The Wonderful 101
- Street Date:
- September 15th, 2013
- Reviewed by:
- Bill Braun
- Review Date:1
- January 13th, 2014
- Game Release Year:
- Wii U
- Platinum Games
- ESRB Rating:
- T (Teen)
Platinum Games has made a name for themselves as the go-to developer for over-the-top intense action games. From 'MadWorld' and 'Vanquish' to the fan favorite 'Bayonetta' and even 'Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance', their focus has been on incredibly tight brawler controls and fast-paced experiences. Most recently, they have lent their development skills to the Wii U and provided Nintendo with the exclusive title, 'The Wonderful 101.' Their crazy game concepts regularly make for cult hits that are hard to find elsewhere; now let's see how the 'Wonderful 101' shakes out.
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
'The Wonderful 101' lives up to many of the expectations gamers have with Platinum Games, while still managing to surprise with new ideas and game mechanics. It is a witch's brew that combines obscure Saturday morning cartoons with 'Power Rangers' character and story. Hiding their secret identities from the citizens of the world, The Wonderful 100 are a group of superheroes always on the ready to protect our planet from the invading alien forces known as the Geathjerk. The 101st hero? Well, that's you, the player.
Ridiculous story and character names aside, 'The Wonderful 101' focuses on new and inventive brawler controls specific to the Wii U. From a fixed, birds-eye-view camera, you direct an ever-growing group of superheroes by controlling one of several leaders – Red, Blue, Green, Pink, White, and Yellow. Like watching a swarm of bees, each hero in your group stays close to one another and swiftly responds to your commands. When the lead hero jumps, dashes, or attacks, the others follow suit.
Although each hero is distinct from the other (their size, shape, color, and costume) they all serve a common purpose. Therein lies the unique feature of 'The Wonderful 101.' When prompted to do so, the entire group will unite to take on the shape of a variety of weapons and objects. By using either the Wii U's touch-sensitive gamepad screen or the right analog stick, you draw the predetermined shapes needed for the group to form. As the shapes are as follows: a straight line creates a sword, a circle morphs into a fist, a 'S' shape turns the group into a whip, the 'L' loads a gun, the 'Z' is a set of Wolverine-like claws, and a balloon with a string (a straight line with a circle on top) is a monstrous hammer. Other shapes, like the formation of a hang glider, ladder, and bridge, also come into play. While the mechanics work rather well, the initial learning curve spike means some time is needed for the game's mechanics to become familiar.
Many of the unite shapes have more than the singular purpose of fighting and destruction. The fist can be used to grab levers and dials otherwise too large for an individual hero. The sword often doubles as a key for a giant lock. And the whip can attach itself to out-of-reach hooks allowing you to swing across large gaps. Depending on the size of the group you accumulate throughout the level – other heroes are discovered and regular citizens can be temporarily united to your cause – dictates the overall size of the weapon you have created.
Each chapter is made up of three separate operations that lead to a final boss battle. During the course of each operation you gather more heroes to your cause, find collectibles, and unlock new and more powerful enemies to do battle with. Although the boss battles are the real highlight of 'The Wonderful 101' they become increasingly longer to complete. Some of these battles easily clocked in at 20 minutes or more. Plodding your way through to this point often made for a rather long and drawn out experience.
'The Wonderful 101' features off-TV play as well as specific sections that are confined to the gamepad. These sections force your group into a variety of buildings where you are tasked with finding the exit. When played on your television, the indoor perspective changes to the gamepad screen with the outdoor action remaining on the TV. While this mostly works, the sheer size of your group can become muddled when playing in these smaller confines. When playing 'The Wonderful 101' exclusively on the gamepad, this indoor field trip prompts an even smaller space on the game pad to represent the indoor activities, making the troublesome sections even more frustrating.
So here we have a game that due to a fundamental Wii U problem e.g. supporting off-TV play means limiting the gamepad-specific controls, still causes hiccups in progression for the sake of gamepad-specific sections. These issues don't ruin the game, but do hold it back, wasting some of the game's better potential.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
The art style is probably my favorite (most wonderful!) aspect of this Platinum experience. The colors are incredibly vibrant and utilize an extensive palette, and the characters and enemies you encounter are wonderfully diverse and original. Because the size of the enemies are often several times that of an individual hero I would have expected the hero animations of the group to become blurred or clone-like. Instead, the unique character designs are all fully realized with the individual movements, jumps and attacks. Although the incredible amount of action on-screen at any one time may prohibit you from first picking up on this, I recommend taking the time during those quieter moments to appreciate the level of attention and detail the animators imbued the game.
As impressive and responsive as 'The Wonderful 101' is, the fixed camera often creates a problem - particularly during specific platforming sections of the game. Regardless of the size of your television, the on-screen frenetic action consumes every square inch. Enemies will come at you from all sides, explosions and fire are often added into the mix, and buildings and other structures will collapse all around you. Because of this, and the inability to shift camera perspective, you will lose your footing, fall from a ledge, or miss that crucial jump. It is an unfortunate side effect of an otherwise tightly designed experience.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
While I appreciate the level of variety and personalities of each character, the action of 'The Wonderful 101' is often interrupted with lengthy bouts of exposition that tend to drag on entirely too long. Keeping with the look and feel of a 10-hour 'Power Rangers' episode, the overacting and often incomprehensible explanations of plot and story development slow the game to a crawl. These verbose conversations and arguments among heroes and between the Geathjerk are unnecessary, disruptive, and are a mark against the game's ability to create a lasting effect.
The musical score that accompanies the game - whether during an intense boss battle or lengthy dialogue transition - hits the mark each and every time. It is a constant reminder that 'The Wonderful 101' is a game meant to be taken lightly while constantly challenging your ability to manage a very specific control scheme. It was light-hearted and comical when it needed to be, and action focused and explosive when it should have been.
Although 'The Wonderful 101' makes an attempt at story and character development, these notions take a significant back seat to the heavy focus on score chasing. Practically everything you do during each operation is scored and accounted for. The end result delivers a final grade - from consolation up to the coveted platinum trophy. Knowing which weapon to use against specific enemy types, the ability to unite weapons quickly, and the speed at which you dispatch your opponents all effect your final grade. Taking damage or using additional armaments like rockets and bombs will diminish that score and the choice is entirely yours to replay operations to better your performance. Score chasers will find every reason to replay 'The Wonderful 101' again and again. Those less interested in such gaming mechanics will likely move on after the credits have rolled.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
Competitive co-op multiplayer provides an opportunity for up to five players to compete against one another for total points while teaming up to fight against waves of Geathjerk. However, this multiplayer mode requires the use of the Wii U gamepad and pro controllers in order to be fully enjoyed, individual Wii remotes and nunchucks need not apply. While this mode adds to the notion of intense action, the sheer level of on-screen activity promotes a state of confusion that often results in losing track of your playable group of heroes. I enjoyed challenging my son to several rounds, but the repetition quickly wore down the excitement.
I have become a fan of Platinum Games over the years. 'MadWorld' delivered a mature offering for fans of the Wii, and the incredibly tight and responsive controls of 'Vanquish' and 'Bayonetta' have solidified their ability to develop games that rank up there with the best of brawlers. Their forthcoming 'Bayonetta 2', another Wii U exclusive, has me counting down the days until its release. Although 'The Wonderful 101' makes a solid attempt to breath life into a console in dire need of new and interesting content, it ultimately stumbles. The uniquely developed control scheme continues to reflect on the developer's abilities, but repetitive level designs and a problematic camera hold 'The Wonderful 101' from being a truly wonderful experience.
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