'Tiny Tina's Wonderlands' delivers chuckles, loot, action

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Posted at 3:39 PM, Mar 28, 2022

TUCSON, Ariz. — A breezy, humorous extension of the "Borderlands" universe, "Tiny Tina's Wonderlands" sets you free in a high-fantasy setting filled with loot crates, disposable baddies, and high-powered weaponry.

In a zany tale that shifts based on the wacky whims of dungeon masters, you piece together your arsenal, mow down enemies, and brace for the next bizarre story twist.

Phil Villarreal: I enjoyed the "Borderlands" games but found the concept wearing thin. For me, "Tiny Tina's Wonderlands" was just what the franchise needed to regain its lost momentum. The tabletop game concept is engaging, with entertaining send-ups of "Dungeons & Dragons" sprinkled throughout. I also appreciated how the game bridges gaps across the dug-in lines of the console wars, with crossplay instituted among PC, Xbox, and PlayStation devices. This should become the industry standard for cross-platform releases.

What were your first impressions, Sean?

Sean Newgent: Generally, when starting a "Borderlands" game, I find myself enveloped in the world and crass humor, immediately drawn in by the colorful graphics and bizarre characters. The opening cutscene sets up this zany fantasy world steeped in table-top RPG tropes and humor but immediately fell flat for me when the unicorn queen gallops in, showcasing the generic, low-hanging fruit approach the game will take.

"Tiny Tina" takes the reigns as the dungeon master for your adventure through this "Borderlands"-inspired fantasy romp, and despite relying on tropey humor we have seen before, she's a fun and enigmatic force driving the otherwise bland story forward with childish enthusiasm and humor. As she guides you through the tutorial area, you get a feel for not just the tone but also the combat.

"Borderlands" has always been "Diablo" in the first person, and not much has changed here. You open up a lot of loot, look at the stats on the way too many guns to try and find the best for your next encounter, and shoot a lot of baddies.

Did "Tiny Tina's Wonderland" keep you engaged, Phil?

Phil: I'm a sucker for the "Diablo"-loop, and "Tiny Tina's Wonderlands" hooked me. I found it exciting not only to roam around, seeking out roving enemies and the loot piles they offer, but I also enjoyed the storytelling concept. The anything-goes twists and all-out geekiness managed to hook me. It felt like the devs were having a good time telling a story that pokes fun at too many hours hunched over a basement table, dreaming up wild dice-roll quests.

This feels like a B-level "Borderlands" experience — maybe something closer to a supersized DLC than a full-fledged spinoff. While I see it as a much-needed injection of vitality into a series with waning relevance, I'm not sure what it says about the overall direction of the franchise. Will the future be filled with more one-offs like this, or is a full-figured "Borderlands 4" in-store?

What did you think of the visuals and music?

Sean: I didn't think about the music. It's entirely forgettable. As I said above, the voice cast is great and seems to be having a good time hamming up the often ridiculous dialogue.

I didn't find them particularly impressive or memorable as far as visuals go. Everything has that cell-shaded "Borderlands" look, but it's tacked on to the most generic fantasy world imaginable. Bland castles, dark dungeons, and copy-and-paste villages dot this uninspired hodge-podge. That translates to enemies as well. If you have something against skeletons, this will be your game. Because I spent much of my time with this game stepping into rooms and being assaulted by the pearly white undead masses, with an occasional zombie or dragon thrown in for good measure.

In an iconic series for its irreverence, it feels like a cop-out to not put more thought into the villains and settings.

The dull world compounds with a gameplay loop that, as I mentioned, comes down to ENTER ROOM —> FIGHT SKELLINGTONS —> PICK UP LOOT —> REPEAT. While the entertainment value of blowing away enemies with a machine gun crossbow is there early, Tiny Tina gets to be so repetitive within the first hour. Not even the overworld map, with its cute bobblehead characters and little nods to the accumulated detritus of a tabletop during a D and D session, can save the otherwise dry game.

Am I guessing you're having a better time with Tiny Tina's adventure than I am, Phil?

Phil: I always found Tina Tina's character to be shrill and obnoxious, so that heavily tampered down my expectations heading into her breakout game. Maybe that fueled my surprise appreciation for it, or perhaps it's just my general affection for the "Borderlands" series.

Whatever the case, I think "Tiny Tina's Wonderlands" is one of the surprise success stories of early 2022. I found the game to be charming and compelling. The lighter touch is more my speed than the cut-throat "Borderlands" feel. The open-world offers plenty to explore, and the weapon selection had me eagerly inching along the upgrade path. I liked the game but didn't quite see it as a necessity. Those vaguely curious won't do themselves any harm by waiting on a sale.

Final thoughts?

Sean: On sale, this is a good piece of brainless co-op fun that will appeal to fans of "Borderlands." But as it stands now, the game feels more like a cash-grab attempt to slake fans' thirst waiting for the next numbered entry. Nothing about this game shakes up the formula or provides any memorable content. But to me, the gameplay loop and excessive reuse of enemies does nothing but boring. I might have a better time if it offers more maneuverability and guns with a little more oomph like in a "Serious Sam" or other old-school shooters. But "Tiny Tina" is so mired in being uninspired. The only legacy "Tiny Tina" will have is its incessant intrusion on the front page of every Steam sale for the next ten years.

Past game reviews by Sean and Phil:

Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy
Diablo II Resurrected
NEO: The World Ends with You
Rainbow Six: Extraction
King of Fighters XV
WWE 2K22

The publisher provided review codes. Phil played the game on Xbox Series X. Sean played on PS4.

Phil Villarreal is the senior real-time editor for KGUN 9. He is also a digital producer and host of "Phil on Film" seen weekly on Good Morning Tucson, Phil moved to KGUN after 17 years with the Arizona Daily Star. He is married and has four children. Share your story ideas and important issues with Phil by emailing phil.villarreal@kgun9.com or by connecting on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Sean Newgent has been with KGUN9 since January of 2020 and is Good Morning Tucson's executive producer. He graduated from Illinois State University with a degree in broadcast journalism. He is a critic and cultural commentator. Share your story ideas and important issues with Sean by emailing sean.newgent@kgun9.com.