A confession: I'm a bit of a weirdo who likes to squat on the sidewalk and watch ants do ant things. I get a certain satisfaction out of watching tiny lifeforms pool their strength to accomplish huge tasks. That goes double for when I'm fortunate enough to watch a platoon of ants swarm some unfortunate insect that's subsequently dismantled under their relentless mandibles. Size matters not: Even the ferocious praying mantis is no match for a nest of ants working as one vicious body. It's so cool.
Unsurprisingly, I paid attention when PlatinumGames launched its (ultimately successful) Kickstarter to remaster The Wonderful 101. The Wonderful 101 is a unique 2013 action game that lets players fight back against an alien invasion by way of ordering 100 little fighters to form weapons, swarm enemies, and perform other combative actions that please my inner ant-watcher. The original Wonderful 101 release suffered from terminal Wii U syndrome, i.e. it came out on the Wii U, nobody bought it, and it sank into obscurity.
It's nice to see the game receive the Switch cure like its also-ignored Wii U mate, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE. It's even nicer to see The Wonderful 101: Remastered make its way to PlayStation 4 and Steam. It's a PlatinumGames title through and through, meaning it's bursting with imagination, humor, satisfying fights, and cheer-out-loud moments. Wonderful 101 is a rare instance of a game that gives off the impression its development team loved every second it spent on the project, no matter how grueling the process became.
But every superhero has a shadowed past, and so it goes with Wonderful 101: Remastered. Though it shines with the light of 100 suns in its best moments, there are undeniably times it leaves players writhing in the dirt like a disgraced hero. Wonderful 101: Remastered has several problems that detract from an otherwise joyful experience, the biggest one being the current-gen adaptation of its line-drawing gimmick.
In the original game, players used the Wii U gamepad to draw the shapes of the weapons that the heroes could transform into. Current consoles lack the Wii U’s second screen, meaning players have to trace the vital shapes using their right analogue stick, or the Switch’s touch screen, or even the PlayStation 4 controller's touchpad. These are clumsy replacements; even the Switch’s touch screen doesn’t have the sensitivity that’s necessary to let players trace accurate shapes in heated moments. Consequently, quicktime events tend to end messily because it’s difficult to make the proper shapes in the span of the few seconds given to the player.
I primarily used the Switch’s right analogue stock to trace shapes in Wonderful 101, and thankfully the game doesn’t demand DaVinci levels of perfection for the player's work. The mechanic doesn’t give too much grief when the heroes are doing what they do best: crawling along the streets of the world’s stricken cities, recruiting citizens as part of a deadly swarm, and piling on enemies.
These zoomed-out isometric stages aren’t without their own problems, however. The fixed camera isn’t ideal for finding hidden objects and power-ups, and the titular Wonderful 101 can be hard to keep track of when they’re the same size as the enemy drones on the field. The main screen is also crowded with a radar that tracks the location of the player's minions, in addition to other bits of information. These windows can be hidden, but they're a good example of how The Wonderful 101 was built with two screens in mind.
I generally enjoy these fights on these battlefields, awkward as they are. Everyone on-screen exudes so much goofy personality, it’s hard not to get sucked in. To begin with, the Wonderful Ones are headed by a handful of sentai heroes who look like the product of a night of illicit love between the Power Rangers and the Thunderbird puppets. They quip (and snipe) endlessly at each other, with the hot-tempered Wonder-Blue being an especially humorous standout thanks to voice acting provided by Sonic the Hedgehog himself, Roger Craig Smith.
Each Wonderful One—addressed by their relevant code names, such as "Wonder-Red" and "Wonder-Blue"—can order their followers to take the shape of a massive weapon. Wonder-Red commands his team to form a giant hand that pummels enemies. Wonder-Blue's team makes a sword. Wonder-Green makes a gun, Wonder-Pink makes a whip, and so on down the rainbow. It's also possible to purchase skills that let the swarm morph into unaffiliated offensive and defense forms. My favorite example is the "Unite Guts" skill, which lets the team turn into a wriggling flan that bounces attacks back at the aggressor. Given time and money, the flan can be upgraded to unsheathe spikes that deal damage. Don't mess with dessert, evildoers.
These are unique and engaging mechanics at first, but the shine wears off soon enough thanks to the aforementioned shape-tracing gimmick. It's not a problem when the arsenal is just the glove (draw a circle) and the sword (draw a straight line). But things get hairy when more Wonderful Ones join up. Again, Wonderful 101: Remastered hardly demands perfection from the player's line-drawings, but there are still too many moments when the game registers the drawing for Wonder-White's claws (a lightning bolt) as Wonder-Pink's whip (a wavy line). I'm sure when I die and go to hell for my sins, my punishment will involve being forced to get Wonder-Hammer's hammer glyph (a line with a circle on top) to work perfectly on demand.
These line-drawing mix-ups aren't a big deal when the team has its feet on the ground; the action pauses when the player's finger hits the screen, or whenever they touch the right-hand analogue stick. The real trouble comes during The Wonderful 101: Remastered's myriad quicktime events. In true sentai style, The Wonderful 101 is full of over-the-top moments that involve running along the limbs of giant robots, breaking up flying debris before it causes serious damage, and so on. It's fun to watch these cheesy action-packed moments, but it's less fun when the player is instructed to draw a weapon in the space of a few seconds. Unsurprisingly, it's an easy task to fumble. Drawing a circle for Wonder-Red's fist is simple. A straight line for Wonder-Blue's sword is easy as pie. Beyond those asks, things get sketchy, so to speak.
Failing quicktime events usually results in losing some health. This can be a problem, as healing items are expensive and don't pop up in the field too frequently. There are also instances where the player dies outright if they fail, forcing them to use a continue and potentially damage their final score for the level. A lower score at the end of each action segment means less money, which means fewer power-ups.
Some players might also run into performance issues with The Wonderful 101: Remastered. I noticed some lag and slowdown on the Switch, both in docked mode and handheld mode. It didn't trip me up much (certainly not as much as the Wonder-Hammer, curse its name for eternity), but it's still noteworthy. Digital Foundry has a breakdown of Wonderful 101: Remastered's "disappointing" technical issues on the Switch and the PlayStation 4.
I can't offer easy solutions to PlatinumGames' Wonderful 101: Remastered problems, alas. It'd be nice if PlatinumGames tore the game down and built it back up, but that's obviously a very resource-intensive task. PlatinumGames launched its Kickstarter to port Wonderful 101 onto modern systems, and here it is, wonderful warts and all.
For all my grousing, I don't hate the game. Far from it. Wonderful 101: Remastered still showed me a great time full of laughs, over-the-top anime drama, and hokey one-liners. There's also a metric ton of stuff to collect, as well as the chance to get a "Double Platinum" rank on each level's action segments. The Wonderful 101: Remastered has a lot to offer fans who are patient enough to really get the hang of drawing with an analog stick.
Ultimately, a person's enjoyment of The Wonderful 101: Remastered comes down to patience. It's a lovable, highly-flawed game that might not be an instant recommendation like other Wii U rescues, but there's no question it has value. There's a smart-mouthed French kid who forms a huge green gun he lovingly refers to as "Christine Daaé." What more is there to video games?
The Wonderful 101: Remastered is the latest Wii U exclusive to be whisked from near-obscurity to land on modern platforms. It's a worthy rescue: Like the original game, The Wonderful 101: Remastered is funny, action-packed, and loaded with unique PlatinumGames charm. That uniqueness is simultaneously its best and worst asset: The trademark line-drawing technique that lets the Wonderful Ones turn their followers into weapons is awkward to pull off without the Wii U's gamepad. There's a lot to love about Wonderful 101: Remastered, but there's a lot to get frustrated over, too.