The Wonderful 101 (2013, WIIU)

By Archmonk_Iga / July 20, 2016


The Wonderful 101 is an exceptionally well-presented game. The soundtrack is a full-force symphony of unity, and the extravagant graphics are dazzling with absolutely no slowdown. The storyline is hilarious, paying homage to TV shows and cartoons that have several characters who unite as one with over-the-top transformations and special effects. The cast is sensational, and I especially love our star Wonder Red, with his heartfelt, long-winded one-liners that are unintentionally hilarious. Wonder Green is a gluttonous coward and fittingly stays far away from enemies with his gun, and Wonder Blue is a macho alpha male who loves to steal the spotlight from Red with his arrogant threats. The writing for every character is hilarious and spot-on.
   But as to the mechanics... the opinions I have on Wonderful 101 are so equally positive and negative that I have never played an action game that has had me so divided. My experience was extremely unpleasant, but at the same time there were moments that made me feel on top of the world. I know I probably played it wrong. I would be fighting a gigantic boss enemy and be at a complete loss on how to make a dent. Then something would work — and not only would it work, it would actually cause severe damage. But this new, effective strategy I discovered would be immediately rendered worthless, and I would have to go through yet more trial and error to begin causing more damage.
   Wonderful 101 tricks you into thinking it's intuitive. An enormous fan of Bayonetta, Vanquish, and other Platinum gems, I thought I would pick it up easily enough. I expected a challenge of course, too. Unfortunately, the challenge didn't come from tough bad guys. It came more from my attacks being completely worthless and wasteful, leaving me sitting there angry.

   As you progress through Wonderful 101, you recruit Wonderful Ones. They unite to form gigantic weapons to fight against the evil GEATHJERK army. To form these weapons, you must draw different shapes or lines on the Wii U gamepad or the R-stick — for example, drawing a circle will form Wonder Fist, and drawing a line will form Wonder Sword. You get more weapons the further you get into the game, and each weapon is more effective against certain enemies. Each weapon can get bigger depending on how large you draw it, and in turn can be much more powerful. However, the bigger you draw, the more battery power you will need. This battery power will recover over time, but very, very slowly.
   This limited amount of battery power is the crux of my problem with Wonderful 101. Since there are so many different weapons, and each one might be the right one to use against certain enemies, I found myself drawing a circle, realizing the fist didn't work, then drawing a line, realizing the sword didn't work, drawing an L-shape, realizing the gun didn't work... Every new weapon I would draw would use up more battery power, and I would soon find I had run out of it altogether. Then, I would run around to let this power meter fill back up so I could continue to try different weapons against the enemies.
   Was I doing it wrong? Maybe. Probably. Actually, yes, I was. The game didn't exactly show me the ropes. There isn't an instruction manual, either. I can't tell you how angry I got when I would use a bunch of battery power to create this immense fist, and then punch an enemy who would block it, causing all my units to scatter across the battlefield. Then, while my battery meter slowly refilled, I would have to run around some more to gather these units back up to my group of Wonderful Ones.

   I spent a lot of time doing that, actually. Running around the battlefield, recovering scattered units, that is. See, in addition to wasting all the power in my gauge with an ineffective weapon, the enemies' attacks would often spread my units all over the place, causing them to sit in wait for me to run near them so they could return to my group. I'm fine with taking damage — if I let myself get attacked, I deserve it. But I don't like spending two-thirds of battles running around because my units got disbanded. I need those units too, otherwise I cannot fight.
   So most of my battles looked like this: draw a worthless weapon, get attacked or deflected, run around to recover my lost units. It didn't help that there were usually multiple waves of enemies in each battle — and bosses often had more than one form. The very last section of the game was particularly miserable. It just. Would. Not. End. And then the credits had me battling even more! The game just wouldn't let me beat it! And those were long credits, too.
   Despite its colorful graphics and tongue-in-cheek dialogue, Wonderful 101 is an insanely complex action game. It really had me fooled. Like I said, there were fleeting moments where things would click, where that giant fist I drew actually worked! And it felt so good! But the unintuitive requirements for battle tactics meant a lot of trial and error. There were a lot of non-traditional battles too — taking control of giant ships or robots, for example. Those were pretty fun now and then, but every time you would be thrown into a whole new control scheme in a game that doesn't care if you aren't a quick learner.
   Even worse, drawing these weapons would often produce the wrong weapon. The yellow hammer and the white claws gave me the most trouble. I would try to draw one of these, and too often the game would think I was drawing a pink whip. Nope, I wanted the hammer, let me try again. Nope, still don't want the whip, I want the hammer... No! I want the... Ah, screw it, I'll just use the whip (and the whip probably wouldn't work).

   Now let's say you and Wonderful 101 click. You fight a boss, and you quickly realize you need to use the sword against it. Well, bigger is better, so you draw a HUGE line for that sword, using up a lot of power, almost depleting it completely. The sword is so huge, it reaches past the edge of the screen! You attack with that huge sword, you see the enemy's health gauge deplete, and you feel so good! You press the attack button again for a second hit and — oh. Wait. You only have a couple seconds to use that giant sword before it returns to its usual tiny form. So, you just used up all that power for a single attack, and now since you're out of power you have no choice but to do minimal damage with a tiny sword. You can feel great playing Wonderful 101, but only for a couple seconds. Sorry.
   I know I'm not the only one who feels this way. I've read Wonderful 101 forums. The game expects you to figure things out as you go. Every battle is different, each enemy has its weaknesses, and you can't do anything about it unless you memorize that enemy when you first fight it. Then again, the Wonderful 101 fanbase is truly special. They understand how the game works, and they are willing to help clueless gamers like me understand it, too. They love the game for all its nuances. And they should love it! It is a very intricate action game that challenges even the most experienced gamer, and they were able to overcome it and figure it all out. They know to start battles with the Team Attack and go from there (I just want to use the big sword!) They know to buy Unite Guts and Unite Spring as soon as they can (they are necessary but not automatically provided). They know to use the Naginata to get past that seemingly impenetrable stream of spikes in Operation 007 (wait, is that really how you do it?)
   But first-timers don't know these things. And often, first-timers will never learn these things and struggle throughout much of the game. Most likely, many of these first-timers won't even finish the game. It just expects too much of them.

The Wonderful 101 is runner-up to Insomnia's 2013 Game of the Year.

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