Crazy action for the Wii U.
The Wonderful 101, Nintendo’s latest addition to the slowly growing Wii U catalogue, really is a strange beast. For starters it declares, in a twee manner that would be more at home with a game such as LittleBigPlanet, that you, the player, are the 101st member of this particular team – I can almost imagine the game asking the player if they feel special now. This in itself is enough to put most gamers above a certain age (10 maybe?) on the defence. But then the game starts and… things happen.
The game begins by throwing the player straight into the action. They are introduced to their character, a hero reminiscent of those live-action superhero shows that come out of Japan, and before they know it they find themselves having to save a load of children from impending doom. Then another character is introduced, the player is expected to squiggle shapes using either the right stick on the GamePad or on the actual touchscreen, and the individual character that the player was controlling on the screen has multiplied to become a horde. I’ll be honest, I really didn’t have the foggiest what was going on.
And this is perhaps one of The Wonderful 101’s biggest issues – it is not very approachable. Explanations are dutifully given as things happen on the screen, but these disappear quickly and never really allow the player to absorb the instructions. Also, the absolute chaos on screen and the number of both heroes and temporary heroes that are in your team (Using a wonderful circle, the player can give temporary hero status to saved citizens and have them join the team) can make it very difficult to distinguish smaller enemies, areas that shouldn’t be moved into (yes, I spent a lot of time finding my way back to the action) and even the team leader, who can be identified by the marker around them, if the player can actually see it.
So, The Wonderful 101 is not an easy game to jump into. It is made more difficult by the fiddly controls. As already mentioned, squiggles are required to perform certain actions. For example, creating a straight line with some of your team will make them morph into a giant sword, the more members and the longer the line, the bigger the sword. The early game will also include a shape to create a gun and the all important fist. These are then used not only to pound giant enemies, but also for some small puzzles found within the levels, such as turning a dial with the giant fist.
The controls to create these marvelous morphs give the player two options. The shapes can be drawn on the touchscreen, which involves missing the action for a second, or they can be drawn using the right stick, which is surprisingly difficult, especially for something as complex as a circle…
Neither control method works very well and both can detract from the play on screen, which is frustrating as the battles, despite all of their chaos, tend to be rather thoughtful in the approach taken to destroy the latest threat. Some simple actions, such as moving as many of the team as possible into a pod for a reward, will take several attempts due to the touchscreen being imprecise and the right stick moving far too quickly. It would have been easier if the control had been given to buttons or a menu, but it’s a Wii U game so I guess the developers, Platinum Games, had to make use of the GamePad touchscreen.
But aside from the lack of explanation and the fiddly controls, The Wonderful 101 is a pretty good game. The story is that the Earth is under attack from the alien threat known as the Gearthjerk and it is down to the 100 members of a worldwide team of superheroes, each of which have their own look and personality, to prevent this invasion.
The game is set out with small, bitesize missions for which the player is scored, and features some really impressive set pieces, with much of the environment destructible, and big bosses. The action is broken up with puzzles and other distractions (tickle a giant armpit, anyone?) and the shorter missions ensure that things don’t drag on unnecessarily. The game is also filled with all manner of collectibles through the levels and upgrades that can be purchased from the shop, so there is always something else to do and something new to see. It is easy to miss things when working through a level, so there is a lot of incentive to go back for another try.
The Wonderful 101 moves forward at an alarming rate, and increases in difficulty with the same level of enthusiasm. New moves are introduced, some of which require similar squiggles and so can easily be misinterpreted, and new ideas are thrown into the mix that seem devoid of explanation. There is a high level of experimentation in the game which only adds to the difficulty and will serve to put some players off the game very early on.
However, if players put in the time to learn and the patience to overcome, The Wonderful 101 will happily provide a damn good time. It is by no means perfect and will lead only to frustration for some gamers, but for others The Wonderful 101 will be the best game they own for the Wii U. It’s all a bit crazy, but very entertaining and worth checking out.