Nintendo’s Wii U console is in distress, and the company is dispatching The Wonderful 101 to rescue the struggling system.
The Wonderful 101 is a new game from developer Platinum that comes out Sept. 15. It follows a group of superheroes fighting off an alien invasion. Players take control over a swarm of these characters who have the ability to morph together into giant weapons and tools. It’s an original idea, and Platinum pulls it off with style, but boring filler and a broken camera system might sabotage The Wonderful 101 before it can pull the Wii U out of its tailspin.
What you’ll like
What about offscreen play on the Wii U GamePad?
One of the Wii U’s marquee features is the capability to play many games on the GamePad without using a television. The Wonderful 101 works surprisingly well with this feature. At first I thought the perspective (which has the camera zoomed way out most of the time) would present a problem, but I actually found that the screen somehow made the action easier to follow.
The Wonderful 101 is all about bashing in giant-robot brains with a huge group of superheroes, and it’s just as fun as it sounds. Developer Platinum, which is probably best known for its stylish beat-em-up Bayonetta, has once again crafted a deep combat system that rewards skilled play.
The titular Wonderful 101 refers to a superhero force that the player can command to form massive weapons like a hammer, a whip, or a sword. These different offensive abilities have varying strengths, and most scenarios require the player to mix and match their arsenal in order to succeed.
My favorite part was learning to perfectly time my different defensive maneuvers so that I could counter attack with a flurry of sword strikes and uppercut punches on difficult enemies. The Wonderful 101 is always keeping track of your performance and each section rewards you a medal based on your level of play, and it’s rewarding when you feel like you did well and it acknowledges that.
The end result of the combat looks like absolute mayhem. Enormous enemies stomp around and spill of the edges of the screen, and the attacks are huge, swooping colorful blurs, but I always felt in complete control (after I got the hang of things). That ensured that every battle remained exciting as long as it didn’t use some gimmick to take me away from the standard combat.
Colorful, fun characters
Beyond the combat, The Wonderful 101 is overflowing with style. It feels like the best episode of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
The enemies are known as the Geathjerk, which stands for the “Guild of Evil Aliens Terrorising Humans with Jiggawatt bombs, Energy beams, Ray guns, and Killer lasers.” They are an over-the-top race of cartoon aliens that scream hilarious and stupid insults at the characters. They have weapons that include Godzilla-like monsters and skyscraper-sized robots.
The heroes are even more interesting. In addition to a core group of characters, Platinum designed dozens of other heroes like Wonder-Cellphone, a man with a mobile device for a head, and Wonder-Toilet, who has a … well, you probably know what he wears as a hat.
The big dumb enemies and colorful characters combine for a really refreshing visual style that you can’t get on any other console. On top of the art design, the crisp graphics and tilt-shift lens-blurring effect give the game a signature look that also sets this game apart from the crowd. This is not just points for originality — the game is genuinely a joy to look at.
What you won’t like
A few hours into The Wonderful 101, I already knew that I was dealing with a broken camera. I had experienced two separate areas where the camera got stuck looking up at the ceiling. I had to hold down the R-button (which supposedly controls the camera) to get the screen to kinda focus in on my characters.
But I eventually got to a point where I had to stop playing because the camera was so bad that it made me feel nauseous.
I was guiding my band of heroes down the interior of a plane that was falling out of the sky. The fuselage was twisting, and the camera was zoomed out even more than normal. This meant that Platinum set the camera outside the plane so it was creating a ring effect to show that we were looking (X-ray-style) through the plane. All of this combined to prevent me from getting a good focus on my characters. Most of the time they were running right below the rim of the visible area. I struggled to get them into view, but nothing I did worked. For some insane reason, Platinum locked the camera controls for this part.
It felt like The Wonderful 101 was rubbing sand in my eyes.
That’s the worst example, but The Wonderful 101 is filled with other moments where I struggled to get it to show me what I wanted to see. I rarely succeeded in that effort.
Mechanics take a while to sink in
As much as I enjoyed the combo system, it took a while before I actually got to that point. For about four hours, I had almost no idea what was going on. That is partially because the screen overflows with visual information. I had to learn how to track my character before I could even think about putting together a coherent attack strategy.
The other issue is that you just don’t have a lot of abilities at the start. Eventually, you’ll have a ton of tools, but during the first few hours I was just spamming the attack button and taking a lot of damage. It creates a hump between the start and the point when The Wonderful 101 becomes really enjoyable.
Boring turret and QTE missions
Unfortunately, The Wonderful 101 isn’t all combo-based combat, and that’s a problem because just about every other thing Platinum tries to do is boring filler.
In between the fighting sequences, Platinum breaks up that action with overly long quick-time events and vehicle-based missions that only hurt. The developer tries to use these moments to make things feel huge and cinematic. It doesn’t work.
It’s hard to go from having so much control in the battle phases to just pressing the jump button eight times in a row while stuff happens on the screen that I have no connection with. Nearly every single one of these non-combat missions feels like a waste of time, and they make up a significant chunk of the game.
The Wonderful 101 is a good game … at times. Once I got the hang of its combo system, the battles were nearly always exciting and challenging, but Platinum’s Wii U debut has too much filler and a busted camera.
You can still have a decent time beating up Godzilla-sized enemies, but it’s just a bumpy road between those high moments.
All that said, this is the best game on Wii U from a non-Nintendo developer.
The Wonderful 101 is due out Sept. 15 for Wii U. Nintendo provided GamesBeat with a download code for the purposes of this review.