3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
What's all this about?,
This review is from: The Wonderful 101 (Nintendo Wii U) (Video Game)
The Wonderful 101 is a bit like what a scrolling beat em up in 2013 looks like when designed by a very creative Japanese development team who are basically allowed to do whatever they want. This is one of the freshest and most original action games I've ever played, but it will be too incomprehensible and hectic for a lot of people.
The gameplay basically boils down to controlling a gang of superheroes and battling through a series of missions against an army of robot aliens called the Geathjerk. The games' aesthetic is a lot like a Saturday morning cartoon, and has a story crammed with bad jokes and goofy dialogue. The action is primarily viewed from an isometric viewpoint, although it changes regularly during missions and boss battles. Progress through the missions can be challenging but is generally straightforward (you have infinite continues and restart at the point of failure), and the basic controls are not too hard to get to grips with with a little practice. Your heroes battle the Geathjerk (who range from hulking robots, tanks, metal scorpions and tortoises to name but a few) through a combination of basic team attacks and unite morph attacks, which are central to the game. Unite morph attacks are triggered by drawing a shape on the Wii U gamepad or by making a gesture on the right analogue stick which enables your heroes to morph together to form a giant fist, sword, gun and more (that I won't spoil). Unite morph attacks are introduced gradually throughout your first playthrough, which is helpful as it can be quite overwhelming at the beginning when you're learning how to read the environment, dodge enemy attacks, string together your own attacks and then eventually getting to grips with the bare basics of the games' deep battle and combo system.
So what in particular is so difficult about it? Well to begin with, you can't take much knowledge with you to the Wonderful 101 given that it presents its' action in such a unique fashion. Even having played a number of games in the past by the games' designer Hideki Kamiya (like Viewtiful Joe and Bayonetta) I found there was a period of time before the basic gameplay clicked and I could more or less read enemy attacks competently and defend and counter effectively. Part of the problem is that there can be so much happening on screen at once, that it's sometimes difficult to see your central character amongst your group of heroes and the surrounding chaos. However with a bit of practice you gradually learn to parse the environment and spot certain enemy cues that signal that it's time to dodge, counter etc and in turn develop a type of sixth sense for the action which is very satisfying. The second biggest challenge to getting into The Wonderful 101 is that it does very little to hold the players hand or teach any of the games systems or mechanics. A basic tutorial window may pop up to highlight how to pull off a particular move, but there is no in-game help to teach the player how to actually fight properly, which is key to understanding and in turn enjoying the game. Thankfully at the time of writing there are a number of videos online that explain the fighting system and I strongly recommend checking them out. Another issue is using the gamepad touchscreen interface for unite morph attacks, which while very responsive isn't practical for when the action ramps up to anything above a simmer (which is a lot). Thankfully with a bit of practice the right analogue stick gestures work perfectly for pulling off Unite Morphs, and are akin to learning special moves in a fighting game like Streetfighter.
Once you get to grips with the Wonderful 101's controls and gameplay systems, it reveals itself to be a very complex action game with a huge scope for mastery. During missions, you are rewarded after each discrete action segment with a medal corresponding to your combined performance in damage avoidance, time to complete and combo score. There is an intricate combo system which has to be learned in order to score the higher platinum and pure platinum medals, and as such the enjoyment in achieving these comes from repeated play of each of the games' story missions. This is absolutely one of those games that gets better and more satisfying the more and more you play it and the amount of content here means it could conceivably take years let alone months to master it all.
Have I explained it properly? I'm not so sure. Forget the deceptively cute aesthetic, The Wonderful 101 is a hardcore, somewhat perplexing game and certainly won't appeal to everyone. It has flaws and can be frustrating. Sometimes the fixed camera doesn't give you the perfect view of the action resulting in unfair damage, the games unwillingness to explain itself will result in many of the more creative sections of the game (it makes some smart use of the Wii U gamepad) a blunder on first playthrough until you realise what the hell you were actually supposed to be doing, and being so unrestrained there are some sections which fall a bit flat and I wish they'd simply been taken out to help the pacing a little and avoid repetition. However, if you are intrigued by the premise of a deep, complex and somewhat renegade action title then this is absolutely one to check out. The Wonderful 101 is one of the most creative action games I've played in a very long time and for some it could be right up there as one of their favourites ever.