Developer: Gearbox Software
Publisher: 2K Games
Reviewed on: Xbox Series X
Also available on: PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S, PC
Release Date: 25th March 2022
Price: $79.00 - Mightyape
Roll for Initiative!
A lot of gamers have been slogging through the “you died!” grinder that is Elden Ring. For me Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands (TTW) came as a welcome, whimsical romp. Its light-hearted, fantasy-style parody reminded me of the satirical works of Terry Pratchett and the card game Munchkin. While not everyone will appreciate every aspect of the game’s humorous story, the gameplay has a solid loop that keeps you coming back for more.
TTW has a lot of similarities to Borderlands, another one of Gearbox’s games. But TTW mixes things up enough to feel fresh. I was happy to play TTW over yet another Borderlands game. Suffice it to say that if you like Borderlands you will enjoy TTW as the FPS gameplay and RPG loot system are quite similar.
The premise of the game is that you are part of a band of characters in the Borderlands universe who are stranded after their aircraft has crashed into a mountain. To pass the time you play a tabletop roleplaying game called Bunkers and Bad asses. The action occurs inside this game within a game. The ridiculous premise is loopy fun and characters are routinely breaking the fourth wall.
The “bunker master” of the game of Bunkers and Bad asses is Tiny Tina. She’s like a “dungeon master” from Dungeons and Dragons, who tells the story. While Tiny Tina serves as a manic, unhinged narrator, her narration is often interrupted by other characters.
Your character is called the “Fatemaker”. There are two other players at the game table named Valentine and Frette. Valentine fancies himself as a noble, gallant adventurer and Frette is a sarcastic robot. You are the one controlling the action of a single in-game character. Valentine and Frette are providing a running commentary as the adventure unfolds. I can’t help but wish that the two other “player characters” had avatars in the game’s world that would join you on the adventure.
The Bunkers and Badasses’ story is filled with clichés and tropes. The main villain is the “Dragon Lord” who likes to summon skeletons and monologue about how bad a guy he is. On the side of good we have “Queen Butt Stallion”. Your character’s mission is to find the “Sword of Souls” and stop the Dragon Lord.
The game’s strengths are not at the destination, but on the journey. Your quest goes through a variety of richly detailed areas with many side characters and quests. You will come across lots of fantasy and pop culture references. You will fight a tooth fairy, save some good “Smurfs” from evil “Smurfs”, and seduce a sentient drawbridge.
Again, it must be said that the story and humour will not be for everyone. In some parts I was rolling my eyes when the jokes were just corny or way too over the top. I can imagine it would be grating to other players, so be warned!
The graphics use a cartoony, cel-shaded style. The tech of the graphics is not jaw-dropping, and the character model animations can be stiff. However, the creative design choices make up for that with interesting environments and characters.
The voice acting is great; some of the best I’ve heard in a game. Stand-up comedian Wanda Sykes did a great job on the voice for Frette. All the actors have impeccable comedic timing.
Seeing as this is based on the Borderlands property, it’s no surprise that the gameplay is quite similar. I had hoped that the fantasy trappings would have translated into the gameplay more.
At the beginning you choose a character class from five options. For my playthrough I chose a “Brr-Zerker” which is like a barbarian with ice-based attacks. Each class has special attacks, and some have AI companions that follow you around and fight on your behalf. You level up and add points to stats and character skills. After a certain point in the game, you are allowed to “multiclass” and add skills from another class.
In terms of items such as firearms, armour, melee weapons and spells, there is great variety of each. Killing enemies will cause items to drop as loot. Some items will be useless while others will be incredibly powerful. The game makes it easy to sort the wheat from the chaff through a coloured tier system of rarity and power.
You use a lot of different guns, which goes slightly against the fantasy tropes. Some guns do have a fantasy veneer like pistols that present as crossbows. Some do cool things like shoot circular sawblades.
Spells are like grenades from Borderlands. You can only have one spell equipped at a time. There are a variety of spells with fire-based, ice-based, lightning-based and poison-based effects. When you use your equipped spell, it goes onto a cooldown timer. As a result, spells feel limited. I wanted a more fleshed out magic system that used more than a single button.
The game is paced well. If you follow the story, you won’t have long periods where you walk through empty areas. I never found myself in a situation where I wandered around the same spot trying to find out what I was supposed to do. Having said that, the game doesn’t hold your hand too much either – there is no trail of breadcrumbs to follow as in Fable II and III.
On normal difficulty, death is lenient. You only lose a small fraction of your gold before you are back in the action. When playing I often came close to dying, but I wasn’t frustrated. There were a few places where I had to retry a boss battle a couple of times. The game has an easy mode as well as a hard one.
The game can be played cooperatively online. They’ve included two modes for loot sharing called “cooperation” and “coopetition”. The “cooperation” mode gives everyone their own loot that others cannot steal. In “coopetition” the loot drops in the shared game world and players need to be fast and fight to get it. This is a welcome option, as I remember being frustrated by having loot stolen in Borderlands multiplayer.
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands was fun from beginning to end. After I’ve left the game to settle, I will replay it with a different character class and play more co-op mode. If you also like Borderlands, you’ll want to play this. But if you want a game that’s like a traditional fantasy RPG, this may not be for you, as TTW plays more like a shooter looter.
Now I wonder if they could make a sequel where Tiny Tina runs a tabletop roleplaying game of Cyberpunk or Call of Cthulu…