"A Wii U Wonder"
If one were to condense Platinum Games’ latest action game, The Wonderful 101, into a food recipe, it’d read something like this: “Take 7 Cups of Superhero Action, Drama, and Comedy each, and mix with 5 Cups of Premise involving 100 Masked Heroes teaming up to confront an Alien Invasion. Flavor them with a Robust Cast of Heroes and Villains inspired by Classic Superhero Tropes (Justice-Minded Leader, Hotshot Loner, Child with Chip on their Shoulder, Villain with Interest in Main Hero, etc.). Stir vigorously, thus adding constant Narrative Tension, Edge of Your Seat Moments and Comedic Dialogue/ Gags. Now pour 10 quarts of Intense Action-Packed Combat, 8 ¾ quarts of ‘Fusing Heroes into Giant Weapons’ brand Gameplay Hook, and 5 ½ quarts of Gameplay Variety. Place in a Wii U-style oven and let it cook for around 17 hours (the exact time is subject to the cook’s playstyle preferences). Take out, let it cool off, and enjoy. NOTE: Small amounts of Technical Issues may appear in finished product.”
Now I know the question that’s hanging on the edge of your tongue right now: does it taste good? Technically, it does, but simply saying “yes” hardly explains it. The Wonderful 101 is a bombastic dish, chaotic yet strangely coherent from first bite to final swallow. Even with the occasional hiccup on the technical side, it is a meal well recommended for Wii U-style oven owners looking for something with a nice, action-oriented snap.
(Okay, I’m stopping with the food analogies now)
The first thing you’ll notice about the game is that it doesn’t take things slowly. The plot doesn’t give you time to let the conflict between Earth and the extraterrestrial forces of GEATHJERK unfold before you are thrown right into the midst of it, leading a small portion of the 100 heroes into battle against the invaders. From there, as more heroes join your ranks and the threat of alien annihilation becomes more prominent, the sense of urgency only intensifies as it carries you from one action-packed set-piece to the next and again, and from one wave of fierce enemies to another.
Even with this rapid escalation, The Wonderful 101 still manages to make enough time outside of the action (or, in some cases, over the action) to develop an exciting story with real stakes (in spite of its frequent comical moments), memorable characters, and all the other things that make superhero stories fun, like in-fighting, betrayal, heated rivalries, impossible odds, shocking plot twists, and, of course, plenty of one-liners. It feels like watching a super-long episode of Power Rangers (but geared for an older audience and considerably more awesome), and makes playing the game more than worth it just to see how everything unfolds.
Not that the gameplay in and of itself isn’t fun. In fact, controlling a horde of heroes in battle is surprisingly easy. By using either the GamePad touchscreen or R Stick, you can trace a line of heroes to form giant weapons called Unite Morphs. These provide a strong and diverse arsenal (ranging from a sword and a whip to a gun and pair of claws) with which to bring the fight to the invaders, and as you gather more heroes, the arsenal becomes bigger and the Morphs themselves more powerful. Better yet, the accessibility of the control scheme makes it easy to keep a clear understanding of what to do even in the heat of battle. And believe me, with enemies often coming either in large numbers or with serious attack power, it helps to not have to fumble around figuring out how to pummel them with a giant fist.
The majority of the gameplay involves fighting enemies and earning medals (by clearing out enemies as quickly and stylishly as possible) as you make your way through the game’s story and Mission Mode. And while it is accessible, it is also deeper than it initially appears. Morphs aren’t just used for killing aliens, but frequently come into play for solving puzzles and navigating obstacles. The GamePad’s screen also gets plenty of usage, with several fun segments revolving around the interaction between the smaller screen and the TV screen.
If that wasn’t enough, The Wonderful 101 frequently offers plenty of surprises. In its gonzo nature, the game may have you fighting enemies one minute, only to have you heading for their base in a Star Fox-esque rail-shooter segment the next. Giant robot boxing matches, bullet-hell shooter-sections, spectacle-ridden boss fights, and a number of hidden secrets throughout the game’s levels ensure that things never feel dull.
So to sum up, on one hand the gameplay benefits from a strong balance of depth and accessibility, stylish combat, and a good sense of pacing and variety. On the other hand are those technical issues I touched upon earlier, most of which have to do with the tracing mechanic for forming Unite Morphs. While it, for the most part, work wells, too often I would trace the shape I thought would form the hammer, only to find that it would form a whip instead. Same with other morphs, which would be mistaken for others if I didn’t trace it carefully. Ultimately, this doesn’t bother me personally, as one can easily undo the trace and try again without losing a lot of time, but I can see it being a damper on other players’ ability to effectively fight, especially on harder settings.
Mention must also be made of some other, milder issues. The fixed camera angle can occasionally work against you, making it hard to tell which hero is under your control, while load times can be a bit frustrating in their length. Also, the game can be pretty glitchy, with some heroes getting stuck in spots or floating high above the rest of the team, etc. My personal favorite was a floating sword that continued to fight even though the enemy carrying it had long died. In spite of these glitches, none of them ever affected the gameplay, crashed the game, or made me unable to progress.
And it’s just as well that it never happened, because I would have missed out on some great, action-packed moments that you don’t find in great number on the Wii U. With chaotic-yet-cohesive combat, strong gameplay hook, plenty of variety and an exciting story that ties it all together, The Wonderful 101 is an excellent addition to Platinum’s catalog and… dare I say it… a wonderful exclusive for the Wii U. If you’re a Wii U owner and longing for something action-packed, look no further.
GameDynamo's Score for The Wonderful 101 (Wii U)
A writer, journalist, and aspiring storyteller, Peter Grimm has been gaming since the days of the Nintendo 64, and reporting on the goings-on in the World of Gaming since late 2011. His base of writing operations is located within the void between Here and There, or so he would have you think.
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