Originally titled Project P-100, Platinum Games’ latest release has since been renamed The Wonderful 101, in an effort to echo the moniker of its many heroic protagonists. Eschewing genre classifications and stereotypes by presenting a relatively unique combination of gameplay mechanics, the Wii U exclusive is an option for those looking for something new. However, due to its zany content, trial and error gameplay and lack of in-depth tutorials, it’s an experience that certainly isn’t for everyone.
In the game, a futuristic version of Earth is under attack from an alien group known as GEATHJERK, an acronym that relates to its reliance on extreme force. It’s not the first time that this party has attempted to wipe out humanity, however, as flashbacks and spoken dialogue both offer information pertaining to a previous engagement. That’s all that can be said, though, out of respect for spoilers and those who wish to avoid them.
Established as a part-time band of superheroes, which collectively possess unique abilities that can help defend earth from extraterrestrial force, The Wonderful 100 is one of fiction’s most unique teams. That’s because, not only is it comprised of men and women from every continent, each singular hero has his or her own look. Some are quite basic, such as young teacher and inexperienced leader Wonder Red, who gives off a bit of a Superman vibe, while most of the others are outwardly creative. There’s your musical punk, an Egyptian-themed bartender, a man with a mail shoot on his head and the expected, overly sexual females. In fact, like a lot of other Japanese games, The Wonderful 101 is heavy on close-up shots of womanly curves.
The one hundred and first member of this seemingly ragtag group is the player, hence the title, though the fourth wall is rarely broken. It’s acknowledged that the user is there, but then a more traditional type of narrative progression is employed. Therein, the characters interact with each other, bantering back and forth, while attempting to work together to save their planet. Through their interactions, the aforementioned flashbacks (both playable and non-playable) come up.
Although it’s out there, the noted storyline is rather interesting. It sometimes go off of the deep end, and develops slowly until the midway point, but eventually becomes engaging. The writing is decent, though a lot of the jokes will fall flat with adult gamers, as they’re more on the cheesy side than anything else. On top of that, there are some sexual undertones plus gender and weight stereotypes to take into consideration. In fact, despite its look and focus on everyday superheroes, this particular title isn’t really a game for kids.
At its core, The Wonderful 101 is based on trial and error, delivering an experience that will challenge even core gamers who decide to play on normal, as opposed to the very easy or easy settings. To succeed, one must think about how to approach each battle, and must make good use of earned and discovered currency, in order to purchase and equip special moves, items and buffs. Most are quite expensive, though, so it’s seemingly impossible to buy everything during one playthrough.
Gameplay-wise, The Wonderful 101 features similarities to Nintendo’s Pikmin, but remains different. The idea that’s in play here is that the team travels together, and can find/recruit unique members and saved civilians along the way. As such, the player is made responsible for the well being of the collective, though it’s not possible for characters to die independently.
Though large packs develop as more heroes are recruited, only several selected ‘leaders’ are playable at any given time. The base grouping features Wonder Red, with his fist-emitting ability, as well as Wonder Blue, an angry, D-list actor, who’s able to use a gigantic sword in battle. Throughout the adventure, which can last for between fifteen to twenty hours, new coloured members are introduced, including an overweight Frenchman with gun-based expertise, a hip-hop loving bomb user who can slow down time, and overtly sexual, hormone filled Wonder Pink, who can utilize a very helpful whip.
What’s unique about the above, which plays out via a top-down perspective that is akin to both Pikmin and your standard dungeon-crawler, is that switching abilities is handled in a rather unprecedented way. That’s because the player must utilize the Wii U GamePad’s touchscreen, or the controller’s right joystick, to facilitate ability swapping. It’s done by drawing shapes, such as a circle for the fist, a curved line for the whip and a straight line for the sword. Those basic shapes are pretty easy to draw once you get the hang of things, but some of the more complex ones, such as the bomb and hammer, are very difficult to create using the right joystick. As a result, the touchscreen must be used, and that takes the player out of the game by forcing him to look at a second screen during combat.
In fact, one of the main problems with The Wonderful 101 is how difficult some of its weapons are to draw while on the fly. The game is combat heavy, with most of its objectives pertaining to clearing enemies out of different areas. On normal, one must constantly think about how to approach each situation, and how to stay alive, so looking away is problematic. However, on a difficulty such as Very Easy, assistance is given via occasional automated blocks and less life is expectedly lost with each hit. What’s strange, though, is that you must purchase block and dodge moves before you can use them. It doesn’t matter which difficulty you’re using.
After being drawn, all of the title’s weapon forms are utilized via face button controls that resemble something out of brawlers, dungeon crawlers and generalized action games like Bayonetta. You simply press one button to attack that way, and another to send out your forces to hamper enemies. It’s rather simple, but gets very repetitive, even though strategy does come into play regularly, with certain abilities being required for individual enemy types.
Melee combat isn’t the only type of gameplay found within this retail title, but it’s by far the most prevalent. Each operation, of which there are 9, features two levels and one boss battle. Interspersed within that design are more varied segments, which pay homage to rail shooters and platformers, as well as a certain end of operation encounter that presents a variation of robotic Punchout. Still, though these engagements are appreciated, and offer some nice variety, they’re still imperfect and occasionally problematic from a design standpoint. That’s especially true of the game’s (unmentioned) platforming, which isn’t great and requires near-perfect drawing for its ladders and bridges.
Unfortunately, Platinum’s latest release is hindered by its developer’s decision to go all-in. Too many ideas were thrown into the mix, and some of them weren’t as well developed as they could’ve, or should’ve been, creating an occasionally chaotic experience. Repetition, as noted, is also an issue. However, two of the most prominent issues that mar The Wonderful 101 are its unruly camera, with its cluttered HUD, and the explained control problems. There’s so much going on that it’s sometimes hard to see enemies, and it becomes frustrating when the viewpoint switches to the GamePad whenever the team enters into enclosed areas such as buildings. In fact, the camera is so problematic within those spaces that it creates gameplay difficulties.
Outside of the campaign, which entices replay value by offering rankings at the end of each of its unnecessarily drawn out stages, a selection of multiplayer levels is made available. Playable by up to five players, the co-operative encounters show a focus on combat, presenting three rounds of enemy encounters. The goal within those difficulty-varied scenarios is to earn more points than your compatriots, which is done by killing the most robotic enemies and collecting the most dropped loot. It’s basic stuff, but it works.
Switching back to aesthetics, it’s important to note that The Wonderful 101 is steeped in colour, presenting a look that mixes comic books with anime and Saturday morning cartoons. The characters animate relatively well, and the environments are varied, but the top-down viewpoint and abundance of on-screen avatars surely affects the game’s visual quality. It still looks quite good, though, and features a plastic-like shine on its character models. I’m not exactly sure of why, though.
The audio, on the other hand, is also quite good. There’s an engaging, high intensity original soundtrack, which is mostly orchestral in nature. Additionally, full voice acting is included. For the most part, it’s surprisingly good.
In the end, though, The Wonderful 101 is a mixed bag. It starts off very slowly, and I admittedly disliked its opening operations. However, as I progressed, the game started to grow on me a bit. Still, its camera, control, repetition and length issues kept it from becoming something that I truly enjoyed and would want to return to.
This review is based on the Wii U exclusive, which was provided to us.
The Wonderful 101 is an ambitious effort, but the final result is an unpolished experience that will only appeal to a certain sect of the gaming community.