The Wonderful 101: review

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This game was made available to us only for a limited time. This review represents 14 hours 20 minutes of play, covering approximately two thirds of the story. For this reason, there is no score attached to this article.

The Wonderful 101 isn’t quite like anything else you’ve played. It’s kind of like a cross between Pikmin and Bayonetta – appropriate given it’s a Nintendo exclusive from Platinum Games – but even that awkward pigeonholing completely ignores many sequences peppered throughout the game. It seems to be the game Platinum’s Hideki Kamiya has always wanted to make – but if so, running riot with all of his ideas and desires has resulted in a few missing the mark.

Before we go any further, it’s important to impress upon you the fact that this is a game which does everything big. Huge, in fact. Most enemies tower over the eponymous 100, and the weapons that they come together to create are gigantic to match. The whole experience, however, is essentially a love letter to live-action Japanese TV series’ with overgesticulating heroes and rubber monsters (the best known in the West probably being Power Rangers). So it is that the script, the acting, the character designs, and the overall presentation all stink of cheese – but in a good way. This is a title very aware of itself, which is determined to make the player smile on a regular basis. It may not always succeed, but it helps carve out a strong and memorable identity.

While you steer around a large crowd of heroes (including any citizens or stunned enemies you somehow temporarily recruit by surrounding them with a magic rainbow circle), they all act as one. Hit X for a team (essentially ‘weak’) attack, and everybody will rush forward before being slung back into formation like a spandex flavoured rubber band. Tapping A will instantly recruit a chunk of your team to form your current ‘Unite Morph’, or attack if it’s already formed. Y will break up the morph, which slows movement considerably, or allow the lead character to dash. You’ll be doing this a lot; running into a hazard, or suffering a powerful blow, sends swathes of your Wonderful Ones flying – dazed, and no longer part of the crowd. The less members your crowd has the more limited the size of your morph, and if you have too few you won’t be able to morph at all. Whenever you lose people you’ll usually rush to hoover them up, as the message is clear; strength in numbers.

The Wonderful 101 is not a game that explains itself very well via screenshots.

The aforementioned Unite Morphs create powerful weapons out of human lego, and are selected by drawing the appropriate shape. You can draw on the gamepad touchscreen, or with the right stick; though some are virtually impossible using the latter method. While the game is thankfully quick to recognise most symbols, a few can be awkward. We had particular difficulty with the lollipop shape for the hammer, which was rarely recognised on our first attempt. The game subtly ensures, through blocked areas and distribution of enemy types, that no one morph (including a hand, a sword, a whip and a bomb) is made redundant. This does mean that we had several frustrating lollipop-themed moments, however.

Gameplay often consists of hitting things until they die. There are echoes of Bayonetta beyond the morphing for over-the-top attacks, mainly to be found within the many unlockables. There’s a dodge which it’s advisable to go for first, which can later be upgraded to activate slo-mo with perfect timing. Two separate unlocks allow you, again with perfect timing, to reflect enemy attacks. Ultimately however this is much more of a button-basher than Bayonetta; there’s very little of that game’s grace or combat depth.

Some of the fights drag on a little too long, especially on higher difficulties. You’ll always be motivated to persevere nonetheless, if only to see what deliciously preposterous turn the game takes next. Not just in terms of story either – there’s plenty to break up the basic brawler gameplay, which itself is punctuated by using your team to form ladders, bridges and much more. At any given moment, you might be just ten minutes away from a shoot ‘em up section; from piloting a giant robot; from a basic puzzle which requires you to pay attention to both the TV and the gamepad.

No review of The Wonderful 101 is fair without mentioning the unexpected and smart uses it makes of the gamepad. Two memorable examples are controlling the heroes on the gamepad screen to find and enter a number combination inside a building, with the numbers visible only outside via the TV screen; and piloting a spaceship by desperately running your character around a giant control panel in the floor on the gamepad, while keeping an eye on the ship itself and its surroundings on the TV. You can in fact play the whole game on the gamepad only, but this isn’t advised. One disadvantage of having enemies and environments so much bigger than you is that it’s sometimes easy to lose track of your character even on a big screen.

The game mercifully slows everything to a crawl while you’re drawing.

QTEs are scattered throughout, but they somehow fail to annoy due to the sheer entertaining stupidity that they involve. It could be simply tapping B to leap hundreds of feet, or perhaps drawing a sword into existence to reflect a skyscraper-sized laser. Whatever it is, it’s, well… big.

You get a lot of game for your money. From what we can tell, Kamiya’s estimate of 20 hours for a first playthrough is about right, and the awards (from Pure Platinum all the way down to an insulting ‘Consolation Prize’) handed out for missions and individual fights will motivate many to return. Beyond that are separate levels in the mission mode, gruelling challenges for up to five players that will soon teach you how good you really are at this game (all difficulties in Story offer infinite continues, so far as we can tell). This is a rough diamond destined for cult status, with its beauty clear to see despite some ugly edges.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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