Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands review: Bunkers, badasses, Borderlands again

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Booting up Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, I found myself wondering why it’s not called Bunkers & Badasses. That’s the name of the in-universe game that the characters are playing. And it’s much more indicative of what you’re getting than “Wonderlands.” Include Tiny Tina’s name if you really must have the branding, but calling it “Wonderlands” implies a level of fantasy influence that this game doesn’t really possess.

If that sounds like a condemnation, it’s not intended to be. Wonderlands is essentially a tabletop RPG campaign thrown together by the unusual titular character. It has a lot of good, light-hearted humor, and it’s fun to play — that’s all it really needs to cut it as a new entry in the Borderlands series. What it doesn’t have is any distinctive flavor of its own, despite its best efforts.

Roll for initiative

Tina knows how to describe her monsters.

Let’s clear something up right away: If you liked Borderlands, then you have a strong chance of liking Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands. The gameplay is similar — virtually identical — to that of the main Gearbox series. It also retains the series’ trademark humor, in that the jokes don’t always land, but they’re always told with conviction and at max volume.

I primarily played a Spellshot, the Wonderlands equivalent of a magic class. I naively thought that would be the class least likely to play the way the typical Borderlands game does — not sure why, in retrospect. But when my character picked up an assault rifle, I dispensed with the notion that this was going to be anything but another Borderlands.

This is not the strangest thing I've seen RPG players seduce.
This is not the strangest thing I’ve seen RPG players seduce.

In fact, it’s been a struggle to even get my thoughts in order on this game because every way I can think to describe it goes back to Borderlands. It’s a first-person looter shooter with cartoony animation and a flip sense of humor. It’s Borderlands with a vaguely fantasy filter and Tina’s rambling commentary overlaid.

Now, either that was all you needed to hear, and you’re buying/playing the game now, or that was all you needed to hear, and you’re never going near it. Some of you who aren’t very familiar with Borderlands may be questioning whether you should get into the series with this game. The answer is yes — with a caveat.

Wonderland Overworld

Wonderlands differs from Borderlands in a few ways. My favorite is the in-game map. The game is not open-world but rather a series of environments connected by an overworld. Tina’s hand is obvious in the setting, and the player character morphs into a miniature of themselves (somehow making my hideously ugly Spellshot even more so).

Tina's Overworld is my favorite area in the game
Tina’s Overworld is my favorite area in the game.

It’s from this overworld that you travel to the various smaller environments, and you’ll also have random encounters. These small fights are Wonderlands’s bread and butter, and I enjoyed them. It’s basically Borderlands in short, bite-sized chunks, which is how I like them best. You take out a bunch of random enemies, pick up loot, cart it to the nearest kiosk for profit, and so on.

The overworld has the most visual charm of the game, and it also saves a lot of time in transit. It’s a lot more fun to get to my destination by running my deformed miniature over a bridge made out of a bottle cap than it would be wading through the millionth full-size environment. It’s the first and best impression that Wonderlands makes as a fantasy game.

Fantasy + Guns = Mayhem

Butt Stallion is a recurring character... there's a sentence I've never said before.
Butt Stallion is a recurring character… there’s a sentence I’ve never said before.

With some exceptions, Wonderlands also keeps the combat fast and rewarding. In a few places, it started to feel like a battle of attrition, but those are generally not common. I usually had enough resources and loot that I never felt overwhelmed. The addition of magic to the formula is a bit underwhelming. I often forgot it was even an option to use because the guns more than handled everything.

The characters are also good, for a Borderlands game. As per usual, they couldn’t say something with gravitas if their life depended on it, but that’s forgiveable given who the DM is. Also, I wouldn’t usually remark on this, but the character customization in Wonderlands is amazing. Coincidentally, I started playing this game at the same time as I was creating a new TTRPG character, and the experience of creating both that character and my Wonderlands Spellshot was remarkably, enjoyably similar.

Tina runs her game on the rule of cool.
Tina runs her game on the rule of cool.

But here’s the question on my mind: If this game wasn’t explicitly tied to Borderlands — if this was just a fantasy adventure story made by Gearbox and presented as a standalone experience — would it be able to make it? My answer would be, “No.” A lot of the humor and interest is tied too closely to the previous games’ story and characters — too much for the game to really have its own identity.

That’s not to say Wonderlands isn’t cute and funny. It is! If you were just starting out in the series, and wanted to test your tolerance for it using Wonderlands as a benchmark, you could definitely do that. This is mostly because the game’s attitude is fed by Tiny Tina, the most consistently amusing Borderlands character. And here she’s in her element as a puckish, somewhat unsteady dungeon master.

Penalty to charisma

The Wonderlands is one of my favorite Borderlands settings.
The Wonderlands is one of my favorite Borderlands settings.

For all the giggles Wonderlands gave me, a lot of the humor relies on certain Borderlands tropes that have never been my cup of tea. My main problem is that if the series has one good joke, it proceeds to grind the joke down to the gums, wringing all possible humor out of it.

Here’s an example from the very beginning of the game, the first time I really noticed the problem. You clear a village of enemies, and Tina prompts you to revive an injured villager. Your companion says something about saving “her peasant ass.” Then, when you do revive her, she thanks you for “saving my peasant ass.” Okay, chuckle chuckle.

Then, when the conversation is over, you see the character is marked as “peasant-ass peasant.” And now Wonderlands was starting to test my patience. I backed up from the character a bit, and she says something about her “peasant ass.” At that point, I would have given anything to give my character the chance to take a hammer to Tina’s miniatures. And this was far from the only time this happened.

Also, maybe this was just me, but I started to run out of steam several hours into it. It’s a game that’s enjoyable in small chunks but not really for a great length of time. And after a while, I felt that I had seen as much of Wonderlands as I needed to. I think at some point even the most die-hard Borderlands fans will simply lift their hands from their keyboard/controller and say, “You know what? That’s enough Tina for the foreseeable future.”

gamesbeatreviewscore 3point5

Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is currently available for PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox Series X/S and One, and PC. Gearbox provided GamesBeat with a PC code for this review.

Originally appeared on: TheSpuzz