After being stuck in Wii U limbo for nearly a decade, The Wonderful 101 recently arrived on modern-day platforms with its remaster. Join this wide array of colourful characters as you punch, shoot, and flatten any alien you come across. This quirky hack-and-slash was considered a hidden gem by many. Can this PlatinumGames oddity live up to its wonderfully fun reputation? Or will it be a superheroic stain on the level of Hideki Kamiya’s Twitter? Unite up and find out!
Story: Wonderfully Stupid
If there is any game I can call tonally perfect, it’s this one. The Wonderful 101 is absolutely bonkers and it knows it. You play as a unit of super-powered individuals known as CENTINELS as they must travel the globe to stop the GETHJERK empire. The plot mostly focuses on the dorky, but well-spirited Wonder Red and the cocky heartthrob Wonder Blue. Both characters have the most amount of development and backstory, with the rest of the main seven ranging from excellent comedic foils (Wonder Green and Pink) to glorified side characters. Luka is the worst though and is an annoying twerp end sentence.
However, the lack of any complicated characters is a nonissue, because the game doesn’t care really. It’s a literal cartoon. The villains are commonly referred to as “JERKS”, fourth wall breaks and nonsense humor riddles the story and character interactions are so cheesy and stupid that they wrap around the being genius. The sheer lunacy of action beats had me laughing my head off, making me yell “that’s awesome!” multiple times. The voice acting carries these moments by a huge margin. They put on the goofiest of voices and say them with such gusto and passion that it really sucks you in. Coupled with the sheer diversity of the personalities, we get some great moments. Wonder Red really wanting to hear the villain’s backstory and Wonder Pink’s insatiable crush on said villain comes to mind.
Gameplay: Wonderfully Complicated
The Wonderful 101 has one of the most interesting, hard-to-master, and fun combat systems in any game I’ve played. There are several different forms, or morphs, you can take to deal out the damage. These range from an all-rounder balanced fist, a wide-ranging sword, and wicked-fast claws that can freeze enemies. The way you switch these forms is the interesting part. Using your Pickmin-like heroes, you have to use the right analog stick to draw a shape to change forms. A circle for the fist, a straight line for the sword, a zig-zig for the claws, etc. To say it takes some time to get used to is an understatement.
I struggled greatly at first with the form switching, especially with the fact that some of the shapes you have to draw are a bit too similar to each other. I can’t count the times I wanted to use the whip and it decided to morph into the claws and vice-versa. That combined with the size of the drawing determining its power, recruiting citizens to boost your number and therefore overall power, finding hidden heroes to permanently increase power. It’s a lot. However, once you take the time to get used to it, it’s so fun, satisfying, and almost addicting. If you want a tip, get the upgrade that’ll let you hold the attack button to power up the morphs, it’s a lifesaver!
The variety in the game is immense in terms of enemy design. Each one is unique in terms of how to take them down. Certain enemies need particular weapons to take down effectively, such as needing the hammer morph to squash some alien turtles. Some need a more defensive approach. The cannons on wheels for example need to have their projectiles reflected back at them to break their shields. It brings a lot of spontaneity to each encounter, adding to the joy of combat.
The bosses (bar two which I’ll get to) are an excellent test of all your learned moves and a feast for the eyes and ears. They’re often large multiphased monstrosities, each involving an enticing mix of strategy and full frontal wailing. They also happen to include some of the most cathartic and funny QTEs in any game I’ve played. My favorites include Vaaki as the last phase has you constantly changing size to either your advantage or disadvantage, the first boss Diekuu Ohrowchee for being a great use of early morphs and the final phase where the player must jump down debris of falling buildings, and the final boss for being oh-so climactic.
Exploration, Progression, and Side Games
If you’ve played Platinum’s other games, The Wonderful 101 should be very familiar to you. The player goes through sections of a mostly linear map, fighting off any and all enemies that come up. The maps include lots of little secrets such as the aforementioned hidden heroes, support items, health upgrades, and even secret encounters. Said encounters are ranked on how stylishly, quickly, and safely you beat them, ranging from Pure Platinum to Consolation Prize. The end of stages are ranked this way too and it’s how you get the majority of the O-Coins. Spending these unlocks new morphs, items, and badges that act as upgrades such as faster energy recharge to even Witch Time from Bayonetta! The CENTINALS can also be leveled up the more their associated weapon is used, leading to more moves being unlocked for the said weapon, as well as more badge slots and max health.
This encourages exploration of the stages, causing the player to engage with the content of the game more, and thus have more fun. What’s not fun are the side games. The Wonderful 101 likes to switch things up a lot, especially in the latter half of the game. Some of them, are fine such as the on-rails shooting sections and the drilling minigame in Chapter 5. Others are awful like the shoot-em-up levels. These are a pain! The camera is too close so the ship gets blindsided all the time. The worst of these though are the boxing boss fights. They’re like Punch-Out!!…if Punch-Out!! was designed by a blind mouse. Opponent attacks are nowhere near telegraphed enough so the player takes unfair pot shots, the special moves are slow and useless so you don’t deal enough damage! They’re pace-breaking, tedious, and the game would be a masterpiece without them.
Graphics and Audio: Wonderfully Popping
The art style is very cute and adds to the cartoonish nature of the game. The designs of all the characters are not unlike bobbleheads, with teeny tiny bodies and large…well heads. It allows for a lot of creative and over-the-top facial expressions, which really help the lower production value text box cutscenes. While individual character animation is quite limited, it doesn’t really matter because each character is tiny on screen. Animations of morph attacks on the other hand are very expressive, helped by the eye-popping particle effects. When the animation does flex its muscles such as in the boss finishing moves, it’s a real sight to behold. Enemy designs are great and their animations do a great job of conveying attack patterns for the most part. The environments are colorful and full of variety as the player travels through deep jungles and even the inside of a villain.
Stylistically, the graphics are great, but technically there are a lot of flaws. Textures can be very low resolution, the draw distance is far too low, and other members of the Wonderful 101 are noticeably low poly. While this would be understandable on the lower-powered Wii U, on modern-day hardware it’s very distracting. Fortunately, the music does a lot to make you forget all about those little things. Tunes are often very catchy and upbeat, suiting the environment they’re in. The main vocal theme is brilliantly corny and “Tables Turns”, the theme that plays when a boss is near its end is amazing! The remastered version also orchestrates these tracks and they are thrilling to listen to.
The Wonderful 101 was reviewed on PC