When you first start playing Wonderful 101 your eyes won’t know where to focus. With a large group of heroes on your screen running around an almost blinding, brightly coloured world, and loud noises and explosions constantly bombarding your senses, it initially feels like you’re watching a particularly confusing and seizure inducing anime. When your eyes eventually uncross themselves, however, and you get to grips with the controls, what you experience is one of the purest and most charming gaming experiences in recent memory.
As you’ve probably guessed from screenshots or the cover art featured above, this isn’t exactly your typical dudebro action game – what you might not have realized however, is that The Wonderful 101 is without a doubt, a game for the hardcore.
Under that gorgeous and charming Viewtful-Joe-meets-The-Incredibles art style, there is a surprisingly intense and extremely enjoyable experience to be found here, one that is both strategic and highly action packed. And given its origins I wouldn’t expect anything less.
The Wonderful 101 is developed by everyone’s favourite off the wall Japanese studio, Platinum Games. This Wii U exclusive strategic brawler is the love child of the ever outspoken Kamiya, creator of the Devil May Cry, Viewtful Joe and Bayonetta series, and like the latter, W101 focuses on fast paced and relentless action – and it isn’t afraid to have a difficulty curve that will completely whoop your rectum.
The Wonderful 101’s story puts you in charge of controlling 100 of the world’s strongest (and seemingly smallest) super heroes in order to fight off an alien invasion of our apparently cutesy little planet. You take control of Wonder Red and other inexplicably primary coloured heroes as you recruit other would be heroes to join your cause. You can find both temporary and permanent team members scattered throughout each level, often cowering under enemies and not looking like particularly super hero material, but each will have a different power or ability to add to your posse and make your team stronger.
Although you have a large group of heroes behind you, their standard attacks are practically useless in combat so in order to do damage you’ve got to – yep you guessed it – combine together. You do this by drawing shapes on either the touchscreen or with the right analog stick, making all of your heroes form together to make the shape of different unite weapons. An L shape, for example, creates a green gun, effective for more long range attacks, whereas a straight line will be a sword, an s shape a whip etc ranging all the way to an awesome looking hang-glider and giant bear claws.
What becomes interesting is that certain enemies will be weak only to a certain weapon, requiring you to frantically switch weapon types and make fast and furious combos as you figure out their weaknesses on the fly. After pwning some alien noobs, I then jumped over to the opposite building and was presented with a lock that required me to make a sword and rotate the gamepad like a key. My reward for unlocking it? I got to progress to the next part of the level… but by going down a water slide (if you couldn’t already tell this game is incredibly Japanese).
Later on, after a boss fight, there was a similar ‘puzzle’ that let you advance by riding a Ferris wheel to the next area.The contrast between the lightning fast combat and the goofily charming, environmental interaction feels genuinely fun, and the light hearted tone of the game is incredibly refreshing in a medium dominated with dark and ‘gritty’ identikit shooters.
Like Bayonetta, there is a shop you visit between levels called The Wonderful Mart, where you can treat yourself to upgrades and new Unite abilities, and after each battle (again like Bayonetta) you are awarded a rating and gold with which you can buy a plethora of upgrades and items, the amount of which is sure to increase replay value dramatically.
As well as the single-player, there are various co-op missions entitled Wonderful Missions, which support up to five players and are a hell of a lot of fun. You have to work with your friends to destroy all the enemies in order to progress, but luckily these modes are score based so you can still prove to your friends that it was actually you that did all the work. Sadly, everyone else was playing Mario Kart so we only got to try this with three players, but even with all the extra heroes on screen the frame-rate remained impressively silky smooth. My only complaint was that it made the game even more hectic, and with five players I’d imagine the action would become very confusing to keep track of.
In a world of often bland and unoriginal AAA shooters, with millions of marketing dollars behind them, a brightly coloured niche action strategy game for the struggling Wii U doesn’t seem likely to be a game that sets the world on fire. With marketing for the Platinum developed and Nintendo published game seeming to be almost non existent and the creator even publicly complaining about its lack of exposure on twitter, it seems sadly almost destined to fall into obscurity. But this game oozes with charm and is genuinely a joy to play. It deserves a much better fate than the bargain bin.
The brilliant mix of Pikmin like strategy and frantic Bayonetta-esque action looks to be one of the most original titles to hit any system this year. Fans of unique and expertly crafted gameplay would do well to keep this on their radar and support bombastically brilliant titles like this.
The Wonderful 101 hits the Wii u on 23rd August in Europe.