Many people thought many different things about this game before it came out. Some people thought to themselves: “It’s by Platinum! They can do no wrong!”. Others thought to themselves: “It’s going to be the killer app for the Wii U.”. Still others thought to themselves: “Wow! A Pikmin clone with superheroes!”.
The wonderful: Fast action, with visual flair. Comic relief done right.
The not so wonderful: Technical hitches. A few cheap enemies in Geathjerk’s ranks.
It looks so viewtiful: Ex-Viewtiful Joe developers built W101 including Hideki Kamiya.
The game is actually none of those things. It isn’t perfect. It is very good. Although certainly not mainstream enough for the average person. The game plays very little like Pikmin. While it has an isometric view, and some interactivity within the stages, this game is not a strategy game whatsoever. This game is an action game through, and through. Not only that, but it brings in all kinds of action subgenres together. Beat ’em up, Shmup, Action Platforming, Rail Shooters, all combine to make a wonderful send-up of the era of arcades, as well as 80’s, and 90’s console games.
The story centers around a group of super heroes known as the Wonderful 100. These people are called together to defend the Earth in perilous times. The Earth is under assault from a race of extraterrestrials known as GeathJerk. As the story progresses you’ll find parodies of action movie tropes, as it introduces more plots, characters, subplots, and background stories to the main story. It all comes together nicely in the end.
The Wonderful 101 is 25 stages or so long. Most of these are the isometric action stages you’ve likely seen online if you haven’t played it yet. As you play through the stages, areas will close off, and force you to fight a certain number of enemies. The twist it has over most spectacle fighters like Devil May Cry, or God Of War is that you can recruit civilians to your cause. Using the R stick on the gamepad, or drawing with the touch screen allows you to turn civilians into temporary heroes to help you, as well as find hidden items, and most importantly, morph into different shapes to solve puzzles or fight enemies. Sometimes you’ll need to use a specific shape for a certain enemy. For instance, once you’ve gotten in far enough you’ll encounter spiked enemies that require you to use a whip to break off the spikes to make the enemy vulnerable. As the game goes on, other characters join you, allowing you to draw new morph attacks.
There are also a number of times when you will enter Quick Time Events as in Bayonetta. These can be for cinematic scenes against bosses, opening certain sections of a level, or something else entirely. One especially novel thing the game does with the Gamepad’s tablet, is make certain sections of the game interiors, where you have to guide your team through a ship, building or other location on the pad screen. Meanwhile you still have to pay attention to what is happening outside on your TV screen. To keep the game from getting too monotonous it also throws in some Rail Shooter moments, Shoot ’em Up moments, and even two Punch-Out!! styled bosses. As I mentioned earlier, these are all fairly well crafted sections of the game.
At the end of every stage you are graded on how fast you completed it, how much damage you did, how much damage you took, what items you used, and how many continues you used. During the stages you can also be graded in individual sections on the same criteria. In between stages you can enter a Wonderful Mart, where you can spend collected gears on items. Some of these items will allow you to make new morphs or upgrade current ones. Others replenish health, or your battery meter (which is going to give your morphs more size, and power when you draw them.). While there are also some that will drop smart bombs on enemies, give you a fake member to take damage from (essentially being a 1-Up), or generally ease the game.
Don’t let the cartoony look fool you either. This game is HARD. You do get unlimited continues, but nevertheless it is difficult. Especially some of the later bosses. If you manage to complete it on Normal (already a pretty hard game) you will unlock Hard mode. Making an already pretty challenging game even harder.
The game also has tons of unlockable artwork, player models, and battle arenas that you can find in the main campaign. The battle arenas can actually be played separately as a minigame with other players on the same Wii U. The other unlockable items in the game are collected in the form of books, figurines, and coins. There are also bottle caps you can collect by replaying multiple times, and hitting certain achievements. These range from simply beating a level, to performing a morph at a specific time, or recruiting a certain number of civilians.
Voice acting is pretty superb. It goes along with whatever happens on-screen well, and it really reminds you of the various things the designers are lampooning. This game will make you laugh with its joke delivery, gags, and even music. The very first stage features a song that praises, and insults its protagonists in a very humorous way. It pokes fun at everything from action films, to anime, to comics, to manga, to other games. Couple it all with some pretty nice visuals, and you have an entertaining action game that can hang with the studios’ previous games. The cute, yet chiseled, super deformed characters look great. The simplistic pop art design is bright, and colorful.
However, there are some problems with the game I ran into during my play through. The biggest problem was a crash on the third stage. A crash so bad, that I had to reboot the Wii U three times, and reload my save file, each at the same point, before I could continue on. The screen would freeze up, and the console would issue one long, never-ending beep. Researching the internet, and Nintendo’s own MiiVerse I found that it’s a common problem.
The rest of the problems are anywhere from minor to infuriating. Toward the latter end of the scale are some issues getting your morphs drawn when things are frantic. Sometimes the gamepad won’t be able to detect the line, question mark, or circle you are attempting to draw in the heat of battle. This will cause you to be taken down by an enemy, or form the wrong morph. Sometimes entering the little booths to collect items is a problem. The game doesn’t always register when you’ve moved all of your heroes into it to unlock it.
None of these problems are commonplace enough to ruin the game. But they are enough to take you out of the experience. There are smaller things one can harp on like the occasional lower resolution texture. But at that point it becomes almost trivial since almost everything else is so good. One complaint I’ve seen in other reviews is that the reviewers in question thought the game is too short. I have to disagree a bit with this. While a really good player could blow through the game in a weekend, it is still fairly long as far as campaigns go. There is more meat to this than in many other spectacle fighters.
The Wonderful 101 is a great title. It isn’t the killer app some may have wanted it to be as it won’t appeal to everyone. But for anyone who loves action games, especially those who loved Platinum Games’ other titles it’s a solid purchase. It’s just a shame a few technical issues bog it down.
Final Score: 8 out of 10