The Wonderful 101 was my most eagerly anticipated game for the Wii U. Seldom do recent games invoke a since of whimsy and energy like this. More often than not, I’m looking at a grizzled, sullen man holding a gun on the cover of most of my games, and that never really makes me want to play it. Wonderful 101 bursts at the seams with personality, and as a game playing experience, I found it hard to put down!! Developed by Platinum Games, who also created Bayonetta, which is my favorite title of the last generation, The Wonderful 101 was worth the wait. If any nagging doubts I might have had initially is that the super hero parody ran its course years ago and the humor could be reduced to schtick. Thankfully, there is more than enough creativity for the material to stand on its own merit and becomes charming rather than grating, especially if you’re familiar with the humor in Viewtiful Joe. It pays homage to sentai-style shows like Kamen Rider and Power Rangers instead of bashing it. And frankly, after feeling a little cold when I finished up New Super Mario Brothers U, I needed something refreshing.
VISUALS 8.9/10: 101 runs at a pretty high frame rate despite having so many character models, as well as enemies, on the screen at one time. The camera remains a 3/4 isometric view throughout the game in order to ensure that you can keep your eyes on as much as possible while not taking away from the beautiful Blossom City. At times, it can be hard to locate yourself amidst the chaos and while you can zoom in closer on the action, it can really inhibit the view of the playing field. I couldn’t see enemies out of my field of vision winding up for their next shot and I would get blindsided a great deal, which only helped drive me bonkers.
The scale of the enemies can get ridiculously colossal and for split moments I wondered just how on earth will I beat these monstrosities. It’s always impressive when a new one appears in full, destructive glory, often times leveling a great deal of city during its arrival. Some close-ups of the character models show some rough lines and a slight lack of polish, but each hero (of which there are plenty that you can find) has a unique individual appeal and flair and the sheer number of wacky designs, it is certainly amazing
MUSIC & SOUND 8.5/10: The scores composed throughout the game radiate with heroic fanfare and it always felt rewarding when a more epic version of the main theme plays when I defeated a boss. The English voice actors all do a great job of bringing each character to life, what with all the wacky accents, even if I did want to stuff a sock in Wonder Green’s mouth after a period of time. There’s only so much blubbering I can take.
GAMEPLAY 8.5/10: Attempting to smash through most enemies and obstacles with brute force will only get you so far. I tried this strategy often in Bayonetta only to wind up flat on my butt repeatedly. Each of the seven main Centinels have a unique fighting style and weapon to aid you through the game and learning to use them effectively (or at least to earn a high prize at the end of each stage) saves many a headache. Some aliens can only be beaten effectively with certain Unite Morphs. It keeps players guessing on the fly by providing different obstacles that can’t simply be flattened. Formulaic perhaps, but at least you never feel like you’re on autopilot.
Using the Gamepad and stylist to draw the designated shape can be a little iffy and unresponsive at times. Whenever I would try to draw the triangle for the hang glider, it would occasionally register as Unite Gun. Using items available in the Wonder Mart, it is possible to increase the speed of the Wonder Liner, so if using the right analog stick, this is a must. Missions can go on for a good 16 minutes on average, so the bulky Gamepad can get pretty weighty. Alternate puzzles will shift you to an interior view that is viewed on the Gamepad. Tilting and turning helps you see around, but Unite Morphs in tiny quarters when necessary is a peeve of mine. One of my favorites is where a Geathjerk ship is firing a laser beam into color coordinated entry ways, and by following your path of travel and calculating where it might shoot next was pretty exhilarating, and in my opinion, the most creative use of the Gamepad during real-time gameplay so far on the Wii U. The touch blocks in Super Mario 3D Worlds is a close second. There are various stage layouts, like an isometric space shooter that homages Xaxxon, a Punch Out!-style boss fight, and you have to take physical control of the Virgin Victory using Wonder Red’s Unite Hand to steer while shooting.
DIFFICULTY (Moderate to Hard): Depending on whether achieving a high-ranking is apart of the goal, 101 can really be a very difficult game. Dying will be often if not careful and using continues and items will severely cripple your chances to get a high score. You can purchase skills and feats via the Wonder Mart that can be equipped to curb some of the punishment, like a Healing Guts that will replenish health if landed successfully, but skill and timing are the tools to stay alive as enemies will hit you HARD. Battles with Vorkenn are tough, since he copies your abilities, so I just hit and run with Wonder Blue. In a day and age where boss battles are just kind of there, Platinum Games do a great job of making boss fights feel memorable again!
CLOSING THOUGHTS: The Wonderful 101 was a great thrill ride and a fantastic Wii U exclusive, it really is a damn shame Nintendo did a crummy job of promoting it, both overseas and here in the U.S.. With big, engrossing missions (some can be a bit too long), a lovable cast of characters, stimulating gameplay, and a conclusion that truly feels larger than life, this is so far my favorite game on this console. Platinum Games has done a remarkable job establishing what I hope is a series and now I can’t wait for Bayonetta 2!
OVERALL SCORE 9/10
PROS: Visually stunning. High replay value. Carefully crafted gameplay mechanics.
CONS: Missions can really go on for a long time. Unite Morphing can be a bit spotty, especially during quick time events. Mayhem can be hard to follow.