Typically when you think of style, you don’t associate it with substance. While this is true for most games, Platinum Games seems to excel at giving their games both style and substance. So when The Wonderful 101 was announced for the Nintendo Wii U, people were naturally excited to see what they would do with the tablet controller. Now that The Wonderful 101 is out, will it meet the same quality seen in Vanquish and Bayonetta or will it be another Anarchy Reigns?
The Wonderful 101 follows a group known as the Wonderful 100 (pronounced wonderful one double o) as they protect the Earth from the Geathjerk invasion. Despite having a fairly simple story, The Wonderful 101 still suffers from pacing issues. The first half of the game tries to make everything seem mysterious. What happened in Vorkken’s past, who is Immorta, why are the Geathjerk attacking and number of other things. Most of these things are explained shortly after the mid point, though you don’t actually find out why they’re attacking till the final boss battle. Thankfully the game doesn’t take itself too seriously and has a lot of lighthearted humor to balance it out. Like Wonder-Green makes fun of Wonder-Blue, Wonder-Red narrates/remembers every detail of an enemies title and the other main characters have their own quirks. These jokes help make the story more enjoyable, but that’s about it.
The main attraction to The Wonderful 101 is definitely the gameplay, which is perhaps one of the most unique games out there. Unlike most games where you can freely equip or remove different weapons, you have to draw specific shapes on the touchpad or with the thumbstick to make these weapons. These start with simple shapes, like a straight line and get progressively more complex. Once you draw your shape, you can either switch to that unite morph or set the AI to attack the enemy using that unite morph. You can also increase the attack power by drawing a larger version of the shape, so you have a lot of tools to play around with.
While all this sounds good on paper, it doesn’t always work in practice. One of the most common issues I had was the game distinguishing one unite morph from another. This rarely happened with the simpler shapes, but constantly happened for the whip and claw. This isn’t too surprising, since the whip is drawn like a whip (straight line with a curve at the top), where as the claw is just the letter Z, so they look fairly similar. This problem also happened with the hammer being mistaken for the whip, which can make using those unite morph unappealing. This can be resolved by learning what shapes work best, like a sickle usually offers the hammer and the hammer shape usually offered the whip, so it’s not all bad.
The interesting thing about these unite morph, is that The Wonderful 101 tries to make them all equally useful. As you progress through the game, you will constantly have to use each one to conquer the various obstacles in your way. The fist is immune to fire, sword can open locks, gun can hit things in a distance, whip removes spike traps and can swing on hooks, claw can open doors and climb on some walls and finally the time bomb can slow things down. These are just some of their main uses and in no way a complete list of everything you can do. The other cool thing is that mastery of these elements give you a lot of options in combat. For instance, certain enemies use fire attacks, which can’t harm unite hand, where as another enemy might use a laser the sword can simply reflect. This is just another way you have several options to appropriately deal with every situation.
Besides forcing you to use unite morph for every situation, there are also a lot of segments devoted to various other types of gameplay. These include several different type of shoot em up stages and two of the bosses you need to beat Punch Out! style. Some of these are a nice change of pace, where as others can be seen as tedious or a needless addition to an already drawn out stage. This ultimately leads to the overly “cinematic” feel that The Wonderful 101 relies on, which sometimes borders on the excessive.
Bosses are the absolute worst offender, since even the little guys have various phases. This might understandable for the highest-ranking person or persons, but this is true for practically every boss. Even the first boss has at least two phases, a few quick time events, plus some other things to deal with. Come the end the charm wears off and you start to realize these fights should have ended a while ago.
Upon finishing The Wonderful 101 you’ll learn that there is still so much more to experience. The first thing you can do is find the remaining Wonderful 100 members and complete your team. A number of them are hidden in places you probably didn’t know how to go to in the past or simply didn’t notice. The same goes for platinum coins and of course boxes containing figures/files you couldn’t open at the time due to lacking that ability. There are also 200 bottle caps (think trophies/achievements) that you can unlock by completing various tasks. These tasks might seem like a waste of time, but unlocking certain ones can unlock one of the 10+ secret characters. In addition to them being secret, they have unique attacks that make them stand out too. To give you an example, Bayonetta uses 4 guns instead of one, can use witch time and her unite guts form is replaced with Gomorrah.
In addition to having a robust story mode, there is also a mission mode than can be played online. These missions are divided by difficulty and are more of an enemy rush mode. In this mode you have to use the main characters and anyone else looks like a generic person dressed in an Incredibles jumpsuit. After each way you’ll have a chance to score points, recruit more members, bring flowers back to life and pretty much clean up the town. Unfortunately, due to low Wii U sales and poor sales of The Wonderful 101, the online isn’t that active, but it’s not impossible to find a group or recruit some people to play online with you.
Long story short, The Wonderful 101 is a very interesting game that won’t appeal to most people. While the combat might be deeper and more complex than Bayonetta, having to draw the shapes won’t appeal to everyone. This is also true for the cinematic feel and unique stage mechanics. If you don’t mind these things, however, then there is well over a hundred hours of gameplay to be found here. Between unlocking all the characters, getting every collectible and missions to complete, The Wonderful 101 gives more than enough reason for you a reason to dust off your Wii U or simply pick one up a little early to experience it.
Platform: Wii U