I must admit that I had my reservations about The Wonderful 101 at first. It’s easy to see why this game could be seen as a quickly-made title in order to fulfil an agreement with Nintendo, for them to then help out with production costs of Bayonetta 2, but I now don’t believe that at all.
Platinum Games have made the game that they want, for a platform that they love, pushing the system far beyond what we’ve seen on the PS3 and Xbox 360, in turn giving Nintendo what they need – a solid exclusive, with the possibility of a sustainable franchise as well as the potential to sell, that isn’t yet another Mario related title.
The game features 100 heroes – you’re number 101 – which you can control all of at the same time. That might sound complicated, but it’s like Pikmin in that they will all follow the leader, and you’ll see them from an isometric viewpoint. These heroes are able to unite and transform into giant hands, sword or guns in order to tackle the enemy forces – it’s this that allows for colossal enemies, which the one-double-O can team up in order to fight.
Not that these unite morphs are used exclusively for fighting – chains, gliders, rockets and even balls can be created, allowing the characters to get around the environment with ease.
It’s wonderfully simple how these unite morphs work, either by drawing on the GamePad’s screen or by using the right stick – a circle for a hand, a line for a sword, an L shape for a gun, at least at first. Later, however, hammers, whips and claws complicate things, often making it hard to draw these shapes in the spur of the moment, despite the slowed down time.
So, where it might feel quite Pikmin-esque when all the characters are split up, once you join together it feels much more like an action game akin to Bayonetta or Metal Gear Rising, with combat that flows surprisingly well considering you’re controlling dozens of characters – up to a hundred – at once.
Essentially, 101 is comprised of tons of boss battles; even the smaller enemies are hulking robots. After fighting through the linear streets of a level – which soon becomes repetitive in itself – you’ll face a gargantuan enemy, another accomplice of the villainous Geathjerk. These fights are absolutely incredible and while a parts of them feel as though they’re simply drawing quick time events, there is a lot of variety here and some truly epic moments that always escalate things a la Asura’s Wrath.
While at times you’ll be able to size-up against the enemies, the moments that you can’t are some of the best that the game has to offer.
The presentation is great, although the screen can feel somewhat hectic at times, with constant interruptions as you gain a new medal or progress to the next cutscene, which makes the gameplay feel quite disjointed at first. Once you’ve settle in however, and you realise the game is mimicking tropes found in tokusatsu – Japanese live-action film, filled with special effects and transformations, often seen in Power Rangers – it becomes something else entirely. That’s not a bad comparison actually; each of the heroes has a colour, with Wonder Red and Wonder Blue leading the troupe.
A stunning tilt-shifted effect is at the forefront of the game’s beautiful visual style, which absolutely nails the tone of the game perfectly. The use of colour is also paramount, with various levels and themes reflecting the current mood. It’s really well matched to the style, and backed up by the glee and sense of humour that permeates this title.
What’s really impressive is how solidly it all runs with hundreds of characters on the screen at the same time, sometimes all fighting and moving at once; the colours remain stunning, the frame rate doesn’t drop and there are very few visual glitches throughout; it’s clear to see that the Wii U is the most powerful system at the moment, handling something like this much better than even the PS3 ever could.
Much like the gameplay, the story only begins to show its brilliance in the latter half of the game after a very slow start. There’s some brilliant character development among all of the action, but only for a few of The Wonderful 100, with Red and Blue’s stories explored but a lot of other characters just filling up the hero count.
There’s plenty to do and collect throughout The Wonderful 101, and the five player multiplayer mode only adds to the longevity of the title; it’s a really robust game which will give you a lot of content for the asking price.
The soundtrack is fantastic, as per usual for Platinum’s titles, with the marvellously orchestrated sounds only serving to make the fight sequences feel even more astounding than they already are.
As for GamePad functionality, there’s some great stuff including the ability to draw morph shapes, as well as have quick access to all of your items and heroes, but this is also met with some irksome indoor sections, which you’ll have to use the GamePad’s screen for; the camera angles are hardly wonderful, with lack of direction serving to make a couple of these sections quite annoying.
The Wonderful 101 doesn’t have a lot of other problems – repetitive gameplay and a few glitches and bugs are the main issues, with a lack of direction at points also serving to annoy.
The Wonderful 101 is a really great title that is quite unique in its direction. While the first half of the game really struggles, it picks up the pace (and scale) as it continues, with the brilliant characters – as if they’re action figures but don’t quite know that – paving a path of destruction in their defence against the Geathjerk.
It’s a great start for what could hopefully become Nintendo’s next big IP. Let’s hope, as with Mario and Zelda before it, we’ll see The Wonderful 101 return on each of Nintendo’s platforms for at least the next twenty years.