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One of my most anticipated releases right now is Platinum Games’ Bayonetta 2, which is not out until 2014. Unlike many games that I have to eagerly wait for until its release, I at least have an appetizer before Bayonetta’s fabulousness graces my TV once more with Platinum’s other Wii U project, The Wonderful 101. Thankfully for fans of the developers’ past projects, notably a particularly Viewtiful series, The Wonderful 101 is everything you expect alongside some experimentation that more or less works.
The premise of the game is as charming as it is Japanese. The GETHJERK aliens are invading Earth and it’s up to the Power Rangers-esque Wonderful 100 (pronounced One-Double-O) to save the world. You start as schoolteacher William Wedgewood, who after his pupils get in harms way becomes Wonder Red, your generic goody-goody superhero who fights for justice. While he may be too saccharin sweet, he’s better rounded out when his other colored-themed agents joining him: the cocky Wonder Blue, the fat French Wonder Green, the trendy Transylvanian Wonder Pink, the cowardly Russian Wonder Yellow, the noble Japanese Wonder White and the quiet Indian genius Wonder Black. While the story focuses on the color-based members of the Wonderful 100, other, more random members of the group such as Wonder Beer, Wonder Babe and even a Wonder Bayonetta join up and make combat in-game a bit easier. It’s undoubtedly a Platinum game.
The Wonderful 101 is one of the better looking Wii U games to date. Each individual character may not look amazing up close, but thanks to a zoomed out camera much like Diablo, the detail of the group, the environments and specifically the enemies in-game look crazy defined. Even more impressive is the lack of slowdown, even when the game gets crazy with 100 heroes battling gigantic enemies in some very active backdrops. Aside from a few fun tracks, the soundtrack sadly isn’t up to Platinum’s high standards except for the theme, which queues perfectly when you’re annihilating a boss. At least the voices of the quirky cast are purposely stereotypical for some laughs though.
The core gameplay is basically a trimmed down version of many other stylish-action games like Devil May Cry or Bayonetta, and that’s because it uses only the A button to perform your main combos. May I say too, it was quite annoying using the A button on the right to attack at first since I am very used to using the left face button (Y on Nintendo systems, X on Xbox or Square on PlayStations) on every other game in the genre. To compensate for the more simplistic combat is the main gimmick and one of the biggest frustrations in the game, the mighty Unite Morphs.
Unite Morphs combine your allies, both permanent members of the Wonderful 100 and temporary normal earthlings that you recruited just for the current stage, into one giant weapon to eradicate you foes with. These abilities have you either draw on the Gamepad or with the right analog stick, with the latter being the superior method. Not only do these Morphs slow down the fast-action combat, they get worse and worse later when you unlock more. They at first require simpler shapes like circles for fists, straight line for swords, an L for gun or a squiggly line for whip. If the game only had these abilities, I don’t think I’d have an issue, but later heroes make you make more defined shapes like a hammer or similar shapes like the hammer-like bomb or zigzag for claws. These later shapes get confused with the whip’s squiggly line, messing up QTEs or roughing up your flow in combat, which is extremely detrimental in these sort of stylish-action games.
The boss fights are when The Wonderful 101 shines the most. Lasting as long as full levels, these fights are exactly what you expect from a Platinum Games experience – absolutely epic. Each one of these mammoth obstacles play out very differently, making you study each attack and exploiting the weaknesses of them that you can either dodge, deflect or prevent. These fights do not get overdrawn or stale since they’ll have you doing a ton of different fast-paced objectives throughout the fight. For example, you’ll fight a huge robot, then jack it so you can duke it out Punch Out!!-style against an even bigger robot, finally flying your robot away from your enemy’s explosion.
Like many games of the genre, you are ranked after each fight (from Consolation Prize, Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum and Pure Platinum) based off of how well you perform combos, the damage you take and the speed you do it in. After each level, you are also ranked on each of your individual ranks, items used and deaths. Replaying levels is a must to aim for the coveted Pure Platinum levels and it’ll be easier since you will have more heroes as well as equippable abilities and attacks bought in the Wonderful Mart.
The game’s mainly a single player affair, but like Pikmin 3, there is a mission mode that up to five players can take advantage of. These missions make the game a bit crazier (well crazier than normal), and each non-Gamepad player is forced to use Pro Controllers with the right analog stick method. It’s also unfortunate that another Wii U game with a fun mission mode is limited to local play only, since online play could have players take advantage of whatever controller they liked.
The Wonderful 101 is the Viewtiful Joe of this generation and I mean that in the most positive and negative ways. This is a game that action fans will fall in love with, as long as they can appreciate its uniqueness. However, it’s a full-priced, Teen rated, cartoonish looking hardcore game that usually goes nowhere because anyone who looks at the package (that hasn't followed it since before its release) will have something to disapprove of. And for those few who can muster and master its gameplay will be rewarded with an unparalleled flow of amazement when you and the game are synced. Then and only then will The Wonderful 101 become exactly that: wonderful.