The Wonderful 101 is a game that caused a roller coaster of emotions for me, ranging from sheer joy to revulsion. This is a brilliant game, but mired by some questionable design choices and controls.
This title is probably going to go down as one of, if not the most unique titles of its generation. It’s an interesting mix of Pikmin, Bayonetta, and Viewtiful Joe, but with drawing mechanics. To put it simply, like Pikmin you have dozens of characters on screen at once all following a leader that you control.
They go everywhere you go, they obey your every command, you are their master. If a leader has the unite sword power for example, they form the heroes into a shape of the sword. Their bodies meld into a sort of alloy that can be used by the leader to cut down enemies. Like Bayonetta, the gameplay can be very stylish and the skill ceiling is high. You can perform combos with the unite morphs by switching between them while juggling the enemies in the air.
The characters themselves seem very much like Viewtiful Joe in their super hero designs, Wonder Red in particular bears a striking resemblance. As for the drawing mechanic, you can create a weapon by drawing a shape on the Wii U gamepad. For example, if you were to draw a circle and press the A button, you would form the unite hand; you can use the right joystick to draw shapes.
When you play The Wonderful 101, you can really tell that the developers love video games. There’s a nod to a plethora of classics; and those of you who grew up with some of these games will really appreciate all of the throwbacks to the old games certain levels emulate. There’s a section where you fight a boss inside of a giant robot Punch Out style, with the controls seeming to match the old game identically. They added a level that mimicked the shoot’em up Viewpoint, where you pilot a ship in an isometric environment that allows you to manipulate unite morphs as well as fire lasers, even allowing you to pick up options along the way. Platinum even put in several Star Fox themed portions in Wonderful 101, and they were an absolute blast to play through. When you played through these parts, you’re reminded that it’s not just game developers who made this, but video game fans as well.
A synopsis of the game’s plot is that the a group of evil aliens known as the Geathjerk is planning to take over planet earth, and it’s up to a team of super heroes, known as the Wonderful 100, to save the planet from certain destruction. It’s deceptively simple, as the game’s plot becomes quite complex as everything unfolds over the course of your journey. On the surface it doesn’t seem like the characters have a whole lot of depth either, but they actually grow on you after a while.
Hearing Wonder Green say “maman!” in dangerous situations always puts a smile on my face. They come to understand each other more, form stronger bonds, but still keep their strange quirks that make them so unique and funny. There’s also a strange hybrid of family friendly and adult material in the game. The developers made sure to play to all sorts of audiences, and it worked out nicely. There’s some sexual innuendo, violence, Saturday morning cartoon themed humor, and references to various cultural tropes in video games and anime. In addition to all of this, a major plot twist unfolds near the end of the game which will make your head spin. I won’t spoil the surprise, but let’s just say it puts to rest all of the stereotypes that this is your average shallow, childish game with a bare-bones story.
Now with any game there is that other side of it, the uglier side…. and The Wonderful 101 unfortunately is no exception. For all of the laughs, and incredible moments I experienced while playing, there was plenty to lament alongside them. The control system with the joystick is perhaps one of the biggest complaints I have about this game, and one that constantly brought down my experience while playing. There were many moments in which I attempted to draw a shape, only for the game to either register it as one I didn’t intend to make, or for it to simply not make anything at all. There were several incidents where I was drawing with the joystick over and over and over again until I got it just right. In the meantime the enemy was pummeling me, or the combo was interrupted as I failed to draw the next shape. Granted, I could have used the touch screen, but it’s not nearly as fast or practical as using the joystick.
This brings me to another complaint, the quick time events; this game has a lot of them, too many in fact. They broke the flow of the game. It was rather jarring to constantly be interrupted by these while you were in a battle, but the worst part of it was when you were introduced to an entirely new unite morph during a QTE. Sometimes I died a few times trying to draw a new shape during a QTE; because the game either didn’t register what you drew, or it didn’t adequately explain how you were supposed to draw the new shape. There was one where I died 7 or 8 times attempting to figure out how to draw the new shape, I won’t specify because it’s a major spoiler, but let’s just say anyone could get confused and not understand this if they weren’t really told what to do at the time.
The Wonderful 101 is an usual blend of inventive and frustrating gameplay.
It’s the kind of video game you want to love, but makes it somewhat difficult to do so because of certain flawed mechanics that bring down the experience. The game’s general theme is charming, the characters are very endearing, there’s humor that all sorts of ages can appreciate. There are many parts of this game which pay homage to classics such as Punch out, Star Fox and Viewpoint.
The Wonderful 101 seems to have something for everyone, be they a kid, a teenager, an adult, whoever; but it’s not without its blemishes.