Only recently did I come around to seeing the WiiU as a worthy investment with Bayonetta 2 coming out shortly. However, no one purchases a new console and doesn’t go through the current library first. There was the typical lineup of promising Nintendo properties as expected, but the game that caught my eye was a very under hyped title from Platinum I believe will be looked back upon as a hidden gem.
The Wonderful 101 sets itself up as a campy, lighthearted action game about one hundred heroes protecting the earth from the “Guild of Evil Aliens Terrorizing Humans with Jiggawatt bombs, Energy beams, Ray guns, and Killer lasers” or GEATHJERK for short. Though the overall story is the basic superheroes vs aliens, the plot does take some unexpected turns and occasionally catches you off guard as it glances over some heavier themes.
Though there are 100 heroes in total the story mostly focuses on a small central cast of color coded characters with cartoonishly exaggerated personalities. Red is the typical noble and selfless hero, Blue is a hot-headed loner type, Pink is a girly-girl who obsesses over her clothing, etc. Though they’re all clearly meant to be parodying typical super hero tropes, sometimes the over-exaggeration makes the humor fall flat. While self-aware snark from genre savvy heroes is funny, the characters themselves feel shallow, and only one of the main cast really undergoes anything resembling a character arch.
It never fully commits to taking itself seriously and that’s fine, it’s a silly over the top game, but it makes the game’s attempts to paint the situation as bleak and overwhelming feel a bit hollow.
Don’t be fooled by the colorful art style into thinking it’s just an easy throwaway game for kids. Wonderful 101 is a difficult and sometimes unforgiving action game first and foremost, with the action frequently broken up by the introduction of completely different styled sections, including a Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out like segment with giant robots inside an erupting volcano. Sounds pretty crazy right?
Crazy definitely is a great word to describe the combat if nothing else. You play as all 100 heroes simultaneously who combine to form weapons you use to beat on foes and solve puzzles. It sounds like a novel concept at first, but the execution proves to be frustrating when you’re trying to draw a certain weapon in the heat of combat and end up with a hammer instead of a bomb. Certain enemies and obstacles in the levels can only be handled by certain weapons, so you’re required to switch frequently as you progress. I found it to be a little more bearable to use the stylus to draw the weapons on the WiiU touch pad instead of using the control stick but it still wasn’t a perfect fix.
Outside of the drawing mechanic, the combat is pretty standard. It consists of more or less button mashing against smaller inconsequential enemies, then spending an extended amount of time chipping away at the larger special enemies who require a special mechanic to hit but are otherwise just as much glorified sandbags as the little ones. While the controls are tight it can become incredibly tedious during longer missions. As for the puzzles, it might be generous to call them such, as it mostly consists of rubbing the right weapon against the right object to unlock/move/explode it.
The boss fights at the end of every three-part mission are a place where this game shines. Boss encounters include varied mechanics that test how well you know your arsenal, rather than just throwing larger variants of smaller enemies but with more spikes. The rhythm between combat, different game style levels, and epic boss fights is solid, giving you enough enough time to recover between them. With multiple difficulties across a hefty nine missions, there’s plenty of game here to keep you busy for hours.
The least wonderful thing in Wonderful 101 would have to be one of the worst cameras I’ve seen in an action game since Devil May Cry 2. The extremely zoomed out camera makes seeing your Pikmin sized heroes a pain. It’s far too easy to get disoriented and plenty of times you’ll end up fighting mooks off screen. Even some of the rail-shooter sections suffered immensely from an absolutely bizarre camera angle that cut-off part of the screen, ensuring you’d hit every single hazard on one side.
The way I see it, Wonderful 101 is an odd duck among action games. It’s not quite a Viewtiful Joe styled beat’em up action, nor is it really an epic action adventure tale like Okami. It’s somewhere in the middle but also something completely different. It seems simple sometimes and is deceptively difficult at others. Despite all the conflicting designs incorporated, I never got the feeling the game wasn’t sure what it wanted to be. Nothing really feels out of place in this whacky, bizarre adventure from a school bus all the way to the stars. It proudly stands out with its own identity and offers something that is thoroughly completely different from your average action game.
It's a completely unique experience for fans of action. It has some technical hang ups, but they're pretty easy to tune out once you get into the action.