The Wonderful 101 Review
The Wonderful 101 Box Art
System: Wii U
Dev: Platinum Games
Pub: Nintendo
Release: September 15, 2013
Players: 1-5
Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p Alcohol Reference, Animated Blood, Fantasy Violence, Suggestive Themes
Red, Yellow, Green, Blue, How Shall I Kill You?
by Becky Cunningham

The Wonderful 101 is a love letter to the generation that grew up in the '80s, when garish Saturday morning cartoons ruled the airwaves and arcade games were designed to eat your quarters. This is evident in the game's design, difficulty level, and even its English localization. How many of today's young gamers are likely to get a comedic Phantom of the Opera reference? That said, if you love costumed superheroes, over-the-top, cheesy sci-fi action, and games that must be practiced to be mastered, this is pretty close to your dream title.

As Wonder-Red, a mild-mannered schoolteacher by day and new recruit into The Wonderful 100, Earth's secret defense force, the player is thrown into a planetary crisis when an alien race, the Geathjerk, suddenly assault the Earth. As the attack is aiming for Red's hometown of Blossom City, he's put in charge of the main defense squad. Luckily, managing this gathering of decidedly eccentric heroes isn't too different from herding third-graders, so Red quickly takes to his new position of authority.

There's some other stuff in there about a kid who hates The Wonderful 101 because of an incident with his parents and who must learn the value of friendship or find his inner hero or something, but that's not important. The Wonderful 101 is all about smashing aliens and enjoying the silly banter between its humorously stereotypical characters.

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Colorful is the key word here, because The Wonderful 101's visual design is candy-coated goodness, with its brightly clad heroes and their matching weapons facing off against distinctive (and occasionally disgusting) alien robots and creatures. Everything looks fantastic in motion, as well--from robots that slowly pop apart as they're attacked, to skittery giant alien scorpions, to the player's squad members, whose clothes pop off when they're knocked to the ground, leaving them in their undies.

The Wonderful 101 Screenshot

Although I'll admit that my favorite musical number is The Wonderful 101 theme song in the very first level, the entire aural experience is great. The music is always appropriate for the moment, sound effects are top-notch, and the voice actors are having a fantastic time hamming it up. Heck, the Geathjerk actors get to literally chew the scenery. Just make sure to turn off vibration, because the game seems determined to shake the poor GamePad for everything it’s worth, and you won't want to spend the majority of your time listening to the dreadful “bzaaaaaaat” sound every time something interesting happens--which is approximately every 1.2 seconds.

So The Wonderful 101 looks and sounds great, but is it fun to play? The main attraction is the combat system, in which your group of Wonderfuls runs around as a large mob that can perform a “Unite Morph,” which causes them to form into various weapons in order to fight the Geathjerk hordes that are attacking Earth. Weapons are swapped by drawing simple shapes, either on the GamePad screen or with the right analog stick. Having a large group allows for larger drawings, which, in turn, create bigger weapons. Of course, oversized weapons cause the player to move slowly, and a solid hit from an enemy causes them to shatter and be replaced by a small weapon, so placement and timing is key.

The Wonderful 101 Screenshot

Different Unite Morph weapons are useful in different situations. For example, Wonder Blue's beloved Valiantium Blade not only slices up enemies, but also reflects laser beams. Wonder Pink's whip can be used to tear spiked armor off foes, and Wonder Green's gun can suck up and return bombs to their sender. The weapons are also used during puzzle solving, with the fist used to turn knobs, the sword used to open locks, and the whip used to swing off construction cranes.

The Unite Morph system is flexible, allowing players to use simple single-weapon combinations to conquer the game on easier difficulty settings. To truly get high scores during the game's missions or to play with the big kids on the higher difficulty levels, though, players will want to master more difficult moves, such as multi-weapon combinations and quick switches between weapons. Choosing the right weapon at the right moment makes a huge difference in battle. Choose poorly or act without good timing and battles can take far longer than they do with quick reflexes and a proper strategy. The game rewards players who pull off battles swiftly and with a minimum of damage to the troops, giving them high scores and better rewards. The better you get at the game, the more fun and satisfying it is to play, and figuring out a new strategy against its enemies provides the kind of satisfaction you don't often see in gaming anymore.

That mastery won't come without practice, however. The Wonderful 101 has an arcade heritage, and even its easier modes contain a good level of challenge. Enemies are swift and numerous, and the game often throws new control schemes at the player (such as piloting a starship or controlling a giant space cannon) without giving much time for practice. There is a continue option if the player dies, and falling off the level or missing a QTE prompt drops you back in the action with a small loss of health, but doing both these things affects your final score. Players shouldn't expect to be able to get a high score the first time they've seen a particular mission. Once completed in story mode, missions can be replayed any time, with the advantage of knowledge and increased skill.

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