The Wonderful 101: Remastered (Switch) Review
The Wonderful 101 is as uncompromising and difficult as it is bright and attractive. There is enjoyment between its strict seams, yet to find it requires effort and commitment that may not be present in modern Switch players. As a remaster, an obvious goal is to reach a broader audience than the original’s release. However, the fact that it was a Wii U title that leaned heavily into the dual-screen setup has resulted in a remaster that looks and runs smoothly, but which feels out of place and chore-like to play.
Although it looks like a Saturday morning cartoon, with its big-headed characters and bright colours, The Wonderful 101 is as pure a PlatinumGames title as they come. Gameplay involves short chapters of combat-heavy encounters that are graded on a harsh scale, with long and complex boss battles that require you to jump through mechanical hoops in order to emerge exhausted and victorious on the other side.
Employing a beat ‘em up structure at heart, The Wonderful 101 sees you controlling a horde of tiny heroes who can be shape-shifted into various offensive and defensive forms using shape inputs. You can draw on the screen or use the right thumbstick to do this. I initially found these inputs to be difficult and confusing, as the game shouts out instruction at you without showing you what it means. There is little to no explanation of its complex systems. You are expected to either get things right or die trying. I never stopped feeling like I was stumbling through a series of checkpoints with the instructions covered over – and somewhere, a maniacal developer observing, steeple-fingered, smiling at my awkwardness. Thankfully, there seem to be endless continues (which will impact your overall mission scores, of course).
Another example of the game not telling you anything is in the way you need to buy some of the most essential defensive skills. Being able to deflect certain moves or jump out of the way en masse soon becomes essential, yet an unwary gamer could potentially miss this necessary step due to a hands-off design approach that makes your first run through The Wonderful 101 very much an apprenticeship, with combat depth and unlockable secrets reserved for the truly adept and/or persistent. I sincerely doubt the patience of many to gain the most out of this title and I suspect most will bounce off it before a first playthrough has been achieved.
I cannot deny how action-packed it is, though. The screen is constantly full of movement and colour. Enemies attack with animated zeal, replete with visual effects that splatter across the screen. Then there’s your own little gang, which grows larger as you recruit/save citizens who are calling out for help. A presumed surplus of superpower suits is given to citizens as you surround them, adding them to your ranks and increasing the size and power of the weapons you can produce. A straight line creates a big blue sword for you whack away with, while a circle makes a red fist that can punch and turn various knobs in the world and on bosses. Yes – ON bosses. They are so large in this that you’ll be crawling all over them and pulling them apart like some hyper version of Honey I Shrunk the Heroes. Then there’s a gun shape, which can spawn a pistol through to a bazooka. This form can suck up bombs and shoot them back at bosses.
Everything looks gorgeous on the Switch, particularly undocked, where its native 720p and solid 60fps performance is more than enough to convince you to take it with you. The main issue is one of size. The game often uses a zoomed-out perspective, which can mean that the heroes look more like a colourful mass of ants than individuals. Similarly, owing to the Wii U heritage of the title, the screen-in-screen menu, of which the second previously showed on the Wii U’s controller, makes for tiny viewing here, not to mention awkward placement on the limited screen real estate. I also found using items a squinting affair, as the menu that pops up is incredibly tiny. When docked, on a larger screen, these size issues are less impactful. However, you run into the performance issue of a lower framerate (between 30 and 40fps), albeit at 1080p resolution.
Overall, I found The Wonderful 101 to be an awkward game to play and understand. The action is so stop-start, the music so epically Avenger-esque that I felt pressure to be doing things and keep moving without any opportunity to stop and smell the roses. I kept seeing buildings with citizens I couldn’t work out how to save, without the ability to backtrack. I realise the game is designed around this, encouraging replays, but as someone with limited time I just couldn’t connect with the entire approach. I also encountered several instances where enemies simply wouldn’t spawn and I’d be running around waiting for something to happen. A reload of my save was required to get past these sections.
When The Wonderful 101 released on WiiU, it wasn’t exactly jostling for position with a ton of high-quality releases. The Switch is a completely different story, with so much choice that I’m not sure players are going to have the patience for what this game requires of them. Who does that leave? Fans of the original and PlatinumGames followers, who will admittedly find a lot to like here. For the curious Switch owner looking to fill a hole from their Wii U days, this is a moderate perhaps. And for others, well, it’s a tough recommendation. You have a far better PlatinumGames title in Astral Chain. If that was right up your alley, then definitely give The Wonderful 101 Remastered a go. You’ll find the same depth on offer as long as you stick with it.
+ Looks and runs great
+ Lengthy and has replay value
- Difficult to get into
- Wii U conversion issues
- Frustrating design and pacing