Review: The Wonderful 101
GAME NAME: The Wonderful 101
DEVELOPER(S): Platinum Games
PLATFORM(S): Wii U
RELEASE DATE(S): 23 August 2013
Rayman Legends has come and gone on Wii U. A year late and without its original exclusivity, it’s safe to assume that it’s no longer a title that will sell Wii U consoles. The Wonderful 101 is another “great white hope” for the Wii U. Unfortunately, it’s just not as wonderful as it needs to be. The game is another in the long line of niche titles for a Nintendo console. The Wii U faithful will buy it out of principle, while everybody else will collectively shrug out of indifference.
The central conceit for W101 is interesting, but ultimately one that simply can’t be sustained for the duration. It’s based entirely around a gimmicky use of the GamePad’s touchscreen, which ironically, hinders rather than enhances the experience. Players control one member of a group of superheroes known as The Wonderful 100 – the additional 1 is the player – who have the power to Unite-Morph.
Unite-Morphing allows the super group to form large weapons with their own bodies, including a fist, sword and gun. Each weapon is formed by drawing a specific shape on the GamePad’s touchscreen. A circle for the fist, a straight line for the sword and so on. For basic shapes the system works well enough, but as more weapons are unlocked and the required drawings become more complex the game frequently fails to recognise the inputs. Platinum are obviously aware of the issue and have tried t o alleviate it by allowing the same inputs to be carried out with the right analogue stick. While more accurate than the touch screen, the stick’s issues are twofold. Firstly, it’s much slower and secondly it undermines the entire premise of The Wonderful 101. This is a game that could in fact appear on any other platform and would probably have been better off if it was.
Simple button presses mapped to each of the different Unite-Morphs would have greatly sped up the process, removed any frustrating input failures and actually made the game a whole lot more fun. It’s unfortunate, but by virtue of being a Wii U exclusive The Wonderful 101 has been made worse off. Other uses of the GamePad are also problematic. Occasionally the horde of super-heroes will enter a building and rather than render the roof invisible the interior will be displayed on the GamePad. In and of itself it’s a novel idea, but in these instances the camera control is tied to the accelerometer inside the GamePad. Each and every time an indoors sequence appeared, I was forced to wrestle with the camera.
These sections usually involved very simple puzzles, but due to the camera issues, they took far longer and were far harder than necessary. Thankfully, they were short and infrequent, however the features of the Wii U once again hampered the play experience and disrupted the pace.
Aside from the Wii U specific issues, other problems plague the game. Combat is largely an exercise in repetitive button mashing. Being the central pillar of gameplay, the combat needs to shine and it just doesn’t. The combination of attacking, micro-managing additional squad members, switching Unite-Morphs, dodging and defending is just too clumsy. Thanks – in no small part to the GamePad – instead of being a fast, fluid system of ludicrous combos, the combat is dull and flat.
Enemies attack in swarms and from all angles, never giving you an opportunity to do more than frantically mash the A button. Not once did I feel like I was totally in control of the situation. I didn’t even feel like one super-hero, let alone 100. I did feel like I should have been able to pull off insane combos and dispatch the enemies swiftly, but that never happened.
Interesting ideas are present in The Wonderful 101, but so many other aspects of the game work counter to them. The isometric camera is nothing if not problematic and the number of characters on screen often caused me to lose my place and die needlessly.
The lack of any real explanation meant stumbling blindly until accidentally discovering how something works, all while the game punishes with its brutal difficulty. I’ve heard the excuse, “it’s a Platinum game, they never explain anything and their games are always hard”. This is not an excuse or a justification. It’s simply poor game design. Struggling to understand the most basic mechanics of a game, how they work and why they were implemented shouldn't happen, but with The Wonderful 101 it does, frequently.
The plot – while largely fluff – is one element of The Wonderful 101 that does work, and wonderfully (pun intended). Drawing inspiration from Saturday morning cartoons, kaiju films and anime, The Wonderful 101 has a delightfully quirky cartoon vibe. The characters – and their constant bickering – are a source of much amusement, particularly as they are parodying each of their respective nations. Stereotypes may conjure up ideas of offensiveness, but fear not, The Wonderful 101’s characters are gentle parodies, nothing more.
That being said, the female characters in the game fall victim to some pretty awful sexist stereotyping as well. Wonder-Pink is introduced in a cut scene that spends more time focusing on her backside and breasts that on her whip ability. Likewise, when a female enemy is introduced later in the game, the first shot is of her cleavage. Wonder-Pink and the enemy then proceed to argue about who looks younger and whose clothing is cheaper. In a game about super-powered heroes saving the Earth, it's a real shame that the female heroes are portrayed this way.
Graphically, The Wonderful 101 is nothing special. Looking like an HD Wii game, it’s not the quality expected one year into the Wii U’s life. Granted it runs at a rock solid 60 frames per second and the cartoony, plastic-toy quality of the characters and enemies does evoke a certain charm. The colours are bright and vibrant, the design of the world is simple but pretty, yet nothing about the way it looked truly impressed. Serviceable would be an appropriate adjective for The Wonderful 101’s graphics. That, and average.
The Wonderful 101 is not the game that will reverse the fortunes of the Wii U and I suspect Nintendo were acutely aware of the fact. Promotion has been non-existent and stores are lucky to have two or three copies for sale. Fans of the Wii U will seek it out, simply because it’s something to play. It’s not going to make Mr. Hardcore gamer shell out for a Wii U though, especially when the PS4 and Xbox One are just around the corner. The Wonderful 101 had a lot of potential, but by being a Wii U exclusive and forcing the implementation of the GamePad and touchscreen that potential was squandered. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but the Wii U’s latest exclusive game is made worse by being exclusive.
Sorry Wii U fans, but the game isn't all that wonderful.