The Wonderful 101 for Wii U
I really only bought this game as an excuse to turn on my beloved Wii U, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that this game gelled with me significantly more than I had expected. I had written it off as an inferior Pikmin, and it can look like it in gameplay videos, but in reality it actually plays more closely to Platinum Games’ own Bayonetta, which is most certainly not a bad thing.
The Wonderful 101 takes place in an Earth which has fought off several alien invasions by a civilisation known as the GEATHJERK. In response to these invasions, several defences have been enacted, such as the planet surrounding force field known as…er, Margarita. The most exciting defence are CENTINAL suits, masks which turn their wearers into superheroes. There are 100 members of the force known as The Wonderful Ones, flamboyant costumed superheroes who defend the Earth from GEATHJERK and their forces. The main protagonist is a teacher known as Will Wedgewood aka Wonder-Red, who heads up the team after GEATHJERK launch a third full scale invasion.
I didn’t expect to care a whit about the story, but it actually all hangs together quite well. I have a bit of a soft spot for Japanese games with ridiculous plots like these, with Wonderful 101 reminding me favourably of Japanese action games such as Bayonetta and Asura’s Wrath. It’s silly and funny, but manages to pack in some genuinely cool twists and decent character development along the way, alongside all the goofiness.
I’ve never played a game like The Wonderful 101 before. I suppose the best comparison is Pikmin crossed with Bayonetta. The player controls all 100 heroes at once, although you often have less and gather more throughout the level. Using the Wii U touch pad, the player draws different shapes to activate ‘Unite Morphs’, which turn the team into different weapons, such as a fist, a sword, a gun or a whip, as well as others. The player uses these abilities to fight their way through a series of levels, which are then split up into a dozen or so checkpoints. This is a game which can be incredibly frantic and chaotic, and at first it’s utterly overwhelming. After a couple of hours though, everything clicks and it all begins to just work. This is a game which plays so differently to any other that you can’t just relax into your tired patterns. The frantic pace probably has most in common with a Japanese brawler, something like Devil May Cry, but it genuinely isn’t quite like anything else out there.
The Wonderful 101 is not a short game, and there’s plenty to keep you going. Probably the best thing about this game is the sheer amount of variety. As you go, you’ll experience a whole bunch of different mechanics. Not all of them work; levels which require you to navigate on the Gamepad screen using the gyroscope to manipulate the camera are absolutely terrible, but if you don’t enjoy a particular mechanic you can be happy that it won’t last for long. This is a surprising game, always bringing out some new mechanic or concept to keep you on your toes. The boss battles are fantastic¸ with that glorious sense of scale that you only really get from Japan. The Wonderful 101 is never a game which holds back, unleashing everything at 100% craziness the entire time.
This is a decent looking game, but it won’t win any beauty contests. Where it does succeed is in conveying a sense of scale, but by and large the art style is functional rather than exciting in of itself. The voice acting is fantastic; okay, ridiculous, goofy and over the top, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The jock ‘bro’ voice for Wonder-Blue and the ridiculous French accent for ‘Wonder –Green’ are a couple of my favourites. The music is nice and exciting too, with the ‘theme song’ for the team in particular bringing a great ‘Saturday morning cartoon’ vibe to affairs.
It’s far from perfect, and is frequently irritating and frustrating, but I’ll forgive a lot in a game this unique and memorable. It’s not a masterpiece, but something which really shouldn’t be missed by any Wii U owner. It’s got a hell of a learning curve, but persevere and you’ll find something special here.