Saturday mornings used to be great due to Saturday morning cartoons. All of those colorful superheroes in front of you saving the world, remember those days? Platinum Games remembers those times with their new game TheWonderful 101 only for the Nintendo Wii U. A game about superheroes saving the world with the style of Viewtiful Joe, finesse of Bayonetta and confusing gameplay elements of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Is this game truly wonderful?
The story goes that an alien invasion is happening on Earth (by the alien invaders named Geathjerk) and you control the Wonderful 101 (the extra one being you apparently). A team of superheroes that each has their own weapons and creative costumes. You must fight, jump, glide and fight some more in order to defeat them, all while looking great. The story is pretty niche but the characters are very likable, even the villains.
Most games now days hold you by the hand on how to attack, walk, breathe etc…, not Wonderful 101. It sort of tries to explain but does a horrible job at really digging you into it. It’ll give you an example of how something should be done, or instructions on how to open a door (e.g. hold Y and turn the right-stick) but that’s it, it’s up to you to find out what to do from there. This isn’t really a bad thing since it’s not that hard to grasp the nature of the game. Mastering it on the other hand is a whole different story.
Each character can recruit civilians into the group (temporarily) and can morph into objects. That’s right, the people in the game are the weapons. They can transform or “Unite” as the game likes to call it, into many objects like a hang glider, a whip, a sword and so much more, hell even a gun (the people are the bullets). There are more that you unlock with time but that’s all I’ll say for now. How you “Unite” is by drawing certain shapes on the gamepad or by using the right-stick to draw out the shape on screen, both methods are awful at first and become somewhat OK once you understand the concept.
In order to “Unite” you need a certain number of characters (100) and have enough energy in your unite bar. This can be collected by exploration or earned in battle. It gives you a reason to hold back when you have to and gives this game a nice strategic feel to it. What isn’t a nice strategic feel are the Quick-Time Event moments. At first it’s not that bad but later when you have more complex things to draw you’ll quickly find yourself witnessing the same freaking cutscene because of the many times the game didn’t recognize what you wanted. After all, a circle with a line through it is both a bomb and a hammer.
Wonderful 101 has a very steep learning curve. You’ll navigate by using the gamepad and the TV. You’ll do simple things like a circle (for a fist) or a line (for a sword) but more complicated designs you’ll want to draw out. However drawing becomes a pain as the gamepad has trouble figuring out what you mean in the heat of a battle. One time I desperately needed a hammer (a circle with a line through it) and no matter how much I tried it wouldn’t show up. This can get frustrating beyond belief as it’s not really your fault more of the game understanding what you meant. And of course you’ll die. You can also dodge and put up a shield (which can later be upgraded in the in-game store) which adds a nice change of pace and gives the game an almost fighter-feel to it. There are moments however where the shield will work and other times it won’t. Why? Hell if I know, I just know it’s really irritating to get hit even though you had a shield up.
There are clever uses of the two screens. Sometime the characters will show up at the bottom screen without you realizing or a puzzle that requires both screens will appear without you noticing, so you’ll find yourself looking at the TV with a bunch of numbers only to realize the characters are at the bottom screen idle. But it is a cool idea regardless of you noticing or not.
Thankfully the game is very colorful and great to watch. Although the graphics are sharp they’re kiddy and fit the world very well. Even those darker areas have life in them. There is a lot of loading to sit through however. Before a level I understand the long loading times (and you can kick ass Bayonetta style during the loading screen) but during a level is inexcusable, it stops the motion of the game and really breaks the pace. There are moments when you travel from one area to another only to sit for a while for it to load, it’s not that long of a load mind you but it is an inconvenience.
The characters are all unique and the animations are splendid. The best looking things are the bosses and Wonderful 101 is full of them. They are big, menacing and a pain in the ass which is great. The only real complain is that the camera is awful. Because it’s an isometric view (think Super Mario RPG) there will be times where you’ll get lost. Especially because there are so many characters on the screen (100, duh) you’ll easily lose your character (the one you’re specifically controlling) amidst the chaos. Many moments have I thought I was making a jump across a platform when in reality I was nowhere close. This is most likely the reason why you’ll die a lot, mostly any stage that requires platform-jumping.
Thankfully the game doesn’t really punish you, sure you’ll have a terrible ranking (most of mine was the consultation prize) but you can always go back and try again. When you die you just hit that continue button and off you go, picking up exactly where you left. This is especially important because those boss battles can be very brutal and nothing would have made the game more irritating than dying on a boss to fight it again on full health. The only downside is again, the ranking, it will be awful and make you feel bad but this gives you a reason to go back with the new characters and weapons you acquire and try and try again.
The gamepad is used very well which is great to see. The game switches from TV to gamepad all the time and drawing on the gamepad — although irritating, is a nice attempt. You can also play the whole game on the gamepad using a picture-in-picture method so you can see what would normally be shared on both screens on one. Hopefully future games will use this as it is very clever. Wonderful 101 does try to change the pace a bit with some moments, it acts as a shooter having you shoot at an enemy while in a ship, thankfully they didn’t use the gyroscope controls and you play like a normal person.
At first I was ready to chuck Wonderful 101 out the window as I had no idea what to do and what to expect, however with time the game and the controls grew on me and I actually wanted to know what was going on. It’s only when the game fails to respond did it make my eye twitch…
The Wonderful 101 is such a fun game, it does have a very steep learning curve but once you get it, you get it. There are of course very frustrating moments when the game doesn’t acknowledge what you put in, but it’s not so bad that it breaks the game. It’s just annoying. The character and environments are beautiful and there’s a lot to explore and secrets to uncover. Its uses the Wii U in new and creative ways mixing the game pad and forcing you to use both screens. It really is one of the most unique games I’ve ever played and that’s something we need more of.
We received a review copy for Wonderful 101. All opinions are honest and of the minds of the Paranerds.com staff.