There’s an issue with many of today’s games holding the player’s hand too much, eliminating all sense of discovery; The Wonderful 101 is not one of these games, and I admire it for that. There is plenty to be found on your own, between all the collectibles, secret stages, and extra characters to be rescued. It is both punishing and forgiving at the same time, and I was really having fun for a while, but much of the fun faded as I progressed further.
Clearly an homage to after-school superhero TV shows of my childhood, The Wonderful 101 is presented in a really fun way. The art style is a lot like Viewtiful Joe, with that ugly film grain effect replaced by a shiny, bright, and colorful finish. Story is told through fully voice-acted in game “cutscenes,” which are really just portraits of characters barking back and forth at one another. I found myself smiling and laughing at a lot of the dialogue, until the same jokes start piling up. It’s engaging for most of the way through, but these cutscenes pop up quite often, breaking up the action, which gets tiring. The story is fun but overall unimportant. I’ll give you the gist: The Wonderful 100 are a group of superheroes living ordinary lives scattered across Earth, who must band together to eliminate a massive invasion of robotic aliens. This is where YOU come in, you are the final one, making it 101.
You are in control of this mob of up to 100 heroes, or rather the leader of the group, with the rest following around. The comparison to Pikmin comes to mind, but they don’t actually share much in common in terms of actual gameplay. This is a PlatinumGames title, and fans of their previous games will find lots to enjoy in here. Unite Morph attacks are the hook to this game; draw different shapes on the GamePad (or with the right stick, alternatively) and press A to unite your mob into different shapes. Draw a circle to make a fist, a straight line for a sword, and an L shape for a gun. This works surprisingly well. As you can imagine, some shapes start to overlap a bit and will cause the game to misread which weapon you want to use. This didn’t bug me too much; time slows when drawing, so if you mess up, just quickly draw again (or a couple times) and you’re good to go. Throughout the game, you will rescue more heroes with special powers, increasing your arsenal of Unite Morphs. Each Morph can counter certain things, mostly discovered through trial and error, which some may find frustrating.
The game sports an isometric view, aside from a handful of curveball moments, which were some of my favorite parts of the game. Mechanics are occassionaly swapped for other styles, like Punch-Out or almost top-down shooter segments. Most of these are fun, but some go on for far too long, much like the rest of the game. As I said, I was having a lot of fun with this one, and then it starts throwing a hefty portion of padded gameplay at you. Enemies with unnecessarily large health bars or repeating the same larger enemies over and over. Sometimes I just wanted the fights to end. We’re not talking Monster Hunter length battles (okay, sometimes we are), but this is supposed to be a fast paced action game. To make things worse, there simply aren’t enough visual cues to know how you’re supposed to be countering certain enemies, especially when wading through the tons of different attacks acquired along the way.
PlatinumGames continues their tradition of difficult games with The Wonderful 101, but they decided to be a little bit nice by respawning right where you left off. If you die in the middle of a boss fight, which are extremely (and far too) frequent, you will return to the boss with the same amount of health remaining. Dying will only decrease your overall grade for the level, unless you run out of continues, which never happened to me. The grading is brutal, I was able to acquire a bunch of platinum and gold medals, but was also left without any medals at all for some of the really tough sections. This, along with all the purchasable upgrades, secrets, and collectibles does add replayability, but I have little desire to return to this one.
I don’t mean to be so harsh on a game that brings a lot of great ideas to the table. There is fun to be had here, but somewhere towards the midway point, it started to feel like I was slogging through each section to make it to the end. The Wonderful 101 is a step in the right direction for the Wii U and its GamePad capabilities, and I hope developers will continue to innovate in similar ways. Until then, this isn’t a bad game to check out. I just wish I had the urge to play more.
[+Interesting GamePad Mechanics] [+Cool Unite Morph Attacks] [+Unique Art Style] [+Solid Voice Acting] [-Padded Late Game] [-Lacks Enemy Visual Cues] [-Story Can Interrupt Too Much] [-Occasional GamePad Imprecision]