The Wonderful 101 feels like a loving homage to the Japanese shows you grew up with, like Astro Boy or Power Rangers, with science-fictiony heroes battling evil giant robots in futuristic cities. It’s full of action and it’s more than a little offbeat,–no surprise when you look at developer PlatinumGames’ resume. They’re the same deranged people that brought us MadWorld and Bayonetta (Bayonetta 2 being another one of their Wii U exclusives).
Wonderful 101 has been likened to Pikmin, mostly because you’re controlling a horde of troops in both games. It really isn’t the best comparison though. Pikmin is more of a game of planning and tactics. Nintendo’s Matt Ryan describes Wonderful 101 as being more about “reacting in the moment” and “Platinum’s creativity with over-the-top action.”
Here’s the deal: you’re Wonder-Red, leader of a gang of heroes called the Wonderful 100 (you being the 101 of the title). You recruit your heroes on the fly as you dash through Blossom City and bash the hell out of alien invaders. Wonderful 101 is played with the GamePad, and the sticks control your horde o’ heroes as if they’re one unit. The game provides a very colourful, cartoony ¾ view of Blossom City, which somewhat reminds me of some of the cities of Ratchet & Clank.
You’ll be using the touchscreen quite a bit as you play. Whenever you encounter civilians you’d like to rescue/recruit (with a big electric “Help” word balloon hovering over them), you circle the group on the touchscreen to take control of them. Some civilians will become permanent members of your group, granting you a new ability. Others are only with you for the duration of the level. You will want to recruit as many people as you can, because the more you have, the more powerful your Unite-Morphs are.
Ah, Unite-Morphs. You know how every other Japanese super-team can merge its members to create a bigger, more powerful form? To fight the giant robots and alien enemies, the Wonderful 100 combine, Voltron-style. By drawing symbols on the GamePad, you can order your heroes to form human weapons. Draw an “L” on the GamePad, and your crew will turn into a gun. Draw a straight line, and you’ll transform into a sword. Each weapon has its own strengths and uses. For example, we played one boss fight where it was necessary to transform into a whip in order to latch on to the boss’ armor plating and yank it off, exposing weak points.
I found that some weapon forms are powerful but slow you down, so it’s not wise to just turn into your favourite weapon and spam attack. You need to keep moving and, in some cases, keep morphing into different forms. If you don’t, you’re likely to get hit, scattering your forces. Hilariously, when you get hit your superheroes not only get tossed about the screen, they lose their costumes. They’ll run about in their underwear until you bring them back under your control. Your health bar is a series of batteries—too many hits, and you’re out of power, game over.
As you locate and recruit other characters in the game, you’ll gain more Unite-Morphs. For example, there’s a fist form, a bomb form, even a glider. Some of the forms are used for more than just combat—at one point I found a keyhole that I could access by turning into the sword and inserting it into the lock. But W101 (soft hits and easy listenin’ on your FM dial!) is mostly about combat. You want to string big combos together and collect O Parts, which can be used to purchase upgrades to Team Wonderful, or even buy new Morph-Unites.
Playing W101 has that same feeling of playing a classic arcade game—the pace is quick and the action very visceral. Its presentation is also reminiscent of arcade games—boss fights start by showing you a blueprint of what you’re about to fight. You can even play five person co-op… locally, no less.
The Wonderful 101 will be released for Wii U on September 15, 2013.
Jason MacIsaac is a game and technology journalist. He loves controlling hordes of people at a time, but is quite the humble leader. There are few things in life he enjoys more than taking down enemies with massive combines, especially if he can control them with a touchscreen. You can (and should) visit him at Gamejester.ca.