As I follow a talking unicorn named Queen Butt Stallion to my next adventure, two thoughts pop into my head. First, I could have never imagined this would be something that I would encounter. Second, not only is it unexpected and random, but it also somehow feels like Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is filling a gaming void in my life that I never knew existed.
For those unfamiliar, Tiny Tina is a 13 yr. old explosives expert NPC you first encounter in Borderlands 2. Tina and her parents were sold to Hyperion to become test subjects. Thankfully, Tina was able to escape and had vowed vengeance on the man who sold them. It should come as no surprise due to this tragedy that Tina is a bit on the loopy side and is mentally unstable.
With that said, some of the best dialogue and overall adventures are with Tina in Borderlands 2 and the adjacent DLC. It’s in “Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep” that we see Tina playing the role of Bunker Master in the game Bunkers & Badasses (think Dungeons & Dragons). The fun unique storytelling and new fantasy realm to explore made Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep hands down the best Borderlands 2 DLC and in my opinion the obvious choice for a Borderlands spin-off.
In Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, you are thrown right into the mix of a game of Bunkers & Badasses. Tina’s DM and there are two other players at the table, Frette (voiced by comedian/actor Wanda Sykes) and Captain Valentine (voiced by actor Andy Samberg). The back & forth banter between the three is in classic Borderlands-style humor. The same can be said for your character which unlike previous Borderlands can be created from scratch.
You can pick from one of six different classes which are colorfully named such as Stabbomancer, Spellshot, Graveborn, Spore Warden, Clawbringer, and my favorite Brr-Zerker. Each class has unique attributes, abilities, and backstory. The level of character customization is outstanding. You can change the color to pretty much everything. There’s a wide variety of head choices, facial features, and height/weight sliders to really get that precise look that you want. There are also a good number of voices to choose from for your character. Not only do they sound completely different from each other, but they also deliver their lines with a distinct flair. A few hours in, you will come across a customization vending machine and change around all your character’s features at no cost.
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is dressed in Borderlands’ iconic cel-shaded art style which works beautifully considering all the new aesthetics within the world. Instead of open wastelands with mod podge building structures found in Borderlands, we have wonderfully majestic forests filled with castles, creepy villages, and fantastical locations that truly bring the game to life. As you progress, Tina along with Captain Valentine and Frette will chime in either to provide some valuable context to your current objective or just to sprinkle in some fun comedic moments.
Since Tina is the DM, she has the luxury to change the world on the fly. For example (no spoilers) if you are in an area that appears to be empty, Tina could say “OH a dark cloud looms off in the distance and is followed by a horde of skeleton soldiers”. POOF! The sky will turn dark and the dark cloud will appear with the horde of screaming skeletons running toward you. It’s for this reason that the unexpected should be expected upon entering every location.
If you have played a Borderlands game before then you should feel right at home. The gameplay mechanics and menu layout are pretty much identical, especially with Borderlands 3. And like said, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is also a first-person looter shooter RPG. Along with your traditional weapons slots, you also have one melee weapon slot for swords, Hatchets, clubs, and other badass swing-able objects along with two magic slots. The magic spells range from element damage such as ice and fire to the WTH is this? For example, The Marshmallow spell summons a large marshmallow that deals fire damage on impact, and the little remaining marshmallow pieces can be picked up for healing.
There seems to be an endless supply of unimaginable spell variants. All weapons and items have a gear score, level, and color-coded rarity type ranging from common to legendary. OH! And if you were wondering if there were guns in the game, the answer is an emphatic yes! We have six weapon types. Pistols, Assault rifles, Sniper rifles, Shotguns, Heavy weapons, and SMGs. There are countless variants for every weapon type along with different fire modes. For example, Swordsplosion is a legendary shotgun that can shoot out bullets shaped like swords. The secondary fire mode fires out a giant sword from the ground. As you level up, you will obtain skill points to build up your character and improve your abilities.
The mission structure is also unique in that you start off in Overworld which is the tabletop for Bunkers & Badasses. You move around a figurine version of your character opening chests, interacting with NPCs that send you on quests, and engaging in random attacks. As you move to a location, a burst of light will appear and another figurine will appear. It will begin to follow you while dishing out insults. Once you connect the battle will begin. You will return in first-person mode and fight a group of enemies (enemy types and locations vary).
Once you’ve cleared the battlefield, you will be rewarded with a chest and a portal back to Overworld. I really enjoy this new gameplay mode. It’s introducing something reminiscent of old-school Final Fantasy games but with its own unique charm. I recall one path in Overworld that I could not take because there was a huge cheese puff blocking it. Tina said she must have dropped it on the table by accident but no worries, she could work this into the story at which point a portal appeared next to me so I could now find the item that I needed to destroy the cheese puff.
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands supports 4-player online co-op and 4 player local split-screen if playing on PlayStation 5 or XboxSeries X/S. I was a fan of the DLC that inspired the creation of this game and I have no doubt this will continue as its own franchise. The beautifully designed locations, creative weapons/magic spells, and continuous character banter make you feel as if you are actually in the room playing a bizarre tabletop game. Overall, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is an absolute blast to play.
This review was written based on a digital review copy of Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands for Xbox Series X provided by Gearbox Software and 2K Games.