The Ninjabot

The Wonderful 101 Review: Unlimited Form!

Posted on October 8, 2013 at 2:55 pm by Victor Chaves

the wonderful 101 review

I loved this game, and I hated this game. As much as The Wonderful 101 titillates, it can infuriate you. Developed by Platinum Games, The Wonderful 101 is an isometric-view brawler where, through collecting heroes (or citizens that turn into heroes), the player can draw weapons to fight alien invaders called the Geathjerk. By drawing the weapons (circle for fist, line for sword, etc.), they materialize using the people gathered. The more people you use, the more powerful your weapons will be.

Battle System is Nice and Deep

There’s an incredible level of depth to the combat in The Wonderful 101. Not only do all of the weapons have different attributes (i.e. fist is immune to fire, sword deflects beam attacks), but the player can call upon other heroes to use those weapons automatically for a short time. At one time, you could be pummeling the enemy with a fist while four other AI’s are whacking the enemy with a whip, a sword, a hammer, and a time-slowing bomb. Orchestrating this situation in the chaos of battle is very satisfying and leads to a great sense of accomplishment when an enemy that was at full-health is destroyed in five seconds by the flurry of attacks.

The Wonderful 101 review

Need a Steel Soul to Beat This Baby

Good luck getting that to happen as playing on Normal felt like what was supposed to be the Hard difficulty due to enemies without mercy. I often found myself going toe-to-toe with a ten-story tall Geathjerk when another enemy just came out of nowhere and ran me over. Unlike other games where enemies take turns as if in a line, just waiting to be annihilated, the The Wonderful 101 enemies don’t like to wait for their turn. I had to train myself to concentrate on the environment around me, disengaging when necessary. From here one can understand the flow of battle and even attain a “Zen-Like” mindset where it becomes less about carelessness of your play, but more about strategy.

As fun as this can be, there are problems with this battle system. For one, the fighting starts to get a bit stale, as there’s usually only one way to defeat the enemies. Spiked enemies? Always use the whip. Giant turtles? Always hammer. Laser shooting enemies? Always the sword. Each time you meet these enemies, you can only fight them in one way for most of the game.

That isn’t to say that the game is shallow, since I know for a fact that there are better ways to fight the enemy rather than long desperate struggles using the only weapons I know will work against them. The problem is that the game doesn’t foster that sort of experimentation. The rating system this game employs does not make me want to experiment. Each time I fail with an experiment (and that happens a lot) my rating drops; and in turn, I lose currency that I could’ve used to purchase upgrades.

Much like Platinum’s Bayonetta, there’s a practice room loading screen to try out moves and get comfortable executing them. The difference, though, is that Bayonetta requires memorization of button presses to attain the best output for damage while The Wonderful 101 requires encyclopedic knowledge of the enemies to know which weapons and moves work best against them. Since there are no free areas for players to just try out attacks on enemies without fear of ruining their rating, you as the player will probably just stick to your bread and butter and not try thinking outside the box. For as deep as the combat system is, the game sets up a gigantic barrier to keep you from delving into it.

Replete With Transformation Montages!

At the very least, you’re going to smile through all of this. The story is a ton of fun with a real Saturday-morning heroes vibe and campiness to it. Think Power Rangers. The seven main characters of The Wonderful 101 are generally archetypal, and on paper they don’t seem interesting at all, but what makes them interesting is the funny dialogue and the way the characters all play off each other. The situations are hilarious at times, and the imagination that Platinum Games put into the Saturday-morning heroes theme really shows how fond they are of the genre.

There are some serious moments where the emotion of the situation actually reached me, showing that even though the characters are nice on the outside, their personal troubles can get in the way of saving the world. Where most games (and even TV shows) fail, The Wonderful 101 navigates between serious and hyperbole quite easily, proving that the silliest situation can still tug at your heartstrings.

Is that a bomb I hear? Or is Wonder-Clock behind me?

Is that a bomb I hear? Or is Wonder-Clock behind me?

Beyond the deep fighting and the fun story, the levels themselves are disappointingly bland. You fight the same enemies again and again in levels that are essentially arenas. Visually, the game is stunning, but it doesn’t really matter how pretty the location is because you’re still fighting the same Hoedowns, Dahkats, and Nyerks. By the time you’re in the late-game, you’ll have fought these same enemies in the same way dozens of times.

The game is by no means short, but there seems to be padding in these levels that’s beyond what’s needed. If they cut down the number of fights, I could see The Wonderful 101 being much more enjoyable. Luckily, the game certainly knows how to flip the script, giving a new fresh style of gameplay about every half hour. All the boss fights have some quirk to them, such as Space Harrier-like situations (a great reference to a certain Nintendo series), and many others that really spice-up the gameplay.

Probably the only bad gameplay mix-up Platinum Games put in here is a building view switch, where in select buildings that you enter, the camera switches to the gamepad to complete a puzzle that’s in the building. Usually, the puzzle can be solved easily by looking at your TV and back to your gamepad to figure out what relates to what, but the controls and sudden claustrophobic nature of these elements lacks polish, turning it into an exercise in frustration.

The Wonderful 101 boss

Final Thoughts

Platinum Games really knows how to end their titles. The final two hours of The Wonderful 101 is a fantastic ride to the finish that ends the game on an extremely high-note. Too often, games are thoroughly polished for the first few levels, but then end with a ten-second cutscene that ties nothing together and credits that last longer than the final boss fight. The Wonderful 101 thanks you for your hard work, which is more than I can say for several triple-A titles out there.

When I turned off my Wii U after beating this game, I reflected on my adventure around the world, fighting fantastical enemies with several dozen funny characters. I remembered how fighting the same enemy again and again bored me, how the story sometimes touched me and made me empathize with the characters, I remembered the fantastic boss battles, and I couldn’t help but smile. Though The Wonderful 101 is by no means flawless, it’s a game unlike anything you’ve ever played, and it executes that originality very well.

Presentation: 9

Gameplay: 7.5

Replay Value: 8

LEGACY SCORE: 8.0

Geek Legacy’s review scores are on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest possible score.

This review is part of Geek Legacy’s Wii U WheelHouse campaign. Our goal is to provide insight into all the great games Nintendo’s Wii U has to offer. Follow Victor on Twitter @fake_brasilian to keep up on his sandwiches.

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