Wonderful 101 Review

Platinum Game's latest for Nintendo's Wii U falters a bit due to its platform of choice.

Review by Mike Williams, .

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.

The Wonderful 101's bosses don't play around.

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.

Seriously, look at what they put you up against.

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.

Look, man, Red is always the leader. I don't know what to tell you.
Jaz Rignall Secondary Reviewer

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.

The Wonderful 101 is a great game tripped up by a drawing mechanic that may prove imprecise for some users. If Platinum's action games are your thing and you have a Wii U, it's a must-own.

4 /5

Wonderful 101 Review Mike Williams Platinum Game's latest for Nintendo's Wii U falters a bit due to its platform of choice. 2013-09-10T17:58:00-04:00 4 5

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Comments 23

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  • Avatar for Hubertron #1 Hubertron 5 years ago
    How bad are the Japaneses sales of this? Anything drastically different from the numbers Platinum games tend to get?
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #2 MHWilliams 5 years ago
    @Hubertron Just under 6,000 for its launch week. In contrast Vanquish did 60k on PS3/360 combined, and Metal Gear Rising did 308k on PS3 alone.
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  • Avatar for Stealth20k #3 Stealth20k 5 years ago
    The game is good because of wii u
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  • Avatar for Captain-Gonru #4 Captain-Gonru 5 years ago
    Hmm. I feel like this review would have been helped by more than one reviewer.
    I don't know. I was leery when the first three paragraphs were about how little the reviewer wanted to play the game on the Wii U, and how little they thought of the console itself, before we got to a word about the game. Y'know, that thing being reviewed?
    Further, regarding the Unite forms; Since the SIZE of the drawing affected the size of the form, any other hypothetical console version would likely include the right analog drawing mechanic, too. Personally, I found the Gamepad drawing worked better for me, but that's more a preference thing than anything else.
    But, that's why I check other sites, too.
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  • Avatar for Makgameadv #5 Makgameadv 5 years ago
    You can use the Pro Controller too, right? Sounds like that would fix the problems with the drawing commands on the Gamepad by using the right analog stick instead. Still need to play the demo.Edited 3 times. Last edited September 2013 by Makgameadv
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #6 MHWilliams 5 years ago
    @Captain Gonru I'm just one voice out of many and you should find reviewers and opinions you trust. Or at least ones can draw your own conclusions from. It's still a great game, so I hope a ton of people enjoy it!
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #7 MHWilliams 5 years ago
    @lonecow Just for clarification, I camped out on launch day at Sam's club for my Wii U (which happened to be my birthday as well). My Wii U-ness predates my reviewing and part of the reason I reviewed it is I'm one of the few with the system on staff.

    I took no offense at your well-written comment, and I thank you for the feedback and the compliment!
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  • Avatar for hatliss #8 hatliss 5 years ago
    @MHWilliams The ability to change the character you use for the different weapons is an integral part of developing skills. The more you use a spesific characters they will get a higher rating, or more "exp" if you like, and the more skills you will learn for that particular weapon. So it's not a useless feature. Although it is fun to just change characters because of their appereance;)
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  • Avatar for EuroDarlan #9 EuroDarlan 5 years ago
    Color and whimsy is all well and good, but I'm really, REALLY not digging that "big head mode" visual style. It repels me on a fundamental, instinctive level.

    Anyhow, I'm sure I would come away with similar frustrations, though I can't help but feel like most people's (far from just Mike's) main complaint is "you have to learn how to do something new instead of playing it like all of the other action games you've played," that really a fault?

    Personally, I'm not crazy about these Wii U-only releases because they are so far and few between and I don't want to have to buy a three hundred dollar system just for Xenoblade II, the next Zelda, and maybe Bayonetta 2...
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  • Avatar for Hubertron #10 Hubertron 5 years ago
    @MHWilliams Wow, that is not so hot. Thanks! Very enjoyable read.
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #11 Kuni-Nino 5 years ago
    This is going to be another Kid Icarus isn't it? That brilliant game was also dogged for its controls and got detractors port begging all over the place...
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  • Avatar for Thusian #12 Thusian 5 years ago
    @MHWilliams why are you having to debate a 4 out of 5 so hard?
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  • Avatar for The-Fool #13 The-Fool 5 years ago
    Being in Australia, I've had the chance to purchase this for a few weeks now... Haven't quite done it yet.

    I enjoyed the demo and didn't really have any trouble drawing the Unite Morphs.

    I'm just lucky I guess.

    Will get... soon!
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  • Avatar for The-Fool #14 The-Fool 5 years ago
    Deleted September 2013 by The-Fool
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  • Avatar for The-Fool #15 The-Fool 5 years ago
    Being in Australia, I've had the chance to purchase this for a few weeks now... Haven't quite done it yet.

    I enjoyed the demo and didn't really have any trouble drawing the Unite Morphs.

    I'm just lucky I guess.

    Will get... soon!
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #16 MHWilliams 5 years ago
    @Thusian People love the game and want it to succeed. I'm personally glad about that! And if others have no issues later on, that's totally cool, like I said in the review.
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #17 Kuni-Nino 5 years ago
    @MHWilliams Personally, I'm more interested in why you're having issues. From the review, you made it sound as if you never got the hang of the controls while also mentioning that it could just be your own limitations seeing as how others have already showcased their mastery of the controls on youtube.

    I take it to mean that if given enough time, and enough practice, eventually you'll be able to do exactly what you want in W101 with little possibility of user error which is very much like a game of this type (Bayonetta and Ninja Gaiden do this too). If that's the case, is it fair to dock points from the game if the frustration is stemming specifically from the user's inability to acclimate to the game's demands?

    To me, it's as if I were to criticize the game of basketball because I can't dribble like the pros.
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #18 MHWilliams 5 years ago
    @Kuni-Nino As I said in the review, my issues stemmed from the fact that I was never 100% precise with the controls, something I'd be better with on a less combat-heavy action title, but which presents a problem for me.

    I also prefer not to think about it from a "docking points" perspective. Instead, my experiences with W101 simply added up to the score I gave it. A 4/5 is really good and as with other reviews, the score is subjective. Your experiences may lead you down a different path, and I acknowledge that in the review.

    To speak on your metaphor, I don't particularly enjoy basketball, so my review would probably be lower than another family member. Technically, the game may be fine, but my enjoyment of the game is tempered by my experiences and thoughts. For example, Resident Evil 4 and Okami for Wii are my definite versions of those titles; I prefer the Wii Remote control schemes for both titles far more than previous presentations. That's not in isolation from everything else, as control is a strong part of the overall experience.

    I hope that makes some sense for you.
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #19 Kuni-Nino 5 years ago
    @MHWilliams It makes sense. I'm just trying to dig deeper into the reasoning behind the game's faults. Controls and how they are discussed in the media has started to become a point of interest with me ever since 3 of my favorite games of this generation, Skyward Sword, Resident Evil 6, and Kid Icarus caught flak for their controls.

    While I understood where the complaints were coming, I didn't experience those problems and was able to play games with a surprising amount of options layered on top of unique controls. It seemed to me that a lot of those critics missed out on some of the depth that made those games special.

    For the record, I don't have a problem with the score you gave W101; "docking points" was just a figure of speech. I don't think you're up at night playing games with an IGN score card doing math. At least I hope that's not the case. :P
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  • Avatar for Jaz_Rignall #20 Jaz_Rignall 5 years ago
    @Kuni-Nino We write experiential reviews. So your basketball analogy, good through it is, doesn't quite jive with the way that we review games. We review games based our own experiences and feelings - and don't just judge the game on just its own merits. Other sites might do that, but we don't. So if Mike doesn't get on with the controls, that's fine. He explains why, and you can decide for yourself whether you might be like him and also not enjoy the rather awkward drawing method, or might be a little more like me, who ended up completely dumping the drawing mechanism and instead used the joystick (drawing upon years of playing Street Fighter).

    Both of us say the game is great - but what's clear is that it's a game where not everyone might enjoy the controls. That to me is probably the most salient point of the review, and absolutely critical information so that everyone who reads the review can take that into consideration (and indeed judge whether they might enjoy the game or not).

    There's no right and wrong in reviewing games - just different styles, and different opinions. There's also a good reason why we try to do multiple opinions as often as possible - so that we can deliver that broader perspective.Edited September 2013 by Jaz_Rignall
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  • Avatar for Dreamcaster-X #21 Dreamcaster-X 5 years ago
    Best action game I have played in years & reminded me of the SNES days where games had to be mastered & didn't coddle you. This game gives as much as you put into it & that is very very rare these days. It's difficult but not unfair and persistence will reap huge rewards. I'd like to thank Nintendo for not watering down Platinums masterpiece, they let them do their thing.
    For those crying about the Wii U not having enough hardcore action games, this is IT!!
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  • Avatar for Dreamcaster-X #22 Dreamcaster-X 5 years ago
    The one thing that bugs me about this review is it's never really explained how the Wii U is holding it back.
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  • Avatar for dataDave #23 dataDave 5 years ago
    In 25 years of gaming this is one of the best games I've played, and just went on to prove that the majority of the gaming press know absolutely nothing when it comes to dissecting games and informing the public on what's good and what's not.

    After the disappointing and frankly heartbreaking reviews this game received I began to think back to the days when I could really trust gaming critics, back in the days of Mean Machines and C&VG (when I was a nipper). I thought to myself: "I bet those guys would be all over this! They'd be proper jizzing all over it!", and here I am stumbling across US Gamer by absolute chance and finding out that Jazza himself is on here and has been following this game from the start and not only that but also 'got it' completely!

    You should have done the whole review pal. No offence to Mike, but I'd never get my gran in to review a new line of Marshall guitar amplifiers.

    Anyway, this is probably the only site I'll come to now for critical opinions. What a find!
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  • Avatar for sandymaria #24 sandymaria 2 years ago
    I am very interested to play games. I have downloaded the game Wonderful 101. It is very thrilling and interesting game. Very happy to hear the review of this game and the beautiful pictures of this game. Expecting more games like this from you. hotels catalina island
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