Platinum Games director Hideki Kamiya made a name for himself with stylishly action-packed games from Viewtiful Joe to Bayonetta. His latest is the “mass-hero action” Wii U game titled The Wonderful 101, but is it a wonder or a blunder?
At first glance, The Wonderful 101 looks similar to Nintendo’s beloved Pikmin franchise thanks to the colorful graphics and guiding multiple characters around on-screen. However, it actually owes more to Bayonetta with a focus on action and setting up dizzying combos. There’s no concern with any adult-themes or excessive violence here though as this collection of heroes and plot look ripped out of a Saturday morning cartoon with anime sensibilities. In reality, the style is borrowed from classic live-action Japanese superhero shows such as Ultraman and, yes, even Power Rangers.
The elevator pitch for The Wonderful 101 is an alien terrorist organization named “GEATHJERK” is trying to invade Earth for its own jerk-like reasons. Only a wryly named energy shield covering the Earth and a squad of super hero agents, The Wonderful 100, who possess the ability to unite to form powerful weapons can prevent the planet’s fall.
The production values of The Wonderful 101 make it easily one of the best looking Wii U games yet released with eye candy that is slightly behind, if not equal to, Pikmin 3. The hero character models have the appropriate heroic build with shortened legs and exaggerated features to give them a certain comic playfulness when combined with sometimes wacky costumes and names like “Wonder Chef.” Meanwhile, the environment of Blossom City sports a 1950s “City of the Future” style with gleaming buildings and retro-futuristic vehicles.
Meanwhile, the cheerful visuals and lighthearted dialogue provide laugh-lines aplenty as the script is cleverly written to appeal to both young and old alike. There was many a time when this reviewer was chuckling along with his 11-year old co-reviewer either through the antics of the heroes or the comical defeats of the GEATHJERK bosses.
Don’t let the animated sensibilities and kid-friendly plot fool you. The Wonderful 101 is challenging even at the normal difficulty level if you don’t learn to master the combat and special moves. You start out with two main heroes – Wonder Red and Wonder Blue – who have various secondary heroes follow them around on screen along with temporary heroes who are actually rescued citizens. Drawing a circle on the Wii U GamePad or right joystick triggers the heroes to morph into a giant fist wielded by Wonder Red that is good against single large enemies while a straight line doodle results in a giant sword that is effective against a gaggle of smaller bad guys. Additional Wonders with their own unique morphs are added to the team as you progress through the game.
At one point, this reviewer almost gave up on the game and was ready to call it the “Worst. Game. Ever” after initially becoming frustrated with the combat. However, taking a step back and re-evaluating how to properly utilize the weapon morphs, combos and other abilities suddenly opened a new level of enjoyment as a light switched on and the depths of the combat system were revealed. You can maybe get away with button-mashing at the Easy and lower difficulty levels but learning to chain multiple attacks to control a crowd of enemies, rip off armor and pull together a string of combos is not only viciously satisfying but necessary to survive the higher difficulty levels.
The variety in the action helps keep The Wonderful 101 from becoming tiresome. While brawling through levels are the main course, there is a wealth of side dishes from fending off an attack on a tram while dodging barriers, on-rail flying sections where the Wonderful 100 guide a ship to shoot down enemies and simple puzzle elements as well. The marquee attraction, however, is the scale of epic boss fights featuring Kaiju-sized opponents.
Multiplayer is supported through the Wonderful Missions with up to five players (via GamePad + Pro Controllers) taking on different missions in a competitive co-op environment. These missions can be played solo too and are prime training opportunities to learn how to string together combos.
That’s not to say that The Wonderful 101 is without problems with the camera being the largest. Platinum Games could not find the right position in the isometric view to get close enough to distinctly tell what is happening on-screen while also providing a wide enough view to see everything on screen. Sometimes it is easy to lose your primary Wonder in the mess of action on-screen but then it becomes hard to tell where the enemies are at when the camera is pulled in closer. Indeed, one cleverly designed section set inside a rotating ship is ruined because the poor camera blocks the view of the Wonders and impedes the use of drawing glyphs to create weapons.
Meanwhile, attempts to use the Wii U GamePad as part of the gameplay are either disappointing or broken. Certain areas that you guide your Wonders into are only displayed on the GamePad screen and typically feature simple puzzles. However, an entrance to a stadium is buggy as the playable Wonder Green character moves haltingly and trying to line up a shot in the small space becomes a pain. Similarly, a cramped maze becomes an exercise in frustration due to looking up and down from the main TV screen to the GamePad, an unclear objective and a timer.
This is made worse gyroscopic controls that are thrown off by how you are holding the GamePad. If you’re holding the controller flat in your lap when you enter one of these sections, that’s where the controls may be level set as looking straight ahead forcing some awkward contortions to look up, down and around.
Another issue is the game communicating consistently what should be done next via visual cues. For example, standing next to a gear displays an icon telling you to press the ‘Y’ button to turn the gear with Wonder Red’s hand. However, doors that need to be ripped opened with Wonder Red’s hand are not marked at all for some reason when you stand next to it. That left this reviewer wandering around on the outside of an airship not realizing that a door needed to be opened to gain entry because the player is trained to look for visual cues at this point and the door blends in with the ship.
Gameplay is primarily linear but that is mitigated with just enough exploration to discover hidden items and areas. However, it would be fun to see the heroes of The Wonderful 101 in an open-world setting where the unique abilities could be used to make it past combat and puzzles in multiple ways.
The style, humor and action of The Wonderful 101 make it one of the signature Wii U releases in 2013 and is a wonderful match for the system. Getting accustomed to the challenge of the combat can take a little while to master but ultimately provides a rewarding experience. Camera blunders aside, owners of Nintendo’s latest home console who love action games should check out Platinum Games’ latest stylish adventure.
- Loads of stylish action and combat with epic boss fights
- Some of the prettiest visuals you’ll find on the Wii U
- Fun story and characters with cross-generational appeal
- Combat can be a bit daunting at first
- The camera is unbearable at times
- Use of GamePad as part of gameplay is mostly a miss
Title: The Wonderful 101
Platform(s): Wii U
Developer: Platinum Games
Release Date: Sept. 15, 2013
A review code was provided by Nintendo for the purposes of this review.
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