The Wonderful 101 was one of the flagship titles for the Wii U. It was also one of the few announced for the system early on that I was genuinely excited about. Hideki Kamiya and his team at Platinum are known for unique titles with exceptional controls and combat; this is certainly no different. Wonderful 101 is a unique experience that never seems to find its groove. It felt like a rollercoaster every five minutes where I was proclaiming it was genius one minute and infinitely frustrating the next.
The story here is completely and utterly bonkers. Taking nods from quirky Japanese TV shows, players take on the role(s) of the Wonderful 101 which consist of super heroes all designated by a color. Wonder Red, Wonder Blue and of course Wonder Pink all have unique traits that rarely come to the forefront. The opening sequence is long and drawn out, and accompanied by some of the best music anyone could ask for. It reeks of bubbly action shows that never take themselves seriously, and it is entertaining to no end.
The experience is broken down into three main segments. Combat plays the front runner, while some situational puzzles involving the powers of the Wonderful 101 sprout up sporadically. The final piece is the boss battles, and they are indeed reminiscent of classic video games. Taking upwards of 30-40 minutes to complete, these encounters really stand out as the highlight of the game. These monstrosities can take up the entire screen at times, which quickly showcases one of Wonderful 101’s most glaring issues.
Controlling one character in a Platinum game can provide a challenge. Controlling up to 100 is near insanity. The default camera has to pan out so far just to contain the action onscreen, that I often lost sight of what I was doing, or where my straggling characters were. When I take a hit, I lose some of my collective. I can pick them up by simply running over them, but that is often harder than it needs to be. There are options to zoom in, but alas the action is so sprawling that doing so only makes it worse. I was taking hits from off-screen enemies constantly, and there is certainly no good balance between the views.
Combat is performed with two main attack buttons: one for the weapon and one for the collective. The Wii U gamepad comes into play with the Wonderful 101’s powers. Drawing shapes on the screen creates tools that can be used such as a drill or a sword. Again, a really cool idea hampered by the design. Drawing on the gamepad is frustrating, and until I mastered the perspective using the right analog stick wasn’t much better. I often found myself drawing the wrong item, or simply nothing at all because I would take a hit before I could do it. It is frustrating to say the least.
Still, when it works, it really showcases how deep the combat is. Once I mastered the sword (which can be double with my remaining followers for two attacks) I came to appreciate the design. Then ten minutes later I am fighting with it again. Like I said, a complete rollercoaster of emotions.
I kept trying to love it. I wanted to love it, but it just kept abusing me when I needed compassion the most. I mentioned the deep combat, well that is if I could manage to learn it on my own. Again in another missed opportunity things are not explained well within the context of the game. Earning money is easy, but learning the upgrade system takes time and experimentation. I would have also liked to see how the combo system worked. It is all hidden within the menus of the game, a dark area where some are likely to never discover it. I don’t need hand-holding, but don’t hide your best features from users attempting to derive joy from a product.
In what seems to be the trend, once abilities like dodge and counter are unlocked, and I got a grip of the systems, it became amazing once again. Everything opens up, and the real beauty of the game shines. It is just sad to see so much of it locked away behind archaic design.
This is a hefty game. Clocking in at just under 15 hours, the 24 missions in the game are more than enough to keep players busy. The boss battles as I mentioned are fantastic, and it seems to mix things up just when combat starts to become stale. The pacing is excellent. Just when I have mashed enough buttons to drive me insane, I am flying across the sky, using the gamepad as a cockpit view. Simply fantastic. Wonderful 101 is impossible to hate, but also fights too hard to keep me from loving it.
One area I loved is the visuals. This game looks great. Likely because of the immense color selection or the quirky character designs. Sure the dialogue is borderline terrible, but I can attribute that to Platinum attempting to mimic the goofy shows it obviously takes inspiration from. The only issue I have with the presentation is the camera. There is simply too much going on to keep track of, and zooming in causes more problems than it’s worth. Everything else is stellar, including the music. I love the design of the bosses, and everything jumps off the screen.
The Wonderful 101 is my newest love/hate game. It does so much new and, well wonderful that I could never stay mad at it. Sadly it wasn’t the system-seller I had hoped it would be when it was announced. Starved Wii U owners should definitely check it out, as this is the type of exclusive people will be talking about in the years to come. It is unique, frustrating and impossible to hate, and rarely does a game convey that large of an array of emotions. It’s truly worth playing.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.