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Review

The Wonderful 101 (Wii U) Review

It’s been a rather dry couple of months for the Wii U, and things are finally starting to look up with several major releases this month. Amongst them all, however, is the intriguing third party exclusive from Japanese developer PlatinumGames – The Wonderful 101. An action game at heart, Wonderful 101 has been an interesting project to follow – a taste that you don’t know you want until you give it a try yourself. So, despite this assessment, let me try my best to convince you why Wonderful 101 is worth your time and quite possibly one of the best Wii U exclusives to grace the console.

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The Wonderful 101 takes place within Blossom City, a sprawling metropolis. Under attack by an invasion of colossal aliens, known as the GEATHJERK (yes, it’s an acronym), the only heroes who can protect the planet are a troupe of super heroes known as the Wonderful 100. As you’d expect, there’s a whole hundred of them – and they must work together to take down the threat to the planet. Anyone who grew up in the 90s will recognise the influences from classic television shows like Power Rangers or even the more obscure Kamen Rider, and Capcom fans will see lots of influences from Viewtiful Joe too – director Hideki Kamiya’s other project he worked on prior to leaving Capcom for Platinum Games. The influences are obvious, the references are all quite tongue-in-cheek and the story is a fantastic roller coaster (though not necessarily something that will win any awards).

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You’d be forgiven for being confused about what kind of game Wonderful 101 is – it looks like a more colourful and hectic version of Pikmin. However, while there is a great element of strategy involved in both of these games – The Wonderful 101 employs a notably different flavour of strategy. The game is your typical, character-based action game. Think along the lines of Devil May Cry, Bayonetta, Ninja Gaiden or God of War. Players control the leader of the Wonderful 100 – who can band together with his or her comrades to create “Unite Morphs”, gigantic holographic weapons to attack enemies and solve puzzles. The more people in your crowd, the more powerful your attacks can be. You can recruit citizens temporarily during each mission, or make permanent additions to your team as you find them. This means that, at the beginning of the game, you’ll be quite weak and unable to do much until you collect a few citizens here and there to bolster your group’s abilities.

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So how do the Unite Morphs work? Basically, as you recruit key members of the Wonderful 100, each of them has a special and unique Unite Morph that has a certain use during the game’s combat. Each of these is tied to a shape – which players can either draw on the Wii U GamePad or shape using the right analog stick. The bigger you draw the shape – the bigger the weapon will be, so this is where the size of your crowd really matters. Each weapon can be created and automatically used by your party too, basically allowing you to set up multiple weapons on screen at once to deal massive damage. It’s a cool system that works quite well in the heat of battle – allocating your team members can be a stressful but fun process and winning in the end makes it all the more rewarding.

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As for which of the control schemes is better – I preferred the analog stick for the more angular shapes and the GamePad for the circular and curved shapes. But everyone is different – it’s up to you to find out which method you prefer and which method flows better for you in the heat of the combat. As the game progresses and your character roster grows, there is more of a potential for the player to make mistakes in drawing the many shapes available – and even then the game may misinterpret which shape your intend to draw which can lead to some confusion and even frustration in a game as fast and frenetic as this.

The game has a very distinct structure – each operation consists of several smaller missions (in this game, “missions” are basically battles) which the player is graded on. Speed of completion, damage taken and combo prowess will all contribute to your final ranking – and as always these rankings are tied to more rewards and unlockables. Each operation is superbly paced – the game seems to be hitting a climactic peak almost every thirty minutes and you’ll be hard pressed to find a moment where the action is dialled back. That’s right; The Wonderful 101 is a relentless assault on the player – continually topping itself on the action scale. Accrued points are spent at the Wonderful Mart between operations, unlocking new moves and techniques for players to familiarise themselves with. Some of these are essential – and some are not, but it seems that most player styles are accommodated for with all the skills and weapons on offer.

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And much like any other PlatinumGames developed title; Wonderful 101 does its best job at accommodating people of all play styles. The game is difficult, for sure, but it gives the players the tools to enable them to be as good at the game as they want to be. Do you want to mash? You’ll probably be able to do so through a lower difficulty. Do you want to learn the intricacies of the battle system and complete each level with a Pure Platinum ranking? You can do that too. While the learning curve is initially a little steep, the game feels like, overall, a nice balance between accessible and technical.

The game employs several of the Wii U’s features – including the aforementioned touch screen inputs, which can not only be used as weapons but to bridge gaps and repair structures too. Several moments in the game do a great job at employing a second screen – entering a building and controlling the team inside of it (on the GamePad) to manipulate elements of something on your television screen works very well (the camera during these is motion controlled, but holding a shoulder button disables it for easier control). The entire game can be played off-screen, should you so desire too. Wonderful 101 is nothing truly ground-breaking when it comes to implementation of the Wii U’s unique functionality, but it is a step in the right direction.

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The Wonderful 101 is quite a lengthy action game, with the main adventure taking roughly ten to fourteen hours to complete depending on your skill level. Anyone who plays this kind of game can attest to this being a rather long game for this genre, so it comes with its benefits and consequences. On one hand, there’s more and more content here to play through with most of the scenes being broken up with non-traditional scenarios such as aerial combat scenes. On the other, some players might get a little bit bored if they’re only playing the game with a select few of skills – as the combat and the game really shines when you utilise all of the tools presented to you.

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There’s even a multiplayer mode which supports up to five players using the Classic Controller Pros to fill in the gaps. Players co-operate to take down enemies and then compete to reap the rewards that come from the battles. The multiplayer mode is fast, frantic and much more intense than the single player and does a great job at successfully blending co-operative and competitive play styles. Throw in some unlockable characters and collectibles detailing the game world and you’ve got quite a bit of content to get through. The Wonderful 101 is quite simply put – good value for money.

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The game’s presentation is bound to be polarising amongst players. On one hand, the game is very simplistic looking – employing a highly stylised artistic design for the characters and the city to give the world an almost toy-like look. This works well for a game where the action is shot from further away, but any close-up scenes look, quite frankly, ugly at times. The presentation on a whole fits the tone of the game, however, and gives the entire game an authentic feel of a Saturday morning cartoon. The soundtrack is a little bit more generic and less inspired – but does the job at providing a good audio backdrop for the action to take place. Voice work is hammy, but it employs such a degree of self-awareness that it just works really well. Wonder Blue, in particular, stands out from the crowd of culturally diverse Wonders.

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So, considering all of its parts, just how wonderful is The Wonderful 101? In short, very. It’s a title that will, in several years, be a cult classic that will be remembered fondly much like Hideki Kamiya’s previous works such as Viewtiful Joe. It’s a fresh, unique and interesting take on the action genre – managing to eclipse most of the genres’ previous efforts. There are some control hiccups here and there, and some could debate that it would be better off without touchscreen controls – but outside of this the game feels nearly perfect. Its flaws are minor, but The Wonderful 101 is one of the greatest exclusives that the Wii U has right now, and a game that shouldn’t be missed by any self-respecting Wii U owner.

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About The Author
James Mitchell
Avid gamer since I was as young as three years old when I received my first NES. Currently studying full time and consider myself a balanced gamer. Enjoy games on all systems, from all genres, on all platforms. Sometimes feels like he's too optimistic for this industry.
6 Comments
  • Alex
    September 5, 2013 at 6:18 am

    I can’t wait until my copy comes in the mail.

  • prawnmatic
    September 5, 2013 at 6:42 am

    I’m getting a feeling very reminiscent of Viewtiful Joe when playing Wonderful 101. At first I simply didn’t get it and had to really force myself to pick up the controller. At some point it all just “clicks” and is one of the most fun, challenging and rewarding games I’ve ever played.

    They really should have included Unite Guts and Unite Spring as default moves, as the game really picks up once you’ve bought these abilities.

  • Ferret
    September 5, 2013 at 10:13 am

    Fantastic game. Technically as well it runs butter smooth with no slowdowns.

    Check out Saur’s videos if you want a breakdown of the combat and combo mechanics. There’s a lot more depth to it than you initially think.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sdHbPXNJvVE
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RSAbLRnGiWg

    Great to see the 5 stars. It really is a great game and deserves to sell better than it is currently.

    • September 5, 2013 at 11:23 pm

      Yeah, I think it’s criminal how much this is under-performing, but I admit it’s not a totally easy sell. Unfortunately, in this day an age, I feel like if a game doesn’t grab you straight away, people will put it down. I persisted, of course, but as another comment above mentioned you really have to keep going until it “clicks” and then you realise just how wonderfully crafted it is.

      But yeah, thanks for posting Saur’s videos, I’ve been made aware of them but have yet to actually watch them. I might have a look before I begin repeat playthroughs – I’m sure I’ve missed some of the secret unlockables.

  • Tom
    September 5, 2013 at 10:34 am

    Nice review James 🙂

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