Games that reimagine the hero-villain dynamic are always intriguing, and Wunderling is the latest title to put players in the shoes of the “bad guy” and explore what that really means. It’s a title that — like the song “Thank You Mario But Our Princess Is In Another Castle” — asks what the other bit characters are doing while the player-controlled hero is blasting through a platformer and causing havoc.
In the case of the Retroid release, which hit the Nintendo Switch this spring, the game casts the heroic-looking carrot as clearly evil and the witch he’s chasing down as the real hero. No one of those characters, not even the filmmaking cow, are playable. Instead, it’s the small yellow minion driven into the ground that gets a single ability that changes everything.
Wunderling starts as a game where you can only jump, and you never stop moving. You can’t even change direction until you hit something, but it certainly makes the most of its single ability right from the start. And thankfully there’s a bit of nuance to that single action thanks to the Switch’s pressure-sensitive buttons. Pressing down longer keeps your Wunderling in the air longer, which isn’t always a good thing. It feels intuitive, and after a while you get into the game’s flow and work through the various obstacles put in your way. For an indie title the controls feel solid, and using the pressure sensitivity adds another bit of challenge even before the additional abilities like flying and whatnot start adding up.
The game has some clear Mario inspiration to it, but it’s far sillier than a straight platformer homage. There’s a Fake News element of the game in the witch declaring the carrot an invader not to be trusted, which is clever, but who actually is good and evil doesn’t really matter here. Your task is to get through levels, collecting abilities and completing tasks before you explode or die, the latter of which you’ll do a lot. Thankfully, there are limitless little Wunderlings to control until you get the hang of things. The biggest frustration, in fact, might be long portions of play that get wasted if you hit a spikey ball or overshoot a landing and fly helplessly into water.
As your Wunderling’s controls become a bit more complicated, so does the game itself. It’s a good thing, certainly, and the constant movement is an interesting challenge of planning and some conveniently-placed in-level checkpoints. One interesting mechanic here is the yellow orbs you collect as you run through levels. Run out of orbs to collect due to backtracking or struggling to get past an obstacle and you die. Minions are only special for so long, you see. There’s an economy at play that requires a bit of strategy, which means there isn’t much time for wandering around levels to discover secret tapes and other bonuses ready for your return visits.
The game is light on challenges outside of the bonus items you can customize your Wunderling with. There’s no real incentive to do so other than the challenge of finishing the levels — there are a lot of items to customize with but they don’t add any abilities and some tend to make the Wunderling blend into the background. Unless you really feel the completionist urge there’s little reason to go back and collect everything up other than your love of the game’s catchy soundtrack. That does make for a title that’s fairly quick, but given the low price point it’s not a crazy ask to give the game’s challenges a try. It’s a fun chance to play as a low-level goon, and the end result is something considerably more powerful than the simple character you start with.