A Chip(tune) off the Ol’ Pixelated Block
In this kingdom of talking vegetables, animals, and indeterminate creations, the supposed hero, Carrot Man, is always trying to rescue his beloved Princess Pea from the evil sorceress overlord, Kohlrabi. At least, that’s one side of the story. After being thwarted by this obnoxious talking carrot one time too many, said sorceress decides she needs her own champion. Someone who will use Carrot Man’s power of jumping against him. She needs… Wunderling!
At least, I’m assuming that’s what the little spud you spend the game as is. There’s a lot of story here, and sometimes it seems like a bit too much. Watching your beloved, if potentially evil ruler do heavy propaganda-style newscasts as she broadcasts your creation and further upgrades is fun, but the scenes go on a little long.
As her anointed hero, you are changed from a mindless bumbling creature into a mindless bumbling creature that can jump! Later levels offer other powers like a speed boost, wall climb, wings, and other staples of platforming. The gimmick here isn’t simply that you’re playing as a low-rent Goomba knock off, it’s how the game is actually played.
March of the something or other
More akin to games like Lemmings and Nintendo’s Mario March of the Minis puzzlers, you don’t control Wunderling’s walking. The little guy just automatically walks right until it hits a wall, then turns around and does the same thing to the left. In Wunderling, you only control the newly acquired special moves (like jumping).
Unlike Lemmings, you don’t control more than one character or assign your critter different roles. Wunderling moves and you make him jump, so he doesn’t die a horrible death. It sounds simple, even primitive at first blush. It even sounds like–horror of horrors–some kind of cheap mobile game. Thankfully, the game is much better than that.
Levels are cleverly designed for replayability since the easiest route is just to the exit, but try a little harder to gain access to the level’s treasure chest. You’ll collect golden flowers along the way, and as an added motivator, these aren’t just for the sake of greed. The flowers keep Wunderling alive. Go too long without grabbing a flower and your health plummets.
Retro. So Retro
The secret of any puzzle game is how it evolves to hold your interest. With over a hundred levels, Wunderling does a good job of adding new elements (both abilities and challenges) at a regular pace. It’s challenging as the game progresses and levels are designed to be overcome through a lot of trial and error. Restarting a level after death is almost instantaneous, and the maps are either small enough that having to start over repeatedly isn’t a huge frustration or they have reasonable checkpoints.
Wunderling wraps its puzzle-filled platforming action in a loving tribute to classic pixel art. The 16-bit artistic stylings are vibrant and detailed. Characters are cute and expressive, and the scenery is charming (if deadly). The soundtrack is zippy and feels authentically 16-bit as well. It’s not hard to imagine Wunderling as a game that could have legitimately been a SNES or Sega Megadrive cart.
It’s a Wunder
It’s likely Wunderling will get lost in the endless noise that is the Switch (and Steam) store, which is a shame. Wunderling combines intentionally familiar elements in a charming and clever way and the presentation is clearly devoted to emulating the charm of the 16-bit era and it succeeds. The gameplay itself is clever, challenging, and fun, and there’s a commendably large variety of levels to keep players occupied for some time.
[Reviewed on Nintendo Switch]