Combining their powers to strike a mighty blow against any foe.
The Wonderful 101
Developer: Platinum Games
Combining their powers to strike a mighty blow against any foe.
How can you not love Platinum Games? Nintendo certainly appears to. Their The Wonderful 101 is set to arrive exclusively on the Wii U, published by the big N themselves. Directed by Hideki Kamiya–the revolutionary developer who previously helmed such wonders as Devil May Cry, Okami, and Viewtiful Joe–the project promises a unique experience unlike anything currently available.
The result is certainly novel, if nothing else. Imagine if all of the games mentioned above were thrown into a cooking pot and expected to blend together, but devastatingly failed to form into the treat it should have become. Instead it simply congealed into some very sloppy weak sauce.
|PROS||Presentation, Charm, Campy story, Solid frame rate|
|CONS||Controls, Frustration, Lack of feedback, Camera, Offensive, Design choices|
|WTF?!||This game would have worked with a normal controller.|
The Wonderful 101 is outright stylish. The presentation of the game is near flawless and oozes with personality from every pour. The stylized tokusatsu superheroes come in various hilarious shapes and sizes, all clearly having been influenced by the red hot looks of Viewtiful Joe. Indeed, the intrepid hero from the GameCube era would fit right into the aesthetic of Wonderful. Despite this, the game forges its own individuality through futuristic level design and varied characters.
This superb exterior sheen is perhaps the reason I gave Wonderful 101 a benefit over my growing doubt. I desperately wanted to like the game and gave it more time than I should have before its flaws became unforgivable.
On first glance, it would be understandable to call The Wonderful 101 a superhero Pikmin. As Wonder Red, you will gather and lead a large force of Wonderful Ones while bestowing temporary powers upon the civilian population in order to increase your numbers. You’ll have to traverse the environments using a variety of skills, which become more effective when you travel in larger numbers.
However, the truth is Wonderful 101 plays more like Bayonetta than Nintendo’s slavery simulator.
Players will be expected to use combos, speedy movement, combat tactics, and expert timing on counter moves in order to overcome their foes. This is distinctly a Platinum Games title. The main attack button sends out your forces towards the nearest enemy, and after a certain number of heroes have detached from the group to fight this enemy, the invading alien will become stunned. From here, you can use heavy attacks (or “Unite Powers”) to deplete health bars quickly.
To select a power, you must first draw the shape corresponding to the weapon desired using either the right analog stick or the GamePad screen. It’s almost like drawing symbols on parchment with some form of celestial brush, but that sounds like a mad idea.
In the heat of battle, these commands are often infuriating. Activating the sword is easy as it is simply a straight line, but the hammer requires a straight line with a circle at the end, which the game often interprets as either the circle command for the hand or a wavy line which calls upon the whip. This wouldn’t be so frustrating if the combat wasn’t also as punishing as Bayonetta. Enemies which are immune to all but a specific attack will happily deplete your health bar without remorse as you fiddle around with shapes.
This isn’t Okami, where drawn commands simply assisted in battle. This is a matter of your literal attack button becoming void without the correct shape being formed. Additionally, unlike the adventures of Amaterasu, The Wonderful 101 only slows the pace of battle as you draw, as pausing it seems is too much of an advantage.
Worse still, the dodge and block commands are optional purchases from the leveling up system found in between missions. I am not overstating things when I say that these moves are vital to playing the game. A huge variety of enemies would force players to use immeasurable continues before being defeated unless countered with a well timed block. Imagine Bayonetta without dodge or Viewtiful Joe without slow motion and you have a picture of how ridiculous it is that these moves are not handed over as part of your standard arsenal.
Unfortunately, Wonderful 101 is broken at an even more basic level. Platinum Games has committed a sin I never would have expected from them: one of player feedback.
For starters, the view in the game is unforgivably crowded. From the overbearing HUD to the camera distance, it is incredibly easy to lose sight of what is going on. I have been struck by enemies lost in the commotion, devastated by high powered attacks from off the screen, and left simply confused as to where I am. Due to the premise of the game and the style of combat chosen,
You never feel like you have a commanding view of the battlefield, yet you constantly lose your circled lead hero. The feedback from the controller hardly helps things, vibrating to the point where it’s audible to everyone in the room, but confusingly never relating to the actions of the player. Rumble could, and should, have been used to indicate enemy attacks or player position, but instead it is on a constant mission to express just how blown up that building in the background is.
Remember those block and dodge functions that I said were vital? Well, the latter is only so important due to the lack of indication as to the effectiveness of the former. Blocking to stun enemies is a key ingredient to the combat that the game is built upon, but there is no indication as to which moves can indeed be blocked at all. Only by trial and error will you discover how to counter each enemy, which is far from enjoyable.
Only the boss fights bring some reprieve from the monotony of combat, with some variation on the repetitive gameplay. After just an hour or so, the charm of the game is washed away by the realization that you are simply going through the motions. Enemies become immune to all but specific Unite moves, and it becomes a dull, frustrating slog as you struggle with the overly complicated controls for simple commands. It’s like Sony Santa Monica deciding the next God of War needs to be played on a Guitar Hero controller. Sure, it’ll work, but that doesn’t make it the best input to use.
Let’s move on to the rest of the game.
The story is, much like the visual presentation, incredibly charming. The (apparently illiterate) earth defense force, called the CENTINALS, must hold out against the GEATHJERK invasion force. The Wonderful 100 held out against this foe before, but now a new generation must test themselves against this latest attack. It’s very campy, involves all the clichés you expect, and both begins and ends in explosions and over-the-top action.
Disappointingly, issues arise here too. While the main protagonists are fine, with Red and Blue carrying the brunt of the super sentai parody, the additional Wonder cast runs the gamut from dull to offensive. Green and Pink actually lower the tone of the whole experience, often spouting inane drivel in what I assume is an attempt to be funny. The further you get into the game, the more they speak, which just heaps misery into what is already a lackluster experience. I also have to mention that, while a few jokes about nationality can be funny, the amount of shots that are taken at the French character borders on distasteful.
The game promised so much in the opening with gorgeous visuals and a fabulous theme song that sets up the game perfectly, but it all falls apart quickly. The music, levels, combat, and enemy types all become increasingly wearing. There are glimpses of what could have been and I imagine that many, like myself, will desperately want to like the game. However, they are brief flashes in a painful 8-10 hour mess. The puzzles in the game that make clever use of TV + GamePad screen combo stand out as brief moments where everything works perfectly, but these are few and far between.
At its best, The Wonderful 101 is a simple game made overcomplicated. At its worst, it is nigh unplayable. I got up and walked away from the game several times out of frustration, which is something I very rarely do. There is beauty here, but it is only skin deep. The ideas are still good, but they clearly needs more refinement. Wonderful 101 combines all the best moments from Hideki Kamiya’s career (excluding Resident Evil) into one bundle, so it should result in something deserving of its name. The fact that it is so far from it upsets me deeply. The final joke is that that many of the issues with this game would have been solved with a few camera and control tweaks. This was a depressing revelation.
I want my final note to be a positive one, so take this with you: the game runs perfectly, with short loading times and a constantly smooth frame rate. That won’t save Wonderful 101, but it does give an indication that Platinum understands the Wii U. Roll on, Bayonetta 2.
This game was provided by the publisher on Wii U for review purposes and completed in about 14 hours. The title is exclusive to the Wii U.