To dare, is to Platinum.

There’s something incredibly infectious and wholly refreshing about Platinum Games’ approach to video game design. The Japanese studio has become renowned and rightly celebrated for producing high-quality, action-packed titles brimming with eccentric creativity, topped off with an unabashed disregard for the safe and traditional gameplay conventions which so many video games rely on. Simply put, Platinum Games are not afraid to take risks – the bigger, the better, in fact.

Fortunately for gamers, Platinum’s persistent devotion to deviate from the norm has a habit of turning hairbrained ideas into something truly remarkable. And it’s this inspiring and utterly manic collaboration of unrelenting passion and a willingness to gamble which catapults The Wonderful 101 from the doldrums of the ordinary, to the unforgettable heights reserved strictly for the extraordinary.

But, just like the superheroes the game champions, The Wonderful 101’s true identity remains masked under an imposing, daunting barrier to entry. Those who take the time to uncover it, though, will discover a game wonderful by name and genuinely wonderful by nature.

Damn Those Jerks!

Despite the wacky premise, The Wonderful 101’s story is one of the most unpredictable and enjoyable highlights of this year.

The Wonderful 101’s story pays tribute to the over the top and unintentionally funny superhero programmes of old. You can expect to encounter plenty of overly dramatic bosses, zinging one-liners and a cast packed full of cliché stereotypes. Surprisingly, it works just as well as it did back then, mostly due to the fact that The Wonderful 101 knows when it’s being deliberately stupid and exploits it with hilarious, laugh out loud results.

Despite the wacky premise, The Wonderful 101’s story is one of the most unpredictable and enjoyable highlights of this year. You never quite know where the action will take you next, which baddie will show up, or what funny absurdities your team will come out with. What you will discover, however, is an endearing and thoroughly entertaining 15+ hour campaign.

The plot follows a timeless, classic blueprint: the Earth is under attack by an evil alien federation and it’s up to an elite band of superheroes to save it. The invaders, in this case, are the Geathjerk Federation Supreme Armada; and yes, they’re just as obnoxious as they sound – and they’re all the better for it!

The Wonderful 101 Prince Vorkken

Ahh, Vorkkie, you’re so dreamy.

Instead of relying on the armed forces, Earth’s new protectors are made up of 100 superheroes known as The Wonderful Ones. Like the old saying goes, ‘united we stand, divided we fall’, the same bodes true for The Wonderful Ones, although in a far more literal sense. On their own, The Wonderful Ones stand little chance against the invading Geathjerk, most of which are massive in size and extremely powerful. But as a team, The Wonderful Ones take on a different alias and become the Wonderful 100 (or One-Double-Oh as it’s cutely pronounced in the game). When 100 superheroes unite, the team can morph together and use their numbers to their advantage by transforming into a variety of different weapons and objects to overcome enemies and environmental hazards – be that a hand, sword, gun, whip, bridge, hammer or hang glider. And this, essentially, is the crux of The Wonderful 101’s shortcomings and main appeal.

Sketchy Beginnings

It’s better to let The Wonderful 101 punish you and then reflect on what you felt you did right as opposed to struggling through it stubbornly.

The Wonderful 101 is a frustrating and horribly flummoxing experience at first. Tutorials are present, but they’re brief and not very helpful. The game throws you straight into a sea of awkward mechanics, tosses in 100 hyper-active participants and submerges you deep into the depths of a cruel collection of troublesome enemies, ready to exploit your deficiencies. (And believe me, they will exploit them.) Before you can float to the top and gasp for air, naturally, you first have to learn how to swim. Or in this case, drown – seriously. I found that drowning was literally the best way to understand what I was doing wrong, and what, if anything, I was doing right because thrashing around haphazardly was getting me nowhere. It’s better to let The Wonderful 101 punish you and then reflect on what you felt you did right as opposed to struggling through it stubbornly.

And that means more than just adjusting the difficulty level, as the easy setting doesn’t change the complex controls or your utter incompetence at using them. Eventually – if you’ve got the grit to get there – you’ll go from picking up the most disheartening of consolation prizes at the end each level, to the pristine platinum awards. The sense of self-satisfaction that comes with them is the real reward, though, as is the remarkable madness you’ll see along the way during the many twists and turns in both the story and gameplay mechanics.

The Wonderful 101 Unite Guts

Do you have the guts to save planet Earth?

Time To Enroll At Blossom City Elementary

Your enjoyment with The Wonderful 101 boils down to mastering three fundamental concepts: drawing Unite Morph symbols proficiently on the GamePad, learning the nuances of each enemy, and getting to grips with the collective mayhem on-screen.

Once you’ve understood how to reel in new recruits, you’ll soon have a mob of miniaturised people running, jumping, fighting and falling in near-perfect unison

Unlike the title suggests, you won’t actually have 100 heroes to control from the outset. In fact, you’ll start the game with just one Wonderful One, the talented rookie and main character in the game, Wonder-Red. As you progress through the levels, more Wonderful Ones and willing citizens can be gathered using the Wonder Liner. To recruit citizens, you simply draw a circle on the GamePad around the citizens (or when you’re first starting out, a whole heap of messy shapes, lines and symbols in a desperate attempt to get it to work properly).

Using the Wonder Liner isn’t easy, then, especially when you consider that drawing a circle activates Wonder-Red’s Unite Morph, which transform your team into a giant hand. It’s more than likely you’ll be thinking the game is broken at this point, as you’ll end up drawing wild circles and transforming into a hand instead of saving citizens and vice a versa. The key thing to keep in mind is to draw the shape while close to the object that can be Wonder Lined (these soon become clear the more you play). Also, looking at the TV definitely helps, as the always active and essentially useless radar showing all the characters on the GamePad screen offers a strangely zoomed-in perspective. Trust me, you’ll have this seemingly broken mechanic mastered once you keep these two tips in mind.

The Wonderful 101 Unite Hand

Talk to the hand, because the team ain’t listening.

Once you’ve understood how to reel in new recruits, you’ll soon have a mob of miniaturised people running, jumping, fighting and falling in near-perfect unison. And that’s when another problem arises. It’s quite unnerving when you’re basically playing a colourful game of follow-the-leader with so many characters on-screen and a stubborn isometric camera (which can be zoomed in or out). You see, when enemies enter the fray – especially the small ones – your eyes will end up darting all over the place; sometimes you’ll think you’ve dispatched the latest threat only to realise that the alien lives on near your horde of heroes – and then you get hit. Your eyes simply won’t be used to picking out right from wrong for the first few missions effectively, but again, trust me, this will soon become a non-issue as your eyes slowly adapt to determining friend from foe.

It’s Morphin’ Time

As I mentioned earlier, your team of Wonderful Ones can transform into various weapons to tackle the invading Geathjerk. There’s a pleasing variety of Unite Morphs to learn during the campaign, and the game does a good job of not overwhelming you with too many symbols early on. When it all works as it should, you’ll be enthralled by the flexibility and depth of the combat system, as you switch between morphs like a supreme commander controlling an army of rainbow-fuelled justice. Nevertheless, for the first few hours I found myself reluctant to use the seemingly more difficult forms due to fear of failure if anything. Instead, I ended up overly relying on the Unite Sword morph due to it’s simplicity. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t get me far.

The Wonderful 101 Co-op

The Wonderful 101 also features a mission mode which can be played with up to 5 friends locally.

Morphing is a relatively straightforward affair. Providing you have enough juice in the Unite Meter (which powers your morphs) and the numbers to do so, your team can “UNITE UP!” by drawing a symbol on the GamePad’s touch screen (or using the right analog stick). Drawing a circle on the Wii U GamePad transforms your team into a giant hand; a straight line transforms your team into a sword; a wavy one transforms your team into a whip. You’ll need to switch to numerous different forms to tackle specific enemies and maximise your score. However, be careful, as when your team gets suitably whacked by the enemy, your heroes will go scattering across the level and are dizzy until they can reunite with the pack on their own, or until you run into them and snap them out of it. It’s rather soul destroying to see your team smacked away like a swarm of flies just as you’re about to hit an enemy with a well-drawn morph, but if you haven’t realised The Wonderful 101 is difficulty yet then maybe I haven’t been clear enough!

The GamePad’s resistive touchscreen works admirably for drawing Unite Morphs; I never really found myself longing for the more responsive capacitive touchscreen variety, despite using my finger for all the inputs. What did annoy me, however, was the Miiverse button which is placed in the bottom left-hand corner. In the early stages, I kept hitting the button which disrupted my game and jolted me out of the experience. Thankfully, I never found myself doing it in the later stages of the game, but it’s yet another irksome quirk that will try players’ patience – and they’ll probably be close to breaking for the first five hours or so. It’s all about learning the amount of real-estate you can work with on the GamePad’s screen.

Using your finger to draw shapes on the touchscreen while keeping your eyes on the TV is admittedly something I was still struggling to cope with even towards the end of the game. But in reality, you’ll soon learn that you can dominate your foes without needing another pair of eyes to keep them in check. If you know what form you need to take, then a glance down is never too costly as you can soon have an enemy pinned under the pressure of 100 heroes.

Although I had a fair grasp on all the shapes fairly quickly, muscle memory certainly comes into play. Before I realised it, I was drawing circles, straight lines, triangles and even odd bomb-like shapes with ease, all while keeping my team safe and my score in the highest bracket. Of course, not many games will ask you to train your eyes and fingers to cope with new challenges, but The Wonderful 101 is well worth the sacrifice, as everything slowly falls into place brilliantly once the barrier is broken.

U Got It!

Puzzles are handled expertly, switching the perspective from TV to the GamePad’s screen as you turn dials in a building, with the unlock code hidden in plain sight on the TV.

The turmoil you endure will honestly be worth it in the end because there’s absolutely nothing like The Wonderful 101. The game takes full advantage of the Wii U’s bespoke hardware with an ambitious focus that never wanes. Puzzles are handled expertly, switching the perspective from TV to the GamePad’s screen as you turn dials in a building, with the unlock code hidden in plain sight on the TV. Off-TV play is fully supported and there’s a bevy of extra information displayed on the GamePad’s screen during menus. The GamePad is absolutely integral to The Wonderful 101 and never feels tacked on. Not everything works perfectly mind you, but you’ll be too busy smiling with glee at the sheer wonderment of it all to really nitpick.

From a technical perspective, The Wonderful 101 is an incredible achievement. Don’t let the bubble-gum, stylised visuals fool you, this is a stunning game in motion, with almost zero slow down, screen tear or any nasty performance hiccups which tend to plague modern games. The art style is lovingly done, with a number of clever minor details such as Wonder-Green’s constant need to have food in his hand, or the unbridled aggression of Wonder-Pink’s angry outbursts. Enemies and set pieces are frequently awe-inspiring, with solid voice acting bringing life and character to even the most coldest of alien invaders. The heroic score which accompanies the game throughout is a natural fit, providing plenty of audible gusto and a satisfying oomph to proceedings. I guarantee you’ll be shouting out the Unite forms in unison with your team towards the end of the game!

Finishing The Wonderful 101 is just the start, as you’ll be utterly compelled to play through it again. There’s scores to beat, techniques to unlock and a crazy collection of Wonderful Ones to find. The fan service available is a great addition considering it’s a brand new IP, with unlockable files, figurines and background info to bulk up the story.

A review copy of the Wonderful 101 was provided courtesy of Nintendo.

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