above screenshot was...
“Whatever you design, it's important that the controls feel right for the gameplay.”

That sounds like an obvious statement that no one would disagree with, but BALAN WONDERWORLD director Yuji Naka apparently did. BALAN WONDERWORLD is a 3D platformer featuring many, many costumes. These costumes change your one action. By default, your action in a platformer should be to jump, but many of these costumes replace your jumping movement option with an attack, because BALAN WONDERWORLD is also an action 3D platformer where jumping itself isn't a form of attack but is a movement technique. (If jumping also was an attack, like a version of Super Mario 64 where picking up objects wasn't part of the gameplay, you wouldn't need a second button.) A 3D action platformer's gameplay sounds like the controls that would feel right would be an action (attack) button and a jump button, which is something that many game developers figured out all the way back on the NES. Not Yuji Naka, though.

When players get costumes that take away their basic movement option that lets them actually navigate the levels of BALAN WONDERWORLD (and those levels certainly do have platforms of different elevations that you need to get to and from and aren't traversable by walking), it is not a positive feeling. It's like if most of the Copy Abilities in a Kirby game happened to be Sleep Kirby. It takes away from the game, which already has almost nothing going for it. Some costumes enhance your movement options, and those are clearly better and more flexible than those that don't. It may be named BALAN WONDERWORLD, but it's certainly not a balanced wonderful world.

This discussion is timely, since right now until December 30 2:59 Eastern, SQUARE ENIX has their Square Enix Winter Sale 2022, where almost their whole published game catalogue on the Nintendo Switch is on sale. Not the likes of Dragon Quest Treasures, since that just came out earlier this month, but I'm sure by next year it'll be on sale. The other Dragon Quest titles they've published are.

The very last game listed on the sale, when sorted by the default “Featured”, happens to be BALAN WONDERWORLD at 70% off (12 USD). While 70% off is the single highest discount of the entire sale, this still isn't enough. Not even free would be enough. One should get paid to play BALAN WONDERWORLD. Maybe the funds for that can come out of Yuji Naka surrendering the (allegedly ill-gotten) gains from his two alleged instances of insider trading he's gotten arrested for in the past month. SQUARE ENIX wants little to do with him, which is likely why BALAN WONDERWORLD is listed dead last, while good games such as FINAL FANTASY IX are on the top row.

There's no point in asking you what you think of BALAN WONDERWORLD, because obviously it's awful. Several of its design flaws would be resolved if Yuji Naka tried to have the game's controls and costumes match its genre's gameplay demands from the game's original design conception. Ludwig (and Sakurai) wants to stress that one button itself isn't inherently a bad thing.

The previous Sakurai video Ludwig wrote about was one critical about his Super Smash Bros. Melee Game Concepts video.
Here is the story with that Kirby Air Ride video!
Egg Catcher alone seems to be getting Ludwig hyped for Kirby's Return to Dream Land Deluxe, since Egg Catcher returns in that game.
Ludwig released his own videogame that uses the one button philosophy: Fire Withdraw—play it right from KoopaTV!


  1. Sometimes, simplicity brings the most fun. Just look at Divekick.

    1. I don't think Divekick is the most fun a fighting game can be (you don't see many events for it anymore... and their attendance is in the single digits, with the biggest in the teens), but point taken.

      Of course, Divekick was also thoughtful in its button use.

  2. Yeah, the one-button issue isn't Balan Wonderworld's problem so much as its entire design.

  3. Warioware is a great example of this philosophy. Granted they end up using the d pad later, but most of the microgames require only 1 button press or not much beyond that. Loads of fun to be had!


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