The Wonderful 101 Review – 101 ways to die
The world is in peril! The Geathjerk are hellbent on turning the planet into a global version of Brakpan. Who will save the day? Why, it’ll be the hundred members of the Wonderful 100, a collection of highly-trained operatives with super-powers and infinite teamwork abilities, that’s who! But in The Wonderful 101, you might want to look elsewhere to see the day saved, as this game might just be the biggest disappointment of 2013.
Using an isometric view, the Wonderful 101 has players controlling up to a hundred heroes at any given time. It’s not too dissimilar to that other big Nintendo franchise Pikmin, except in this case you’re controlling dozens of power rangers on super-steroids.
Once the gang is all set up, you’ll find yourself in control of a swarm that can fight, dodge and roll against anything thrown their way. The real meat of the Wonderful 100 organisation though, is in their combination attacks. Using either the stylus on the touch pad or the right analogue stick, players can draw a shape that then forms a certain appendage or weapon.
Those shapes can also be used to recruit more members into your team, civilians who are outfitted with technology that can help them combat the Geathjerk menace. By circling around them, players can recruit, as well as activate hidden Wonderful 100 members who will be permanently added to the roster after every mission. But lets get back to the actual combat shapes.
For instance, draw a straight line, and you’ll get a massive sword made up of your members. Draw a circle, and you get a giant fist. Draw a squiggly line, and you’ll get a whip. It’s a novel idea, with more shapes and attacks unlocked as you progress, but the limitations of this idea soon set in.
Complex shapes make using the right analogue stick less enticing, forcing players to use the gamepad which isn’t exactly calibrated too well for this idea. See, in order to draw shapes, you’ll need a larger team, and when you’re trying to balance your team out between creating this shape and conserving the all-important battery power that enables these transformations, using the stylus is about as economical as driving a Humvee car.
Still, there are some novel applications for unite forms, with players being tasked with using those shapes to cross levels, draw bridges or absorb lightning to super-charge attacks. It’s just a pity that the potential for it isn’t used as much as it should be.
And it doesn’t help that the game is lacking some basic design ideas either. Thanks to the isometric viewpoint, gameplay can come to a screeching halt at times thanks to a lack of viewpoints. Sure, you can zoom in and out, but it’s not exactly helpful.
One stage in the early parts of the game had me running through a collapsing skyscraper while a giant robot was tearing it apart, with sections of the floor giving way. One wrong step, and you’d plummet to your doom and have to restart that section all over again. Sounds challenging, right?
Well it’s even more challenging when you have no idea which parts of the floor are about to break underneath your team. Thanks to that damn camera angle, I had to guess and memorise the entire routine while dying an easy dozen times over. And each death shaved another piece of my health bar away, which felt like a slap in the face by that point.
And then you’ve got the actual fights themselves with the GeathJerk. I’m all for a challenge, but throwing waves of enemies at you who attack off-screen while you desperately look for some space so that you can squiggle something into place so that you can attack, is beyond frustrating and unfair.
At this point, the die-hard Platinum Games fan is going to argue that the Wonderful 101 is a game that doesn’t hold your hand and is meant to be difficult. And I understand that. But when the game lacks any design that intuitively steers players in the right direction, then the developer is to blame here.
The Wonderful 101 falls into that terrible section of Japanese developed games, where it does a piss-poor job of explaining itself. Not everyone can read the flow of a game, and with a title that could be easily accessible for younger gamers, it fails outright in this regard.
There’s menus worth of extra content and features squirreled away in the game, not that you would ever know judging by the way the Wonderful 101 leaves that content to gather dust. And as for the difficulty of certain fights, I felt like pulling my hair out on a frequent basis.
The Wonderful 101 is one of the most merciless games Platinum has ever constructed. And that’s when you play it on the middle difficulty mode. You may have two hundred fists at your disposal, but micro-managing them while you fend off attacks from every corner is a task that would drive even the most experienced Total War: Rome veteran into an asylum.
It’s maddening how you just can’t focus properly on dealing with enemies. Multi-tasking may be present here by splitting your group up into a separate unite form which can battle minions for you, but the gameplay doesn’t lend itself well to this. It’s unbalanced, feels cheap and being docked points at the end of a mission just rubs salt into the wound.
That being said though, the Wonderful 101 is one of the best looking games on the Wii U. It’s a fantastic example of what the hardware is capable of, rendering those Viewtiful Joe style concepts into shiny and colourful visuals that just oozes charm. Voice acting is more than sufficient, with several veterans on board such as Tara String, who has lent vocals from Powerpuff girls to the beached whale known as Toot from Drawn Together.
And that just helps bring these characters to life. I love the distinct personalities present here, minus the fat French member who can’t stop stuffing his face. And those characters are bolstered by the one aspect of the game that Platinum never fails at: Boss fights.
There are some magnificent examples here, with the early fights setting a fantastic benchmark. The gameplay may fail to match the scope of these fights, but let it not be said that controlling a team of 100 members on the back of a gigantic three-headed cyber dragon being piloted by a massive man lizard wearing a beret isn’t fun.
And it isn’t the short game that people have been led to believe that the Wonderful 101 is. There’s a decent amount of gameplay here, spread out across nine operations and various missions, which are tailored towards being replayed. It’s just a pity that the gameplay hamstrings these efforts.
But there is one other redeeming factor here. The Wonderful 101 has some brief moments where it makes decent use of the Gamepad, shifting players to that screen so that they can navigate other obstacles, which are played out on the bigger screen above you. It’s a nice touch that utilises the Wii U technology properly, but it’s only around for brief flashes of inspiration.
But like the members of the Wonderful 101, this game stretches itself too thin at times. Just like your patience will no doubt be stretched by the end of this game.
The Wonderful 101 was reviewed by Darryn Bonthuys on a Nintendo Wii U