Gearbox, the Borderlands crew adapt the series’ signature look to the game within a game that is 2K Games’ Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands.
The Borderlands games are over-the-top first-person shooting/driving games set in a weird sci-fi universe where players hunt for elusive vaults full of treasure. A tongue-in-cheek plot and ridiculously overpowered weapons have made the games very popular. Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is a spin-off that joins Borderlands, Borderlands 2, Borderlands 3, and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel.
First encountered in Borderlands 2, Tiny Tina is a slightly unhinged explosives expert. Tina got an expanded role in the Borderlands 2 DLC expansion, Mr Torgue’s Campaign of Carnage and a starring role in the Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep DLC expansion, which is now also available as a standalone game.
Tina is obsessed with the tabletop role-playing game, Bunkers & Badasses, a very, very thinly-veiled homage to the famous Dungeons & Dragons RPG. It is into the world of Bunkers & Badasses that Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands invites players, with Tiny Tina running the game as the Bunker Master.
Expecting this to be just a reskinned Borderland game with a fantasy theme is understandable, but quite wrong. Players are, technically, still in the Borderlands universe and this game doesn’t stray far from the mechanics that made the franchise so popular.
The plot, which is actually Tiny Tina’s Bunkers and Badasses campaign, casts the player in the role of the newbie, “The Fatemaker”, the one on a mission to defeat the Dragon Lord. On their quest, Players are joined by memorable non-player characters such as Paladin Mike and the pandoracorn (a kind of unicorn), Butt Stallion.
Wonderlands walks a fine line between honouring table-top RPGs and making fun of them. This is illustrated by the Cheeto-strewn makeshift overworld map to the self-referenced and rather questionable fact that for a fantasy game Wonderlands has a lot of guns. The plot, the characters and Tiny’s (in)competence as a Bunker Master are all played for laughs.
If you are into the humour of the Borderlands games, you are going to be right at home. But, beneath the humour is a solid game that actually offers players something a bit different, but similar to the Borderlands games.
Robust, mission-based gameplay gives players a challenge across some intersting, different, and meticulously detailed environments. Instead of roaming an open world, points of interest are travelled to via the overworld map. Here players may engage in random encounters or side-quests whilst preparing to face the next part of the main campaign.
True to its Borderlands roots, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands retains the looter-shooter mechanics, showering players with new equipment, ammo and perks. It’s almost overwhelming with your inventory bursting at the seams. A little more finesse in the distribution of equipment would make for a better experience, I think. Nobodys’ dopamine levels need that much of a boost.
The cell-shaded visuals probably fit the cartoon antics of Tiny Tina’s game of Bunkers & Badasses better than the Borderlands games. The game’s style is impeccable, as is the overall polish.
Behind the tongue-in-cheek presentation is a great standalone fantasy game. Far too many guns for purists, but still it’s a very well designed and fun adventure. To be honest, anyone that’s played a table-top role-playing game will immediately recognise some of the storytelling leaps and improvisations that Tina makes on the fly to keep things moving.
Expect about 20 hours of play, but the different character classes make a replay not entirely out of the question. As with the Borderlands games, Wonderlands is best played with friends or other players. There’s a matchmaking system that finds randoms for you to play with or you can select from your Shift friends and even set up a local LAN game.
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is the Borderlands game that we didn’t know we wanted. Great levels, a wacky plot with cheeky humour round off a great looter-shooter similar, but at the same time quite different from what we’ve played before. It’s a game that I grew to enjoy playing quite a lot. Not quite up to Borderlands 3, but I have to give Gearbox credit for taking a chance and succeeding with something a bit different.
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is out now on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S and Windows PC. A PC copy of the game was provided by the publisher for this review.