The Wonderful 101 is a misunderstood game. What it looks like is an eccentric Japanese superhero game on steroids, which is true but is also selling the game quite short. Once the initial difficulty shock and visual overload is overcome, the game emerges as the quirky but clever and ridiculously fun action game it is.
The player controls a group of normal people transformed into "wonderful" heroes whose job it is to defend the Earth from an alien invasion. There are 7 main playable characters who can use members of the team to transform into different objects to defend themselves, glide across the tops of buildings and solve puzzles. To do this, the player draws the shape of the object on the Wii U Gamepad screen or with the right analog stick. For instance, to form a giant metallic fist, the player would draw a circle, and for a gun, an L shape.
The controls are surprisingly fluid and the game is forgiving enough to accept a somewhat crooked line as a sword or a triangle that doesn't connect on all sides as a glider plane. During particularly frantic moments in the game, the mechanics provide just the right amount of challenge to whip up the weapon or mechanism you need in time to defeat an enemy or escape a collapsing building.
As outrageous and fast-paced as The Wonderful 101 sometimes (alright, most of the time) is, the script is witty and self-aware, which is refreshing in a game of this genre. Internet lingo is thrown around in dialogue and the heroes bicker like old co-workers. There are the occasional mature jokes that take advantage of the game's "Teen" rating, but nothing that would disturb younger audiences. Besides, they'd be too busy awing at the vibrant and shiny visual spectacle in front of them.
Speaking of visuals, the game looks great. The environments are so busy and detailed that it's tempting to just pause the game and check out everything that's happening simultaneously on screen. Up close and personal, there are some very mild texture issues, but viewing from the primary angle of the game is an absolute treat and a rare glimpse of the potential of the Wii U's hardware.
Gamepad implementation isn't overly ambitious and it's quicker to form objects by using the right analog stick than drawing them on the screen, but the second screen functions well as a map and is used to explore the insides of buildings. Because the game is dripping with creativity in all other aspects, limited Gamepad functionality is forgivable.
It may be difficult to grasp the charm of The Wonderful 101 at first, but with a little bit of dedication it becomes an extremely satisfying experience that rewards fast-acting strategy while providing a good amount of laughs and spectacular visuals.