Full disclosure: I’m an unapologetic fan of Hideki Kamiya. Not only is the director responsible for seminal action titles such as Bayonetta, Viewtiful Joe, and Devil May Cry, but Kamiya-san is also uncharacteristically outspoken, sporadically taking well-deserved digs at the gaming tabloids. Naturally, these taunts would lack piquancy if his output was middling. Yet, the designer has consistently created some of the industry’s most engaging gameplay elements- from Viewtiful Joe’s time manipulating system to Ōkami’s distinctive brush stroke mechanic. In many ways, the recent release of Platinum Games’ The Wonderful 101 feels like an amalgam of Kamiya’s oeuvre. Blending the hyperkinetic combat of Bayonetta, the simulated brush strokes of Ōkami, and even the occasional puzzle-solving of Resident Evil, the designer’s fingerprints are all over every sinuous frame of this Wii U exclusive title.
Although The Wonderful 101 fuses a number of familiar elements, gamers who sampled the recent eShop demo likely discerned one remarkable departure. The title’s hook is that players control a flowing flock of up to a hundred characters, vaguely recalling 2011’s Swarm. Unlike Hothead Games’ overlooked platformer, 101’s ambitions are quite a bit larger. Players are able to unite followers into everything from offensive weapons like swords, whips, and guns to puzzle solving objects such as giant hands or human bridges.
Of course, the transition from leading a single protagonist to guiding a flock of subordinates increases the level of control complication. Although players only directly command the path of a single character, they still are tasked with manipulating the ever-expanding mob. Fundamental maneuvers include ordering your followers to assault Pikmin-style, rebounding enemy attacks, and performing a dodge. Drawing simple gestures on the Gamepad or manipulating the controller’s right analog stick is the way to summon Wonderful 101’s signature devices. Tracing a circle summons a gigantic red fist, ideal for both pummeling foes as well as turning the giant handles- which when rotated, open up previously gated areas. Depending on the magnitude of the backward ‘7’ symbol players scrawl on their touchscreens, they can create a hulking pistol or an even more enormous Super Scope-like rifle.
Regretfully, both methods of conjuring contraptions have their faults. When using the gamepad, it’s entirely possible for forceful finger or stylus strokes to open up Wonderful 101’s submenus- putting players at a disadvantage. Moreover, during the game’s more intense sessions, it’s entirely possible to sketch a contorted pictograph that the game won’t recognize. Although the analog stick is ideal for creating linear unite patterns, such as the straight line need to assemble a sword, as well as ordering followers to form an impromptu bridge or ladder- some of the more intricate gestures don’t come naturally. That said, swapping 101’s sketching system for a radial menu wouldn’t have worked as an alternate input method. Some of the title’s more engrossing moments come from bosses battles with players issue teams of autonomous Unite Morphs to combo enemies into submission.
Despite these small blemishes on the control scheme, combat in The Wonderful 101 is persistently engaging. Following Platinum Games convention, players can expect a steady torrent of mini- and major bosses- each compelling players to study their potencies and vulnerabilities. Enjoyment can stem from the developers not articulating how every mechanic works. One example: once gamers unlock the stout and stalwart Wonder Green character, they’ll gain access to the massive gun. While firing at a bombing tower produces a hit flash, the game allows players to discover that the only way to splinter the spire is by affixing its own shells to the end of your pistol and firing back. Although this lack of hand-holding produces a procession of “a-ha!” moments, some players might occasionally find the action momentarily halted until the figure out the game expects from them. Since end of stage medals are based on completion times, it would have been nice if The Wonderful 101 gave a clue to perplexed players after they’ve lingered in an area for too long.
Much like Vanquish, Bayonetta, or Metal Gear: Revengeance, gameplay in The Wonderful 101 consistently converges on the chaotic. As players are issuing devastating combos and juggling foes against the clock, a bevy of other goals vie for competition. From collecting currency which can be used to purchase unlockable moves, wrangling the temporary assistance of citizens, or scouting hidden pathways, the title bombards players with simultaneous tasks. Since the commissions aren’t likely to be completed on a single play though, 101 encourages gamers to revisit each of its 27 stages before journeying on to the New Game+ option. It’s also worth noting that the game includes a multiplayer component culled from campaign content that offers action-oriented play for up to five participants. While it can bit of time for individuals to make sense of the visual cacophony in the main game, these multiplayer battles will push your optical perceptiveness to its threshold.
An assessment of the game wouldn’t be complete without a mention of its spirited storyline or sumptuous visuals. Key team members of the Wonderful Ones poke fun at well-worn Super Sentai stereotypes- Angelean Wonder Blue aspires to be an actor while the team’s requisite female Wonder Pink is obsessed with her appearance. That said, the title adeptly straddles the gap between ridicule and reverence, subtly mocking tropes while still adhering to the ‘strength in numbers’ parable. Cleverly, there’s a bit of lightly lascivious humor in The Wonderful 101 that adults will notice will likely to fly past younger gamers.
Much like Pikmin 3, some of 101’s graphical charm emanates from its sense of scale. Periodically, the camera will pull far back, putting a soft focus on the environment, suggesting that the Wonderful Ones are little more than gallant action figures. Close-up shots seem to corroborate, with each member given a plastic patina. In keeping with Platinum Games obsessive technical standards, the game’s refresh rate is unswervingly fluid, running at a liquefied sixty frames per second. Skillfully, 101’s dialog complements its visual aptitudes, offering expressive voice overs which bring believability to the characters.
Like most of Platinum Games’ output, The Wonderful 101 excels by constructing gameplay that’s persistently on the precipice of pandemonium. However, unlike titles like Vanquish, Bayonetta, and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, 101’s input method isn’t always intuitive, which can cause a bit of frustration once the on-screen mayhem escalates. In the end, this issue shouldn’t prohibit a purchase of the game, since there are about a hundred or so other reasons why this title is truly wonderful.
A copy of The Wonderful 101 was provided by for review by the publisher.