Wunderling

A game by Retroid for PC and Switch, originally released in 2020.
Wunderling is a puzzle-platformer where you play as the titular villain, who is attempting to kill the hero. In this case, the hero is an anthropomorphic carrot known simply as Carrot Man (and he's a bit of a jerk). Wunderling is a goomba-like creature who simply patrols to the left and right until one day, he gets stomped by Carrot Man who uses the resulting bounce to reach the top of a Super Mario Bros.-inspired flagpole. Fortunately for our anti-hero, this is not the end…


The evil sorceress Kohlrabi revives her fallen underling and grants him the power of jumping, in hopes that he can chase down Carrot Man and put an end to him. Kohlrabi is somewhat of a diva, and she travels with a cameraman at all times… well, a cameracow anyway. The duo broadcast her exploits in full-on propaganda mode as Kohlrabi attempts to use her powers to become ruler of the Vegetable Kingdom.


Wunderling is some sort of vegetable, although the exact type of vegetable is left purposely unstated, and Carrot Man seems to think he’s a potato of some sort. Wunderling’s power of jumping allows him to perform a 2x variable jump, and that’s about it, at least to start. Since Wunderling is a patrolling enemy, he is unable to stop moving in a straight line, and he only turns around when coming into contact with a wall or other solid object. If you're not careful, this unstoppable movement may lead you to make some mistakes, but if you mess up, you may self-destruct to return to the start of the level, or to the most recent checkpoint (although only some levels contain checkpoints).


This essentially means that the game is a one-button auto-runner, but there is far more mechanical complexity on offer than one might find in other genre entries. Each level has a certain number of flower buds that need to be collected, but most of these are placed along the main path and used to guide the player through the environment. As a result, the player will collect most of these buds simply by making his way through the level.


It’s not necessary to collect all of the buds in order to proceed, but if the player goes too long between collecting buds, his health will slowly start to drain. This acts as something of a timer, preventing the player from dilly-dallying on as he makes his way through the level, but most platforming veterans will have little difficulty reaching the exit with this simple restriction. The health draining effect is actually in place as a challenge to advanced players who are attempting to complete the game’s secondary objectives.


Every level contains a treasure chest. These chests are usually off the beaten path, and sometimes hidden behind false walls. Level designs are clever, and players are encouraged to look for subtle hints as to where a chest may be located. Often, these chests are placed in areas with few flower buds along the way, meaning that players must be mindful that they risk death by seeking them out.


Because of the fact that the player doesn’t directly control his character’s movement, there are often moments where the player must traverse large swaths of the level and then backtrack in order to reach the treasure chest, or bypass the level exit and then loop back around. In these cases, the player must be mindful to leave some flower buds behind or he will surely die before he is able to get to the chest and then return to the exit. If the player fails to reach the exit, collection of the treasure chest doesn’t count, and the same is true for cassette tapes (more on these in a bit).


Treasure chests contain unlockable cosmetic items for the player, including shoes, hats, accessories, and even new colors for Wunderling, and many of these items contain pop culture references to movies or other video games. Examples include a bullwhip that is named “Chincutter”, referencing the Indiana Jones films, and a pair of “Gamebatons” that reference Nintendo Switch Joy-Con controllers. Some are just for fun, such as a fruity cocktail that is referred to as “Vacation Juice”.


Collecting flower buds is actually the easiest part of the game, since the player doesn’t need to collect them all in a single run, or even make it to the exit with buds collected. If the player is killed at any point in the level, all previously-collected buds bloom and appear as flowers, which the player may freely ignore. That said, if the player collects every flower bud in every level within a world (including bonus levels), he gains access to a diary entry by Princess Pea, which expounds a bit on the history of the Vegetable Kingdom.


Players are free to select from any of the 15 levels in World 1 from the start of the game, and completing a certain number of these levels opens the next world, with all 15 of its levels opened from the start. This lets the player skip around a bit should he get stuck, although level completion isn’t terribly difficult on its own.


In addition to challenging themselves by finding treasure chests, players may also seek the occasional hidden cassette tape, which unlocks the game's music tracks. Some levels also contain secondary exits, which lead to more challenging bonus levels. The level select interface offers a quick view of the levels completed, whether or not the treasure chest was collected in each level, and whether the player found a hidden cassette tape or secondary exit, which only appear in a small number of levels.


Carrot Man makes the occasional appearance when the player enters a new level, and after completing the first world, Carrot Man begins spinning his top and flies away. Surprised that Carrot Man possesses this ability, the sorceress casts a spell on Wunderling, temporarily transforming him into a boss, which takes the form of a huge fire breathing dragon.


The game then becomes something of a sidescrolling shmup, with Carrot Man appearing along the left and the boss appearing on the right. Unfortunately, the promise of playing as a boss creature isn’t terribly compelling as you simply follow a few onscreen prompts, eventually charging a powerful blast that knocks Carrot Man out of the sky… but then you discover that he has three lives, and you only drained one of them, so the adventure continues.


The sorceress then casts a spell on Wunderling that grants him a new ability. By using “boostberries”, Wunderling can now dash quickly along the ground to reach high speeds, which is meant to allow him to catch up the agile Carrot Man. In practical terms, this grants a short speed boost that can be combined with a jump in order to cross large gaps. This is balanced by the fact that boostberries must recharge between uses, so the player can’t use them in quick succession.


This cooldown period is used in a variety of more advanced puzzles surrounding secondary collectibles. For instance, some levels contain blobs that absorb Wunderling when he touches them, and the only way to escape is to use this dash maneuver, but doing so prevents the player from dashing again for several seconds, so the player must look for ways to avoid some of these blobs. Furthermore, these blobs release the player in the direction he was facing at the time he entered them, so an advanced technique requires the player to avoid coming into contact with a blob, hitting a wall to turn around, and then walking into it from the far side.


Gameplay grows steadily more complex across each of the themed worlds and more than 100 levels as the player encounters new level elements after every few stages. Some levels contain keys, which allow the player to unlock barriers that block his path… and this expectation is later subverted in a level where the player must avoid collecting any keys in order to reach the level’s treasure chest. In fact, many later levels feature careful key placement that allows watchful players to access alternate paths in order to reach chests, hidden cassettes, or alternate exits.


Some levels contain crumbling blocks that fall away as the player passes over them. Since the player is constantly on the move, this poses little danger when simply moving from left to right. However, the player must often backtrack over his own path, requiring that he be mindful to keep some platforms intact in order to survive the return trip. On other occasions, the player must move purposely in order to dig down through a series of destructible blocks to reach the area below.


Supplemental pickups include blueberries that immediately recharge the player’s ability to dash, heart platforms that restore the player’s health without the need to collect flower buds, and wings that grant temporary flight. When the player grabs a wing powerup, he is able to fly using Joust-like controls, where each press of the JUMP button equates to a single wing flap, so players must repeatedly flap in order to stay aloft. Touching solid ground at any point causes the wings to disappear.


Even while flying, the player is unable to control his horizontal movement, and so he flies steadily to the left or right (whichever direction he was facing when he grabbed the powerup). This creates situations where the player must purposely bounce off a wall in order to avoid a patch of spikes. Wings offer a new dimension to players seeking chests and other collectibles, as the player may need to bounce off a wall to turn around, and then fly in the opposite direction.


Other level elements that impact the player are 1-way doors that look like pinball flippers, creatures that grab Wunderling and then fling him along in a straight line like the barrels in Donkey Kong Country, bubbles that send the player back a bit when he touches them, mushrooms and other objects that can be used as trampolines, switches that open and close doorways, and boost pads that send the player moving along quickly. Some boost pads have arrows on them, which propel the player along in the indicated direction, and these represent some of the few areas where the player is able to change directions at will (at least until you earn the wall jump ability). Other boost pads send the player along quickly in the direction he was facing at the time he touched them. These boost pads set up some tough challenges where the player must quickly hop between platforms, cross gaps, avoid spikes, and deal with other level dangers at high speeds.


Levels are short and are meant to be completed in a matter of seconds. Levels are designed to be played more than once in order to feel them out and figure out where the hidden collectibles are located, resulting in a bit of trial and error. As such, an initial run may consist of collecting all of the flower buds, whereas future runs may consist of looking for chests and other items, which requires players to think carefully about level designs and layouts. Most failures result in death, but there is very little repeated gameplay based on the short level lengths, and most of the tougher challenges are entirely optional.


The game offers lots of silly humor through its occasional interstitial cutscenes, and the player’s repeated interactions with a friendly cow. Characters regularly make silly jokes and make references to other video games. In general, the game offers a lighthearted feel, which is supplemented by the colorful visuals and upbeat fantasy soundtrack. All in all, there’s a surprising amount of strategy involved in uncovering everything this game has to offer, particularly given that it’s essentially a one-button auto-runner.



2D CRED
Wunderling was developed by Retroid, a studio based in Gothenburg, Sweden and founded by Niklas Istenes in 2013. The game’s soundtrack was composed by Oscar Sidoff Rydelius, a.k.a. Ratvader, who previously composed music for Else Heart.Break(), Anthill, and Kenshō. The game’s story was written by Alex Faciane, who is known for his work on the YouTube channels Super Beard Bros. and The Completionist. The studio previously worked porting games to home consoles for other developers, with ports including Lonely Mountains: Downhill and Hellfront: Honeymoon.


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