Last month kicked off a series of noteworthy first-party game launches for the Nintendo Wii U with Pikmin 3, and the first title following up the adorable strategy game is an entirely new property that can’t be compared to anything that’s come before it – The Wonderful 101. Platinum Games — the developer behind Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising Revengeance — developed The Wonderful 101 exclusively for the Wii U, but does the software’s super hero-centric gameplay live up to the acclaim of the studio’s past endeavors?
The Wonderful 101 follows a team of 100 heroes from all over the world (the 101st being the actual player) who must team up to combat an invading alien race known as the Geathjerk. These cyborgs are hell bent on destroying Earth, but the “The Wonderful One-Double-Oh” is quick to combat these invaders with a unique arsenal of moves that allow particular members to create weapons out of other members in the super-powered group. These man-made weapons (in the most literal sense of the word) are called Unite Morph.
There are a number of weapons that users have at their disposal, although combat starts off at a rather basic level until more Wonder Agents are encountered later in the game. Summoning these weapons requires that players draw a rough outline of the weapon they’re hoping to create with the right stick on the Wii U GamePad. As an example, a giant fist can be summoned by drawing a circle, a sword with a straight line, and a gun with an angle.
As users progress through the story they’ll be rewarded with more difficult designs that award them with different kinds of weapons, all of which must be used tactically to take down various foes. Some Geathjerk are covered in spiky armor, which require Wonder Pink’s whip to remove, and some baddies will shield themselves behind fortified limbs — forcing players to use Wonder White’s claws to pry open their weak spots. These are but a couple of examples that pop throughout the game itself, and it does make for some variation in combat. That said, forcing certain enemies on players doesn’t allow them to carry through with combat in any way they want, limiting the freedom gamers have when it comes to actual play.
Despite stumbling into tedious combat mechanics throughout the course of the story, The Wonderful 101 manages to drum up enough interesting gameplay elements to keep it enjoyable. As with most Platinum Games-developed software, the game mixes up standard fighting with quick-time events — coming largely into play during boss battles. Mashing buttons that appear on-screen still occurs during these moments, but a majority utilize the Unite Morphs which require gamers to draw shapes (thus creating weapons) within a certain amount of time. These make for some over-the-top interactive moments that unleash an absurd and thoroughly satisfying amount of mayhem, but the weapons themselves are not easily summoned and attempting to draw them occasionally results in the wrong armament being summoned.
Accompanying the standard story are challenge missions. These tasks are combat-focused and pit the super-powered government agents with battling waves of Geathjerk, avoiding damage, and wiping out foes within a certain amount of time. Many of these challenges are incredibly difficult and will effectively test the mettle of even the most patient gamers. Depending on how well players do, they’ll be rewarded with a certain type of medal — the same is done following the completion of every chapter in W101‘s story mode. This ranking system adds replayability for completionists who are looking to secure ‘Pure Platinum’ status across the entirety of the game; they’ll be at it for a long time too, because The Wonderful 101 is a tough game.
The difficulty of The Wonderful 101 provides a good amount of challenge, and while difficult games are traditionally praised throughout the industry for various reasons, there’s nothing overly effective about Platinum Games’ use of unforgiving baddies. W101 doesn’t reward gamers for growing accustomed to combat or particular foe. The same strategy must be utilized every single time a devastatingly tough enemy enters the screen. There’s no real tactics required to take down these villains and the game mechanics instead rely on split-timing reactions and luck to secure high rankings. Couple that with undetectable enemy thrusts and cannon balls bombarding players from off-screen foes and the end result is a game that punishes players without merit. Fortunately, there’s no death penalty and players are able to continue from where they left off, making it possible to trudge through the game with poor scores.
The Wii U GamePad comes into play during certain segments of the game that require players to enter a small enclosed environment or building. Once users have entered these sections, the action will shift over to the GamePad’s screen, but they’ll still have to keep their eyes peeled to the TV as it showcases a number of different puzzles or dangers that must be conquered. These scenarios however, are bogged down by a problematic camera that’s based on the gyroscopic capabilities of the GamePad controller. Trying to correct horrific wall closeups or get a sense of where to go can be infuriating, making these portions easily the most annoying of the entire game.
Despite challenging controls, off-screen enemy attacks, and awful GamePad-based puzzle solving elements, there is still enjoyment to be had in The Wonderful 101. The story features funny dialogue with occasional laugh-out-loud moments and the boss battles are big, adrenaline-fueled and extravagant affairs. There are a lots of collectible heroes, medals, and trophies, and up to five players can join in for multiplayer. The gameplay really does feel fresh when compared to other games within the genre. Platinum Games didn’t create the killer app that Nintendo has been hoping for, but the developer has done a solid job building an exclusive game that’ll appeal to a niche audience and a few casual players alike.
The Wonderful 101 is now available exclusively for the Nintendo Wii U.
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