Platinum’s Wii U curio returns to delight and dumbfound a new generation of gamers.
Release: May 2020 (digital), June 2020 (physical)
Platform: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4
Tested on: Nintendo Switch
Buy from Amazon: The Wonderful 101
The Wii U was weird. Nintendo’s follow-up to the monumentally successful Wii console confounded as many as it convinced with its skewed marketing and unfamiliar double-screen setup, but after a tragically short time on the market and disappointing sales still built up an enviable library of classic games. The majority of these games have since been ported to Switch to enjoy a far larger audience on Nintendo’s console-of-the-moment than was ever present on the Wii U. And now, it’s time for PlatinumGames’ Wonderful 101 to get the remaster treatment. The Wonderful 101 was always one of the strangest titles in Wii U’s lineup, and so it took a kickstarter campaign from Platinum themselves and over 30,000 backers to bring the project to light; this time releasing on PC, PlayStation 4 and Switch.
As the brilliantly-named Will Wedgewood (also known as Wonder Red) and a number of other colour-coded heroes – Wonder Green, Wonder Blue, Wonder Yellow, and so on – you are tasked with recruiting and controlling a horde of heroes known as The Wonderful Ones. Working something like a hyperactive version of Pikmin these heroes are controlled in a swarm and used to navigate the environment, solve puzzles and fight an alien force that has invaded the planet. The original game’s key feature and its primary use of the Wii U’s unique setup was the ability to draw shapes on the gamepad screen, which saw your bunch of tiny heroes cluster together to form numerous special weapons such as swords (by drawing a line) and guns (drawing an ‘L’) known as Unite Morphs. As the game progresses and your band of heroes gets larger these Unite Morph forms inevitably become more powerful and elaborate, upgrade-able in-game using ‘O Parts’ dropped by downed enemies.
The Wonderful 101 is bright and beautiful, but the sheer chaos present on-screen can make the combat difficult to read.
And herein lies the problem with this remaster; as one of only a few games to really take advantage of the Wii U’s unique controller setup, The Wonderful 101 is a bit of an awkward fit on hardware without it. The developers have included many different (and impressively customisable) options for users to work with, but understandably none feel as intuitive as the original game’s setup, which itself was never actually the most reliable of touch implementations. Using the Switch’s touchscreen during handheld play would seem the best fit on paper, but the relentless, chaotic nature of the game renders the action difficult enough to follow on a TV screen, let alone the Switch’s small alternative. Similarly, the PS4 version offers touchpad support which is too small and sensitive to make for a truly viable option, especially as the late-game Unite Morphs get more and more intricate. Choosing a control scheme unfortunately is a matter of lesser evils, with all feeling like a compromise. The option most users will opt for is the simple right-stick option, which works well enough but will still cause some frustration as intended inputs are inevitably misread.
For a company famed for laser-cut precision in its combat mechanics, it’s strange to encounter a game that’s just so damn scrappy. Director Hideki Kamiya plunders his back-catalogue for inspiration, and ideas from them all are wilfully thrown into the mix. There are shades of Bayonetta in the combat, and some Devil May Cry, there are similarities to Viewtiful Joe in its visual presentation and character design, and Okami is channelled through the game’s drawing mechanic, all alongside multiple power-ups, fighting mini games and shooter sections. Nintendo are always praised for their ability to introduce and throw away new ideas at a relentless pace, but here is a game to prove that those ideas still need to be finessed and integrated seamlessly into the mechanics of the game; here is a game where it can all get just a bit too much
To further add to the chaos The Wonderful 101 also comes complete with a wildy erratic framerate in both handheld and docked modes – far from ideal in a game already so difficult to keep track of. Indeed, Digital Foundry tests confirm that only the PC and PS4 Pro versions can maintain a 60fps experience, with Switch and the base PS4 console falling some way short.
Whilst much of this may sound overly negative, the game has a genuine and undeniable charm that is easy to love. As it always was, The Wonderful 101 is a difficult title to recommend – it will delight some and dumbfound others – but this is a more forgiving game than its Platinum stablemates, made easier by some subtle design tweaks and additional guidance for this remaster. Also, the hard-to-read combat and overly fussy mechanics aren’t as ruinous as they would be if they featured in those other titles. The game also has a very forgiving and lenient restart system where little progress is lost upon death; the main victim being your resulting high score for the level.
The Wonderful 101 earns and deserves its praise because of its uniqueness and unbridled sense of fun, and it is a true joy to see such a unique and off-kilter title given new life and a new chance to shine on modern, more popular platforms. Make no mistake, those who fall in love with this game will fall hard – but there will be just as many who completely bounce off it, never to experience its charms.
Like the Wii U console itself, The Wonderful 101 was baffling and brilliant in equal measure, and although the remaster is unlikely to win over those unmoved by the original, it offers a far larger audience the chance to finally make up their own mind about this truly unique and beautiful mess of a game.
Buy from Amazon: The Wonderful 101
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