This is part 1 of 2 of our Tiny Tina’s Wonderland covering the solo experience and first impressions of the first 6 hours of gameplay. Part 2 will cover the multiplayer experience.
Video games, in general, have been lacking something big for quite some time, and that thing is the big bad boss character. Many triple-A titles are more interested in exploring morality as something grey instead of putting a huge turtle/lizard/dinosaur monster in front of you to be labeled with a “BIG BAD” sticker. It’s something I still find a lot of fun in, and the last one that sticks out in recent memory is Handsome Jack (RIP) which gave Borderlands players something to aim at, a villain to strive to defeat. Since Jack’s death, the series struggled to rediscover its voice, with the third installment falling flat on humor, characters, and a villain. Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands flips the Borderlands game board before slamming down its own fresh take on the familiar formula. Tiny Tina’s Wonderland’s first few hours are explosive, hilarious, and introduces an extremely goofy big bad with The Dragon Lord, voiced by Will Arnett. He’s earned his “BIG BAD” sticker, and this game has earned its price tag.
Tiny Tina’s Wonderland is a game where you’re playing a game called Bunkers and Badasses, which is essentially Dungeons & Dragons. So you’re a hero playing a hero, which leads to some very funny dialogue that still lands even if you aren’t a D&D player. With all that being said, the game switches out the science fiction elements of Borderlands in exchange for fantasy. Your party is tasked with stopping the return of The Dragon Lord and helping Queen Buttstallion (a crystal unicorn who is trailed by rainbows). Your two party members, voiced by Andy Samberg and Wanda Sykes, consistently put in their two cents from around the table as the game master Tiny Tina guides you along your journey.
The Dragon Lord is a gigantic villain who pops up to say things to you as you play to often try to intimidate you, but other times, it just seems like he wants to talk. It’s such a fun return to a memorable villain who even comments upon the game’s other villains. It’s a villain that drives you to want to get stronger so you can kick his ass. His design is very classic fantasy with huge armor and wings that make him intimidating but then you remember it’s a Gearbox game, so he’s going to make a bunch of snide remarks at you instead of outright being violent the entire game. Will Arnett’s charm shines bright even when he’s a villain. I am so excited to finally get to fight him later in the game. The villains of the Borderlands series have always driven the series for me, and honestly, I think The Dragon Lord could kick Handsome Jack’s ass. This is big “my dad can kick your dad’s ass” energy, but I think The Dragon Lord may take the throne for my favorite villain.
I avoided all the trailers, press releases, and anything that would spoil Tiny Tina’s Wonderland for me, except the fact there was a character creator. I wanted none of my past experiences to color my experience as much as I could. Let me tell you what, it was worth it. I have been laughing constantly at the weird things enemies will blurt out as we fight, the wild weapons I pick up, and every quest I pick up has been a ball. One of the major changes is a more linear game style rather than an open world in which you spend time walking around for little reward. The open-world sandbox style of gameplay has become tedious, but Tiny Tina’s Wonderland still lets you explore a world map as a miniature version of your character. You’re essentially moving around the physical game map, which includes trash like kernels of popcorn because Tina is a mess. It’s actually a blast with a lot of the flavor the series is known for. It gives you a chance to jump into action whenever you want rather than having to backtrack across large stretches of open-world for no reason other than maybe stretching the game a bit further. It’s a really fun addition and makes the game more exciting.
With Tiny Tina’s Wonderland being a Borderlands game from Gearbox, you know there is going to be loot. Tons of glorious colorful, vibrant, unique loot rain down from every corpse you create. I was curious about the game’s combat because it’s a fantasy world…how would you have guns? But you do, and these guns have a lot of fantasy glory painted across them. Their designs have mythic runes, wood elements, and a lot of features that give them a retooling for this version of the world. So far, I have been obsessed with ice element weapons because they can freeze enemies, which you can then smash. It’s a wonderful feeling to see that ice smash with my ax. With the game letting you create your own character, there are a good variety of classes for you to choose from with their own perks. I chose Spore Warden as soon as I saw the mushroom companion you get to fight alongside you. They’re adorable and terrifying when they rush into battle for me. The class’s arrow barrage skill shocked me when I learned I had multiple uses of it before a recharge. Having grown accustomed to a one-use skill before cooldown, this was an extremely welcome change, so I found myself using my skills a lot more because I had no fear that I would not have it when I needed them against a boss.
Getting to create my own character was wonderful, and I found myself taking a lot more time doing it than I would in other games. There is a variety of classes you can choose from and the looks you can have. I do want to focus on one element, though, which is the body options. When I went to body type, I expected the typical binary options, which suck, but Tiny Tina’s Wonderland does away with them entirely in a really nice way. There are two body options, “this one” or “that one,” which make it seem like a joke for a minute, but it is in no way meant as humorous; it removes the binary Male/Female body types to just say that bodies are bodies. It was a nice addition, but then I noticed the game makes you choose your pronouns and includes a non-binary option with they/them pronouns. So many modern games still don’t include small inclusive features like this, and it’s so nice to see that Gearbox cares enough to add it in so players can ACTUALLY feel like they’re playing themselves as a character. Even if it’s a small thing, I think it’s a big thing for a lot of people to feel included, so I commend it.
I’ve played roughly six or so hours of Tiny Tina’s Wonderland so far, which has been a hilarious, exciting, and enthralling experience. I love the big bad so much. The switch to fantasy rules and getting to make my own character was something the series has been missing. Playing the game early to review meant that I played it solo and without my usual Vault Hunting crew. Multiplayer is a HUGE part of these games for me because the shared experience is always wonderful so stay tuned for a follow-up to this after my party and I conqueror Bunkers and Badasses in the incredible Tiny Tina’s Wonderland.