The Wonderful 101 Review
Go, Go – Power Rangers. Oh wait wrong super hero group. Diplomacy has failed! Team Unite – Roger!
The Wonderful 101 is perhaps, the most enjoyable flawed experience in recent memory. An undeniable exuberant charm, high octane action, epic set pieces, superb challenge and a deep combat system– the Wonderful 101 will appeal to the avid gamer sensibilities not to mention the inner child within.
Yes! The Wonderful 101 is wonderful, but that is not to say it is without its faults. While you battle massive hoards of Geathjerks, you will have to contend with a frustrating camera and an unwieldy touchscreen controls that ultimately amasses to an enjoyable yet frustrating experience.
Once again the Geathjerk has attempted a second invasion of planet Dearth (Earth). Dearth’s planetary systems have been successful in preventing a full scale invasion, but it won’t hold for long – that is without the assistant of super heroes. Earth and its citizen will need to turn to the Wonderful One double “Oh” – an elite group of specially trained agents trained to protect earth especially against the likes of Jerks.
Instantly, you can draw many parallels from Power Ranger or Super Sentai in the sense that a group of Super Heroes (in colour assosciated costumes) battle against an invading Alien army. However, there is a tonal difference. Unlike, the overly stuck up Power Rangers – Wonderful 101 doesn’t take itself overly serious – it is silly and playful anchored by a well written script full of Kamiya’s wit, superb soundtrack and sublime voice acting. For the most part, the story in The Wonderful 101 is light mannered, that is not to say it does not have many moments of drama, on the contrary the game has a slight change of tone deeper into the game. Moments of drama are not simply juxtaposed for comedic effect – it is purposeful adding value to what is a well-crafted story.
From the get go – it becomes quite apparent that Wonderful 101 is a Platinum style action game. Platinum hallmarks such as the trademark introductory cutscene for new enemies, stage subsections, score based rewards and an attention to detail combat system are all present in the Wonderful 101. For those familiar with Kamiya’s work, the inspirations for The Wonderful 101 is uncanny, there is a touch of Okami here, a little of Viewtiful Joe over there and a smidge of Bayonetta to boot. Not a bad combination of games to draw inspiration if you ask me.
Personally, what impressed me the most about The Wonderful 101, is how wonderfully paced the game is. The Wonderful 101 moves at a brisk pace…. Nah scrap that – brisk is a gross understatement, The Wonderful 101 moves a million miles an hour – a constant whirlwind of excitement. The game is relentless and unrelenting. If you are not prepared to move at the same pace – the game will leave you behind mercilessly. It throws challenge after challenge, set piece after set piece – there is never a time to be complacent.
The frantic pace wasn’t enough, The Wonderful 101 goes big or goes broke. The scale that Platinum game is able to achieve with The Wonderful 101 is an impressive fete. The set pieces are so over the top it verges on the ridiculous – in that one cannot resist but appreciate the spectacle that presents itself. I’d rather not spoil the details – it is best to see it for yourself.
Platinum is able to achieve such pace by structuring the game. The Wonderful 101 story mode is broken up into 9 missions with each mission comprising of 3 stages. For the most part, your army of Wonderful One Double “OH” will follow a singular path fighting waves of Gearthjerk until you reach the end of the stage. Platinum does provide some welcome variety with a number of shooter segments and some light puzzle solving. But honestly, the main driving force to play through to the end of the mission is to fight the colossal boss waiting at the end of the mission to crack your guts. Normally, being predictably structured is a big NO NO– but in The Wonderful 101 it works superbly in favour of the game as such that there is hardly a dull moment found in the game.
What ties The Wonderful 101 together is the combo system. Conceptually, the premise of the combat in the Wonderful 101 is unique and original, and it should be applauded. By drawing specific shapes with either the touchscreen or the right thumbstick, you can summon special abilities called the unite morph’s. The more heroes you have the bigger and more powerful the Unite Morphs become, so it is essential to recruit as many citizens and heroes. Admittedly, not all Wonderful One’s have their own unique unite morph as they are only limited to the leads of the Wonderful heroes. Red’s Unite Hand can be summoned by drawing a circle, Unite sword can be achieved by drawing a straight and so forth. The unite morphs are not as difficult to perform as some critics have alluded to. However, it does require a bit of practice to perform the more difficult Unite Morph at will such as Unite Hammer and Unite Bomb.
The flaws of the touchscreen input become apparent in high demanding set pieces. Moving your finger from the right to draw a unite morph on the touchscreen then return to the buttons to perform a combo feels unnatural not to mention cumbersome. The awkward feeling becomes apparent when you want to string multiple Unite Morphs. For a fast paced game such as The Wonderful 101, I felt the touchscreen input failed to keep up with the action. Don’t get the wrong impression, I admire the concept. For a slower paced game, it would have fit perfectly, but in The Wonderful 101 more was needed in the execution of the concept. Luckily, Platinum provided the right stick as an input method, of which I found much more accommodating (i.e easier to use) in battles.
Touchscreen woes aside, combat in The Wonderful 101 is an absolute blast. The combo system has many nuances that will appeal to the avid gamer – The Wonderful 101 isn’t a one button press affair like so many pedestrian action game – it is deep and rewarding with many layers to the system. Platinum’s experience in the genre really shows in The Wonderful 101 – in fact I would go far to claim it is the best action game since the original Bayonetta.
The strategy lies in selecting the appropriate Unite Morph for the situation at hand. For example, Unite Sword would be the weapon of choice against a large crowd of Gerthjerks, Unite Hand would be the best against singular large foes and Unite Hammer is optimal for heavy armoured foes. The enemy design compliments the Unite morphs in that certain foes are vulnerable to a certain weapon. Spike covered Jerks have to be handle with Wonder Pinks Unite Whip, Enemy shields need to be shied open with Wonder’s White Wonder claw, and you can reflect laser beams back towards the enemy with unite sword. This is just the tip of the iceberg. I still have not even mentioned combo multipliers for high scores, damage maximization and energy management. Quintessentially, The Wonderful 101 is a top of the line action game and will be appreciated by any fan of the genre
Don’t let the Saturday morning cartoon visual look fool you – THe Wonderful 101 is deceptively challenging. On the Normal difficulty (the same can be said on easy) – I found myself dying on a regular basis. The game is relentless with the challenges it throws at you. In selective mission, enemies seem to come one after another with no sight of the end. Enemies are aggressive, and the damage output is significant – as for challenge is concerned, Platinum ticks all the boxes for The Wonderful 101. Ultimately, when you combine the superb combat system with the high difficulty – the game reaches a level of engagement rarely seen in modern games – an achievement worthy of praise.
Clearly, I have much adoration for Wonderful 101; however the game is not without its faults. Perhaps, the most glaring issue with the Wonderful 101 is the isometric camera. The camera is constantly fixed on a particular position (usually above, think Sim City and Pikmin) and distance. For the large proportion of the game, the camera does accommodate the action well, but all too often the camera will frustrate. Large enemies will block your view of the lead Wonder one, when the arena becomes too crowded it is difficult to track your movement and position (especially during the last fight against the Space pirate of the roaming Rhullo) and sometimes second perspective with the gamepad can be disorientating.
In particularly sections especially when the environment is collapsing – the camera is panned so far out from the Wonderful one’s it becomes extremely difficult to judge depth. Consequently, platforming becomes an annoying affair. I say with utter confidence that in these sections, you will regular mistime a jump or judge incorrectly the landing trajectory of your lead Wonder One. The camera will test your patience and temperament – just be sure to hang onto your gamepad. Another peeve of mine, albeit significant smaller issue, is that some set pieces and selective boss battle can feel drawn out.
The Wonderful 101 is a wonderful package that will last about 13 hours from start to finish. The score focused mission screams out replayability. Earning that covenant Pure Platinum will have many gamers dedicating many more hours into the game. If that is not your cup of tea, I suppose you can try your luck with the co-op able mission modes. It is an insignificant addition that neither adds nor detracts from the overall experience.
Despite the glaring flaws, I thoroughly enjoyed The Wonderful 101, at the end of the day isn’t that what matters? For the greater part platinum’s first Wii U exclusive is an excellent piece of software for the Nintendo Wii U and should be part of any Nintendo fans library. I have high hopes that once again, I may be given the opportunity to put the Wonder Mask on and fight the mighty Jerks. Until then – Team Unite Up!