In late July, I moved from one apartment to another, so I'm currently in that middle state between living in a new place and living in a box fort. Like everything else, my gaming equipment got packed away and I've only removed systems as desired or needed. My PC came out first, because I work from home and have a crazy number of Steam games I'm in the middle of. The PlayStation 3 came next; despite beginning this generation more on the Xbox 360 side, the PS3 has been my go-to home console for most multi-platform titles. Then the 360 was unearthed for my Killer is Dead review.
Sitting at the bottom of the box, underneath the PlayStation 2 and the Wii, was the Wii U. I found I didn't really miss its presence. Sure there was the occasional game to play on it, some very good, but nothing to make me say, "damn, I wish the Wii U was here." So when Wonderful 101 came to me, I had to go deep into that box and pull out the Wii U, remember my user password, update the system, and finally start the game. Is Wonderful 101 worth it?
Yes, but sadly the big thing holding it back is the Wii U.
First up, let me just say that Wonderful 101 is a beautiful game, popping with style and vibrancy. As a Super Sentai fan, I totally appreciate the Sentai riffs played with and taken to the next level in this game, very much in the style of Kamiya's Viewtiful Joe. In fact, I would've called this Viewtiful 101 if Capcom wasn't sure to sue. Over the course of the game's Operations, you'll meet the seven primary Wonderful 100 (you're the extra one!) team members: each member sports a different, crazy personality and their own Unite Morph, which are the game's different powers.
Beyond these characters, Platinum obviously had a ton of fun filling out the rest of the roster with heroes like Wonder-Professor, Wonder-Cinderella, Wonder-Gamer, Wonder-Matador, and Wonder-Beer. Every character has a small bio and corresponds to one of the main team members, so you can choose them as the default operator of each of the Unite Morphs. My default users for the basic Unite Fist power were Wonder-Radio and Wonder-Clockwork, depending on how the mood struck me. It's a mostly-useless little feature that I enjoyed and you'll probably end up finding your own favorites.
At first glance, you could be convinced that Wonderful 101 is a Pikmin-style game. In practice though, it's really not that far away from Platinum's bread-and-butter. Once you get the drawing mechanic used to activate your powers out of the way, you're left with an action game in the style of Bayonetta. You use the Unite Morphs in combination to tackle ten Operations in total and the various enemies within each Operation. Some enemies require certain Unite Morphs to defeat, but the game won't always spell it out for you. Be prepared for some trial-and-error.
Wonderful 101 will also throws a number of different control types at you during your playtime. I lost precious time and health wandering around a maze full of gas and enemies because I didn't realize that I was supposed to be looking at the GamePad to control my heroes. Or there's the time when the GamePad was showing me the interior of a ship - with four large buttons to control direction and weapons - that I had to steer to avoid obstacles on my television. These weird controls serve to break up the game's Operations, which primarily tend towards combat, so I considered them a welcome diversion.
The Operations are surprisingly long; I was shocked when I went into the game expecting a light-hearted romp and ran into my first 20 minute boss fight. The Operations are split into three parts (A, B, C) and I normally found myself spending around 20 minutes on average in each part. The boss fights in particular show that Platinum Games is still the goddamn best at presenting over-the-top action. The set pieces in this game are big, varied, and great-looking. It is without a doubt the best a Wii U game has looked so far.
Unfortunately, as I said before, the "Wii U" part is where the game begins to break down. Wonderful 101 is an action game like Bayonetta and Devil May Cry, but unlike those titles, activating your different abilities isn't just a simple press of a button. Each Unite Morph has a different pattern that you have to draw with the right analog stick or the touchscreen on Wii U GamePad. Early on, when I was dealing with just a circle (Unite Fist) or a straight line (Unite Sword), this was fine. But later, I had issues activating abilities at crucial moments, because the game can't read your intentions. I may have wanted to draw Unite Gun, but all the game saw was Unite Whip. Most of the time, you're fine and it works. When it didn't work, I got frustrated as hell.
The reason for that frustration is that Wonderful 101 is just as unforgiving as those games I mentioned earlier. Imagine having to draw a pattern to switch from Rebellion to Ebony & Ivory in Devil May Cry. Action games of this type don't rely on working "most of the time"; precision is the name of the game. I found myself enjoying Wonderful 101, but wishing it was on any other console than the Wii U.
I also found it perplexing that the game doesn't completely explain certain things to the user. Yes, it's a Platinum game and that isn't something they do, but your block and dodge moves are actually purchased from the in-game store. And they're not called Unite Block and Unite Dodge, so if you didn't read up on each move, you could miss them. I imagine those who don't pick up those two moves are in for a rough road ahead as they're integral to the game from the start of Operation 001. I just wonder why they're not just given to the player automatically.
The last tiny bit that trips up the Wonderful 101 is platforming. The game only has platforming sections occasionally, but the camera is stuck in an isometric view and the Wonder hero or heroine you're controlling is only one body in a mass of heroes. Frequently, I'd misjudge a jump, or I'd land on a platform with half of my team, but not with the specific leader I was using, leading to our demise. Annoying, yes, but not an insurmountable problem.
If it sounds like I'm being down on Wonderful 101, I'm not. It's still a great game despite the issues listed. Platinum is still aiming for that hardcore action game niche they've been mining for a long time; if you're a part of that group and own a Wii U, Platinum is still here for you. I just would've preferred the game on another platform or without the drawing mechanic. In their quest to support the Wii U, they've bolted on a gameplay system that's not my jam and that's a shame, but it's not a show-stopper.
If you can roll with the Unite Morph drawings - and trust me, some players out there are masters at it - then you should have no issues. And don't worry about getting your money's worth if this game is your style: even outside of the main game, there's still a ton of secret missions, challenge missions, and things to collect. The main story is 14-20 hours, and the rest will keep you occupied long after. Which is good, because if Japanese sales are any indication, we may not get a sequel.
It's not a system seller and I don't see a ton of people picking up a Wii U for this game, but Platinum still has what it takes. I'm looking forward to seeing what they do with Bayonetta 2.
I’ve already previewed this game twice – once at E3, where it surprised the crap out of me (in a really good way), and then a few weeks ago when I was invited to Nintendo’s office for an extended play session. Both times I walked away dying to play more. Wonderful 101 is an insane, barely-controlled explosion whose relentless, kinetic action never gives you time to draw breath. Even between levels, its crazy momentum never lets up thanks to over-the-top characters yelling ridiculous dialog, before you’re launched into its next action-packed level. Subtle it’s not. Fun, though, it most certainly is.
What I really enjoy about the game is that it’s a lot deeper than it initially seems. Firstly, it just seems a bit blunt force: mash away and your horde of little dudes creates a trail of destruction, destroying all and sundry. However, the action soon becomes more demanding. If you don’t use combos at the right time, or time moves well, you and your small army quickly run into trouble. This is where you have to draw upon your quick-drawing skills to succeed – something that does seem to be a little hit-and-miss for some. I never really had a problem with it, however, especially when I realized you can use the joypad to do the “drawing”, so I approached the game like I play Street Fighter, and simply used the joypad to pull off combos. And thanks to that, I never really ever felt like I was fighting the controls – my full focus was on fighting the enemy.
I absolutely love this game. It does sometimes feel relentless, and it’s definitely not the sort of game that you sit down and relax with. Far from it: Wonderful 101 requires energy and dedication. But if you can invest both of those, you’ll be rewarded with one of the most bonkers gaming experiences out there – one that for me is an absolute must for Wii U players.
The Nitty Gritty
- Visuals: The Wonderful 101 is the best-looking Wii U I've played and Platinum does some amazing things during boss fights. Prepare to be awed.
- Music: The music feels rather heroic and upbeat, but I can't say I could hum you a tune if I wasn't playing.
- Interface: Even if your Unite Morph drawings skills aren't the best, the game always lets you know when you've gotten it right (or wrong).
- Lasting Appeal: There's a solid main campaign for the game, plus there's more missions, more achievements, more heroes, and more collectibles waiting out there for you.