Here’s a not so surprising fact about the Wii U: Nintendo’s latest home console hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing since it launched last year, mainly due to the absence of original IP to showcase the hardware. One game that was supposed to make headlines is The Wonderful 101 (pronounced one-oh-one), a Platinum Games project intended for release early on. But like many intended launch titles for the console that didn’t happen – a number of delays involving technical difficulties in its later stages guaranteed the title would fight an uphill battle for relevancy among a welcome second-generation of games for Nintendo’s touchscreen console.
But it would be unfair to judge a game based on development issues alone because you can see the potential shine through. In a nod to the classic Japanese Tokusatsu television shows of the past – and Platinum’s own trademark craziness – the Earth has once again come under attack from an alien force called the GeathJerk. And the only thing standing in their way are the Wonderful 100, a collective team under the CENTINALS secret service sworn to unite in order to protect the helpless and the planet. It’s your typical Platinum Games title through and through, which is about as atypical as you can get.
From the start you’ll spot the game’s influences everywhere as its visual style combines the insanity of Platinum’s own Bayonetta with Viewtiful Joe’s super-deformed (yet awesomely cut) character designs, as well as a healthy dose of Nintendo’s Pikmim for good measure. The gameplay is an odd mix of action and real-time strategy, and as the group’s stoic leader you’re charged with conducting a growing battalion of other heroes that actively fight at your side, franticly subduing any opposition that stands in your path while you actively button-mash your combos into the mob of flying fists. For the most part your super-powered companions are at your whim while you can recruit other civilians (transforming them into minion vigilantes) and permanent heroes for temporary swarm duty. It’s a relatively simple formula where stronger attacks and even more devastating “Unite Morph” abilities are only as effective as the size of the mob.
Speaking of which, Unite Morph is a necessary part of the game that transforms your lesser allies into various large-scale weapons and tools such as energy blades and megaton fists depending on the task at hand, or actively switches between other heroes you’ll recruit. In other words your motley crew is an extension of your power with button-mashing and dialing combos being a major part of the game.
The visual style is definitely similar to Pikmin, with much of the action viewed at top-down isometric angles; a smart decision that does come with its own caveats as well. This becomes an issue when the action gets hot and heavy, making trying to keep track of things onscreen a mess when your growing mob mixes with alien invaders, creating a glorious and often confusing mix of wandering beings, bright colors, and a multitude of explosions, icons, and most of all particle effects. Your only real aid being the somewhat controllable camera, but sometimes even that’s not enough. Graphically, it is indeed wonderful but often bewildering in every sense, especially during boss battles, though sometimes you’ll just be starting at all the pretty colors and wonder what’s going on.
Some of the annoyances are shared with the Wii U Gamepad, which does an fair job of trying to be as immersive as possible when switching between the touchscreen and the television. You can alter which screens displays the action and radar or trace shapes or repeat sequences during event actions, and even serves as a secondary third-person camera in confined areas when you have to solve puzzles. Off-TV play is available but only for those that like their over-the-top gameplay more complex than necessary since some of the touch screen features are either changed or omitted entirely to compensate – which can be frustrating considering this is one game designed to be played with two active screens.
Maybe the developers knew of these shortcomings and wanted it to be a lighthearted affair compared to other high-intensity titles. Have you ever heard of a “Wonderful Toilet”? If not you will here. The game is filled with your typical Platinum Games humor throughout as bizarre cut-scenes consistently break the fourth wall with odd transitions to serious overtones in the middle of dialogue. Few of the jokes work while other attempts simply fall flat – a tone reminiscent of Viewtiful Joe, which isn’t surprising since producer Atsushi Inaba and director Hideki Kamiya also had their hands in that game too.
For a new and potentially ongoing series The Wonderful 101 is facing an uphill battle. If it weren’t for delays, this game may have been an intense launch title for the Wii U, but that’s also where things begin to fall apart in its original mission to attract day-one gamers. Mixing Pikmin-style gameplay with Bayonetta’s hyper-stylized action may endear to Platinum Purists but everyone else will be left scratching their heads, wondering just what the heck is going on. There probably is a satisfying game buried within its gloriously colorful depths, but you’ll have to dig deep through the sloppy execution to actually find it.