Platinum Games have developed a reputation for making these complex and deep games that hidden behind a layer of shiny gloss. Just look at any of their console releases, from "MadWorld," to "Bayonetta," to "Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance," there always seems to be something that gets in the way of the discussion about the game itself. With their latest release, "The Wonderful 101," the fact that it's out on the Wii U and that it is published by Nintendo, seems to be the headline, however, when you dig a bit deeper there is a whole lot of game here, most of which is completely unlike anything else on the market.
"The Wonderful 101" puts you in control of 100 heroes that part of the CENTINELS Planetary Secret Service as they attempt to stop an invasion by the "GEATHJERK," alien terrorists hell-bent on taking over the Earth. In order to combat these invaders, the members of the Wonderful 100 don technologically advanced uniforms that give them super human powers, like uniting together to form massive weapons. These Unite Morphs can take the form of a gun, a sword, or a hammer, amongst other things, and can be used to attack the Wonderful 100's monstrous foes. The story centers around seven Wonderful Ones, each of which is assigned a certain color (Red, Blue, Green, Pink, Yellow, White, and Black), and who are in control the seven Unite Morphs.
The core gameplay in "The Wonderful 101" is similar to a massive beat-em-up, where them members of the Wonderful 100 have to lay waste to the attacking aliens. The Unite Morphs are a central part of this gameplay, as players must transform into these massive weapons to prey on their enemy's weaknesses. For example, Wonder Pink's Unite Whip can strip baddies of their armor, while Wonder Red's Unite Fist can pummel them. Some of the Unite Morphs are also used to interact with certain elements of the environment for some light puzzle elements. For example, Wonder Blue's Unite Sword can be used as a key, and Wonder Yellow's Unite Hammer can smash through cracks in the levels. In addition to the beat-em-up, the game changes up its style every now and then, switching to things like and on-rails shooter as the story necessitates.
The gameplay itself is pretty unique, as you get used to controlling 100 different characters. The right stick on the Wii U's GamePad is vital in "The Wonderful 101" as that's how you initiate the Unite Morphs; use it to draw a straight line for the Unite Sword, a circle for the Unite Fist, or a squiggly line for the Unite Whip, and so on. (Note: Unite Morphs can also be entered via the GamePad's touch screen, but the stick method is much easier.) The longer the lines that you draw, the more characters will be included in your Morph, and the bigger and more powerful your Morphs will become. The catch here is that you can only include as many characters as are in your party (which maxes out at 100), and you have only so much power that you can put into each of these Morphs.
That's because it kind of is.
"The Wonderful 101" is a great game, if you stick with it. The gameplay is complex, and grows as you progress through the game, and as it's doing so, it grows on you. Learning how to effectively perform the Unite Morphs, and which enemies to use them against takes time, and anyone that has played any other Platinum Games' release knows what that's like. Jumping into one of their games always comes with a learning curve, but, once you get the hang of it, they turn into a nuanced dance that help set them apart from any other developer. "The Wonderful 101" is no different, and that's what makes it, for lack of a better word, wonderful.
Unfortunately, there are also a few things that make it less than wonderful as well. One of the reasons that the game takes some getting used to is because there isn't much in the way of a tutorial, and you're kind of just thrown into battle to figure it out for yourself. While this is actually quite reminiscent of classic games, "The Wonderful 101" has so many facets that it could have use a bit more of a walk through than just some onscreen prompts. However, as players learn the ins and outs of the game for themselves, they're likely to find their own comfort zone much more quickly. That being said, it's also possible that they might go through the whole game not understanding what the power-ups are, and when to use them. That's a realistic possibility.
One of the other glaring issues in "The Wonderful 101" is the camera. Since the right stick is dedicated to creating Unite Morphs, players are stuck working their way through the game with a fixed camera. With one character that can be frustrating; with 100 it can be maddening. The camera will also zoom in and out at inopportune times, making certain battles harder than they should be. There are also interior segments of the game where the camera will switch to the GamePad, and players can look around using motion controls. While it’s novel in its approach, it breaks up the action, and gets confusing. On the plus side, you can play the entire single-player experience on the controller using Off TV play, which is always nice.
"The Wonderful 101" is not an easy game to play, but who ever said good games were easy? If you can get past the camera, and the learning curve, "The Wonderful 101" is actually quite good - one of the Wii U's best in fact. Platinum Games have continued their tradition of creating unique, over-the-top experiences that push the player to actually develop new skills, and perfect them within the confines of the game. Not many games have the guts to try and do that, but that’s why "The Wonderful 101" stands out. If you do decided to give it a try, just keep in mind that it's going to take a little while to get used to, but the effort is well worth it once you get past the rocky parts.
Score: 8 out of 10