Platinum Games has quickly become a fan favorite developer. Their particularly eccentric style mixed with over-the-top and unique gameplay ensures that each title provides for a thrilling ride that always seems to strike the right the chords within many. Their latest endeavor, and first Wii U exclusive, The Wonderful 101, continues Platinum Games' growing legacy of original, quirky, and impressively fun titles with gusto. Put on your mask, jump on the team, and unite up!
The Wonderful 101 takes place in a fictionalized Earth where two Earth Defense Wars have been fought by against an invading alien force known as the GEATHJERK. Each time, the Jerk forces (as they are affectionately known), have been fought off by Earth’s defense force run by the CENTINEL Planetary Secret Service and their team of superpowered individuals known as the Wonderful 100 (pronounced double-o). These brave citizens equip themselves with CENTINEL-Suits, flexible exoskeletons that grant super abilities to the user, as well as allowing them to “Unite up!” and combine themselves together, taking the form of different giant weapons. A third invasion has begun, and a new generation of Wonderful Ones are ready to take the call.
Led by the newly inducted and typical team leader character with a storied and troubled past, Wonder-Red and the rest of the Wonderful 100 must defend the earth at all costs. The team itself draws inspiration from many other exceedingly energetic teams such as the Power Rangers and Voltron, and falls back on a tremendous amount of cliches, but utilizes each one brilliantly in a very tongue-in-cheek manner. In the same vein, every main character is a walking stereotype, from the arch-rival/80's movie bully Prince Vorrken, to the veteran ally Wonder-Blue who won't follow your leadership, to the annoyingly sarcastic and quippy Frenchman Wonder-Green. The overload of cliches and stereotypes come together to provide a barrel of laughs.
The rest of the characters deviate from the color scheme and see some hysterical uses of everyday items and jobs, like Wonder-Tape, a Wonderful One based off of a measuring tape. Platinum Games also gets in on the fun and throws itself into the world as Mother Platinum, the "goddess" of the fictionalized Earth that CENTINEL and the Wonderful 100 worship. Even when certain cliches are used time and time again, like the last second rescue before certain death or Wonder-Red’s ridiculously awesome attack names, it feels right at home in the superbly wacky atmosphere. The Wonderful 101’s narrative lives up to the Platinum Games name, and sets forth new ground in terms of quirkiness.
The gameplay builds off this quirkiness, using a unique combat system built with the Wii U gamepad in mind. When controlling only one of the Wonderfuls, combat is much like any other action adventure title, with strong and light attacks, blocking, and dodging. However, when you begin to build your team up, they can morph to form giant versions of the lead character's weapon. Morphing is greatly entertaining and satisfying. Using either the touch screen or the control stick, you'll use your team of Wonderful Ones to make certain shapes that let you utilize different weapons. There are seven main weapons and a couple of bonus weapons, including a fist, a sword, a gun, a whip, a hammer, a time bomb, claws, a heart-shaped crossbow, a boomerang and the always-fun dual-bladed naginata.
Teammates morph into weapons with the use of the Wonder-Liner, which allows the player to draw shapes in order to make weapons. Shapes correspond with the type of weapon, where a “C” shape will give you a fist, an “S” shape the whip, an “L” shape the gun, and other shapes that resemble the rest of the weapons. Shapes can be drawn using either the touchpad or the right control stick (it's much easier to use the right control stick, as going back and forth between the gamepad and TV frequently can be bothersome, and the touchpad can be a tad finicky), and will be bigger and stronger depending on how large you draw the shapes. Shapes can only be drawn larger if there is enough battery meter to do so, though, as bigger shapes use up much more of the meter.
The Wonder-Liner is also used to help progress through each mission, where making a ladder to climb a building or constructing a bridge to cross a large gap, for example, are very common. One of the most interesting uses of the Wonder-Liner, and definitely the most beneficial, is the ability to gather up citizens to help you in your fight against the Geathjerk. While you’ll be given seven of the Wonderful 100 (Wonder-Red, Blue, Green, Pink, White, Yellow, and Black), the other 93 will have to be found throughout each operation and gathered up with the Wonder-Liner. Though it’s entirely possible to miss a bunch of the wacky characters, it’s much more fun and interesting than simply being handed a new character at set intervals. It’s an extremely impressive and original system that is great fun to use and mess around with. When you gather enough Wonderful Ones, making a fist or a sword the size of the screen is very satisfying, especially when you can take down building-sized Jerks with ease.
Combat focuses mostly on the Wonderful Ones' morphing abilities, where different enemies will require certain types of weapons in order to either break through their shells, take down their shields, or slice off their limbs before you can start truly damaging them. Some enemies will also be resistant to the Unite Morphs if they’re too small in size, and can only be damaged once you’ve drawn a big enough weapon. Other abilities become available once you have enough coins to buy them from the store in between missions, such as the Unite Spring, which sees the team unite into a giant spring, Unite Camp, which allows the team to recover much more quickly, and Unite Guts, which is a giant, flan-shaped shield that lets you deflect attacks. Some of these morphs can be upgraded further to unlock their full potential, like the addition of a drill to the Unite Spring or a spiky exterior for Unite Guts.
You can also purchase equipment to be placed into three different slots to begin with, and more as you progress through the game, which alter how some of the morphs work. One sees a slowdown ability once a successful dodge occurs, and another allows for much more damage when using the Wonderful Ones' weaponry. While some of the abilities may be a bit unoriginal, the more unique aspects of gameplay easily make up for it and are a breath of fresh air for a genre that so very often falls back on overused mechanics and repetition.
Enemies come in a mix of organics and technology that require different tactics to defeat, like using the claws to pry open a shell or the whip to remove spiked armor. The Geathjerk hold a decent challenge as well, where blocking and dodging will be necessary to stay alive and achieve a better rank on the mission, be it Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum. Each boss battle brings a unique spin to the table, where homages to other games make appearances, like the giant robot fight that plays exactly like old school Mike Tyson's Punch Out!!, complete with King Hippo and Don Flamenco animations, and a superb take on the traditional shoot-em-up, feeling like a mix of the classic Panzer Dragoon series and R-Type that does a great job of breaking up the normal action and keeping the flow going.
Boss battles don’t simply rely on borrowing from other games, however, as the morphing mechanics are intertwined with each boss battle, making each one more entertaining and wild than the last. Many of the leaders fall into typical cartoon-styled villainous roles to further The Wonderful 101's use of cliches, complete with the arch villain that is the antithesis of Wonder-Red and has a similar team of 100 warriors that can mimic the Wonder-Liner's shapes. It all keeps with Platinum Games poking fun at gaming tropes, as well as the ridiculousness of shows like The Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers.
Missions, or Operations as they're called, are broken up into three sections, with a total of 9 missions or 27 total levels, plus some added fluff during and after the credits that add a nice little bonus. Levels require a mix of platforming, wall climbing, and puzzle solving, as well as sections that require you to navigate different obstacles while looking at the touch screen so that objects on the main screen are manipulated in order to progress through the level. It can be a bit disorienting at times, as I didn’t even realize at first that I needed to play using the touchscreen once or twice. Once you get use to the dual screens, it’s rather intriguing and intuitive. If dual screens aren't your thing, you can switch it up to have a picture-in-picture set up, which even supports only gamepad play, but the screen is pretty small on the TV, and almost unrecognizable on the touchscreen.
Throughout the game, many different collectables can be gathered, including detailed files on the Wonderful Ones and the Geathjerk, heart pieces to increase your maximum life (thanks Link!), Platinum coins for extra cash, and a figure for each and every wonderful bastard to be gawked at. Many of the collectables are hard to find, and combined with the end game bonus of a new weapon morph and extreme difficulties, The Wonderful 101 holds a decent replay value for those who want it to.
The Wonderful 101 does have some multiplayer options, allowing up to five players to join, as long as the other four are using Wii U Pro or Wii Classic Controllers. Multiplayer is simply co-op with a competitive spin, with each player getting a set of 100 robots to make all of the shapes from single player. There are only a handful of levels, and while it can be fun running around with a bunch of super squads, it gets rather hectic due to a limited camera not seen in single player, and feels very tacked on.
Compared to the rest of Platinum Games’ resume, The Wonderful 101 holds a much more cartoony look, but it fits perfectly with the tone of the game. It’s two parts Viewtiful Joe, one part Pixar’s The Incredibles, and every part gorgeous. Some may find it hard to look past the childish aesthetic, and it’s a valid argument, as much of the game could be seen as kid-oriented. Yet characters are rather adult in nature, with introductions of female characters focusing on their curvier assets, and risque jokes involving Wonder-Blue's inadequate penis size pop up occasionally. Character expressions are lively and very well animated, and every single hero holds a unique and detailed look, with their CENTINEL-Suits shining in the light.
The Wonderful Ones will adventure through many different locales, including different cities, ancient temples, Geathjerk ships, and space itself. Every bit works with the overall aesthetic style, with cities’ giant skyscrapers vibrantly illuminated, underground tunnels dimly lit with dancing torch light, and stars gleaming as you shoot through space in a giant, platinum robot, as all the while enormous explosions and giant laser boom through your speakers. The voice acting continues with theme of cliches and stereotypes, providing a bunch of laughs with Vorrken’s typical 80’s teen movie bully voice, boy crazy and Transylvania native Wonder-Pink, California dude and secret pothead Wonder-Blue, and the Russian fellow (Wonder-Yellow) who clearly has little grasp of the English language, just to name a few. The voice work is purposefully cheesy and B-Movie style, with each character playing their role and delivering their lines wonderfully, and includes some amazing talents like Steve Blum, Tara Strong, and Yuri Lowenthal.
Many of Platinum Games' titles have been hit or miss. However, The Wonderful 101 delivers the studio's quirky sense of humor packaged with some tight gameplay and original ideas. While the story may not resonate with everyone due to the heavy use of cliches and stereotypical characters, it is wildly funny and entertaining. There are some issues with the touchscreen controls, the multiplayer feels a bit tacked on, and it isn't the most challenging of games, but The Wonderful 101 packs a good dozen hours of mass-hero-action for any Wii U owner, and even more if you want to get those precious platinum ranks and hundreds of collectables. While it may not be the reason why you buy a new console, it most certainly is a major step in the right direction for Nintendo, and The Wonderful 101 should be an essential game for most Wii U owners.
This review is based on a retail copy of The Wonderful 101 for the WiiU