Platinum Games has managed to create something totally fresh yet familiar. When you first pick up the Wii U’s gamepad and take control of The Wonderful 101 your brain will be assaulted by a kinetic frenzy of action, dozens of characters and enemies scurrying around the screen , fighting battles, dodging explosions, destructing environments. Clean designs punctuated by bold bright colors and paired with a heroic symphonic soundtrack will be a feast for the eyes. If you’re anything like me you will be stumbling and failing. Keeping track of your character on screen will be a small victory but most of the time you’ll be thinking what the hell is going on? Then suddenly things will start to click. Your faith in Platinum will be restored and you’ll start to see the deep and classic “easy to learn a lifetime to master” game systems that Platinum has become famous for.
The Wonderful 101 follows the story of the CENTINELS , a global taskforce of heroes , and their defense of Earth from the alien invaders GEATHJERK. The major hook of the game is the player is controlling a mob at heroes at once instead of a single hero. Where this gets interesting is the heroes’ Unite Morph ability which allows them to combine into different shapes to attack and evade enemies. Unite Morphing is accomplished by drawing a corresponding shape on the gamepad in the heat of battle or using the right stick to draw the shape onscreen. Want your squad to form a giant fist? Draw a circle. Drawing a line will form a giant broadsword. Knowing which attack to use in which situation is part of the challenge. This technique can be expounded upon by drawing multiple shapes in succession until the entire screen is filled with several squads of heroes pummeling aliens with various attacks. As your heroes level up you’ll unlock your standard array of launchers , charge attacks, dodges and guard moves, and this is really when the game starts to open up and truly starts to shine.
It’s not all without its problems though. Drawing a shape while in the throws of combat isn’t always ideal and its not difficult to mis-draw the wrong shape or do a bad enough job the game doesn’t recognize the shape at all. But I wouldn’t say this is unique to the Wonderful 101 and I felt was more akin to missing a combo or a super move in any other fighter or action brawler. The game has some strict timing and demands precise controls when countering enemy attacks so getting tripped up on occasional shape can be disappointing and frustrating. I also disliked how the use of items hurt your score for a mission. In order to achieve the pure platinum medals you need to make a flawless run without the use of items. I thought that was kind of a bummer, especially when they give you fun stuff to to craft like space noodles and space cake.
All of this though takes a back seat to the fantastic set pieces and boss battles the Wonderful 101 provides for its player. You’ll be riding giant robots while fighting them, or playing baseball with a giant multi-canon turret, or be in an aerial battle with a two headed mechanical dragon, all of this by the end of the first operation. Even for Platinum Games the bosses are huge and so well done they are really the highlight of the game and take on almost a stage of their own form instead of the standard big bad at the end of a level.
If you’re an action fan this is a must play. If you’re a Wii U owner, this is a must play. Despite a few control faults (which I believe would be overcome with mastery of the controls over time) the Wonderful 101 is the Wii U’s standout title. A new IP from the best action game company in the business right now, a spectacle of sight and sound and an entertaining good time.