The Wonderful 101 Review

By Shawn Collier on December 2, 2013

If you've played Okami or Bayonetta, you probably know about its creator Hideki Kamiya. He's back with a new title exclusive called The Wonderful 101, which is exclusive to the Wii U. It was originally pitched as a Nintendo crossover title and those beginnings still shine through as each of the heroes, such as Wonder Red and Wonder Blue, have power-ups and personalities that match Nintendo's finest. Designed a throwback to Kamiya's original works and the super sentai shows of the "˜70s, The Wonderful 101 attempts to take advantage of the Wii U's unique capabilities. So does it succeed?

In an interesting twist considering the game's graphical style, the story is more adult-ish than its exterior lets on. Initially somewhat silly, it plays like a parody of the superhero shows from our youth. However, after the first few chapters are done, things take a more serious tone as the game plays into the idea that heroes can become villains (and vice-versa) as they deal with loss and victimization. One great example of this was an anti-hero who lets his personal losses (think Batman's origins) and anger fuel him.

Nintendo also went with some high-profile voice talent such as Tara Strong and Steven Blum, which gives the English dub some serious chops, although the Japanese voices are available if you so choose. Basically The Wonderful 101 plays like a superhero show, but with the insight of an adult looking back at it and executes it, to pardon the pun, wonderfully.

The core concept of The Wonderful 101 is how the player controls 100 heroes led by one of the members of the Wonder collective, but instead of controlling them one-by-one like in Pikmin, you control them as a single unit with the ability to transform into objects such as swords, guns and other various. Executing these transformations is done through the Wii U gamepad by drawing the shape using the stylus or using the right analog stick, although the number of transformations you can do is limited by how much meter you have at the time. In terms of styles, you can both play defensively and alternate between offensive or defensive transformation or you can choose to waste all your meter at once with a bevy of super-powered attacks at the cost of leaving yourself wide open. It promotes an interesting dynamic.

The former is how you attain chain combos in the game, as the right defensive move can stun the enemy opening them up to follow-up attacks. This allows you to gain back the meter in the process. If you've played Kamiya's Viewtiful Joe you'll have an idea of how this system works, as both are very similar to each other. You might occasionally have issues with a few of these transformations as the explanations occasionally are vague, but once you get the pattern down it isn't much of a problem.

Most levels have sections that are unreachable initially until you learn a move found later in the game. This gives you a reason to go back and experience them again because this is where missions, hidden challenges, secret files, new wonderful army members and "bottle cap" items which can be exchanged for secret characters such as Bayonetta and even Kamiya himself.

There's a few puzzle elements in the game that make quite an interesting use of the Wii U's gamepad (although it can be done split-screen on the TV if you prefer controller-only controls) as they allow you to move items between the gamepad and the TV. These puzzles sadly end up either being too obvious or obscure in most cases, but it's still a novel use of the second screen that most developers have neglected on the platform.

One minor issue with the gameplay is a few areas where the puzzles and platforming elements aren't very clear to the player and typically have a timed element to them. There is often an arbitrary solution to the room that leaves the player to die multiple times before they figure out what the developers intended. Thankfully these instances are minor, but when they do happen they are quite a nuisance.

As far as graphics go, The Wonderful 101 isn't platform advancing like Okami was for the PS2, but it isn't a slouch either. Kamiya went with a plastic-like approach as if they were pieces in a child's playset which gives the characters a shiny-like exterior. There's enough of the next-gen bloom and lightning abundant although when the camera zooms into the characters there's some PS2-era textures that are visible. Even with its flaws it still has a very unique art style and looks fine when zoomed out

Final Thoughts

The Wonderful 101 is very much a game that rewards you the more you put into it. Initially it seems like the game is a cliched parody of the superhero genre, but it ends up being much more than that. Coming back to later levels with my new abilities definitely made things more interesting than they were the first time around and if you can ignore the small flaws along the way you'll have a wonderful time with this game.

Novel use of the Wii U’s gamepad for once.
Gives the player a reason to go back to earlier levels.
Those wanting a Wii U game with a more adult story are in for a treat.
PS2-era textures occasionally when the camera is zoomed in.
Some puzzles and platforming elements are too arbitrary for their own good.
Some transformations are obtuse until you realize how the game wants them activated.
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