With its crazy sense of style, colorful worlds, and oddball humor, The Wonderful 101 feels like Director Hideki Kamiya’s spiritual successor to Viewtiful Joe. As the title suggests, instead of controlling just one masked superhero, you take charge of a 100-strong battalion as the 101st member of the squad. So how does controlling an army of shape-shifting warriors handle?
In a word? Viewtifully.
Platforms: Wii U
Developer: Platinum Games
Genre: Isometric Superhero Mash ‘Em-Up
Release Date: September 15, 2013
ESRB Rating: Teen
In a nutshell, the Wonderful 100 (pronounced one-double-oh in a nod to James Bond) are an Avengers-style planetary team of superheroes, who use the powerful energy of their Wonder Medallions to “Unite Morph” into a number of different weapons or objects that can be used to thwart the invading alien force known as the Geathjerk.
Comparisons to the recently released Pikmin 3 are inevitable due to both games’ isometric view and RTS elements, but that is where the similarities end. The Wonderful 101 moves at a frantic, hectic pace through the beautiful, bright cities that the characters inhabit. The control scheme here is something that will take time to master. The team moves as one, led by whichever character you have nominated as your Champion. As you meet civilians along the way, you can temporarily grant them Wonder powers by circling around them, bringing them into the fold. The characters attack as one, either through a systematic kinetic attack which increases the Wonder Energy bar and weakens the enemy’s defenses, or by using the Unite Morph ability to draw a weapon and strike the enemies.
The drawing mechanic works surprisingly well, drawing shapes on the Wii U GamePad produces a variety of weapons such as a circle for a fist or a straight line for a sword. The main characters of the game are the Wonder agents (who are named after colors), and as you meet them, you progress in your mastery of seven weapons. The further into the game you delve, the more first-tier Wonderful 100 agents you meet, increasing your arsenal. Initially, you have access to only Wonder-Red’s fist or Wonder-Blue’s Valiantium Sword, but later you get access to Wonder-Green’s gun, Wonder-Pink’s whip, or Wonder-White’s Wolverine-style claws. These primary agents can be swapped out for secondary Wonderful 100 agents who have similar weapons but bizarre themed-names, such as Wonder-Beer or Wonder-Cheerleader. There are also a number of secret characters to unearth if you manage to complete challenges or find hidden bottle caps, including a few characters from Platinum’s previous games!
In order to construct a weapon from the 100 agents, players must draw the corresponding shapes, using either the right analogue stick, or by using their fingers on the GamePad’s touchscreen. The latter is by far the more intuitive option, and it will immediately make you wish that Okami would be re-released for the Wii U. The wide array of Geathjerk minions and robots are susceptible to attacks by certain weapons. This forces you to think, strategise and co-ordinate your approach, rather than go headlong into throwing fists and firing guns. For example, the brilliantly named Gedie Dough-Goo is an upgraded version of the Dough-Goo, an enemy you encounter earlier on. However, the newer model is now protected by spiked armor plates. In order to defeat it, you must first use the whip to rip the plates off, before striking with your weapon of choice. If you have a large amount of 100 agents, you can construct more than one weapon at a time, leading to better strategies and larger point combos.
However, the control scheme is not without its flaws. For example, when drawing Wonder-Yellow’s hammer, you have to draw a line then a circle, and it is very tricky to get right. This proved especially frustrating when there were large enemies on screen. As the weapon is drawn, the characters begin to take shape, but if the enemies are in the way the drawing mechanic will skew your lines because the Wonderful 100 agents are now engaged in attack. This frequently happened when fighting the behemoth armadillo-like Megangs, who had to be smacked with the hammer in order to bash and break their armor. It was near impossible to draw a large, powerful hammer because the forming line of Wonderful 100 agents would always hit the Megangs and automatically start attacking, disrupting the drawing process.
The game varies the types of play to keep the levels fresh and flowing. In certain levels you may take control of the Wonder 100’s spaceship, the Virgin Victory, using its lasers to blast the Geathjerk ships. Another, less enjoyable, segue is when your team goes inside a building. Rather than making the buildings transparent, the view switches to a first-person perspective on the GamePad’s screen. You have to solve the puzzle within, and reference the clue displayed outside that is on your television. For example, early on you enter a baseball stadium clubhouse, and have to shoot a baseball three times, corresponding to a swirling light outside. The controls in these sections are poor, while the camera is clogged with characters. These moments force you to draw shapes using the analogue stick, which was often a burden compared to the ease of drawing on the GamePad screen itself.
At its best, The Wonderful 101 is a new, fresh, and addictive experience, while at its worst, it is an over-reaching, frustratingly hard game with some questionable camera setups. The repeat playability value is launched into the stratosphere with the ratings system, which lets you repeat levels to master them and win the pure Platinum Medals. Overall it is engaging and fun, despite its flaws, with some funny send-ups of current superhero trends, and humorous banter between the characters. What it is best at is showing how the Wii U’s GamePad offers a completely different way of playing, utilizing the touchscreen in the best way seen since its release.
Review Disclosure: A review copy of The Wonderful 101 was provided by Nintendo for the purposes of this review.