Review Context: My character action experience began in earnest with Grasshopper Manufacture titles but quickly expanded to games created by Platinum once word of their reputation became relevant to my interests. Bayonetta is still the standard I hold the genre to, but this hasn’t kept me from enjoying other games from the same publisher (Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance) or others (Killer is Dead) in the meantime.
Date Playthrough Started: November 11, 2013
Developer: Platinum Games
Many things have brought me joy throughout my life, some falling by the wayside with the forward march of time and age, others even having run their course entirely by this point. I can count at least two things, however, whose appeal has endured mostly uninterrupted since my introduction to them: video games and super sentai (well, in the form of Power Rangers at first). The Wonderful 101 is a combination of these two of my holiest of holies – one created by one of my favorite development studios no less – and I’ll be damned if just watching the intro cinematic didn’t make me feel like I was 9 on a Saturday morning again.
What really makes the difference with this game, though, is that it’s not just a simple addition of these two elements to each other, but rather a synthesis of them with a focus on many of each of their strongest aspects. Platinum Games went all-out to make this as honest a tribute as possible, the script overflowing with appropriately placed sentai tropes and the gameplay supporting each and every one with a healthy, surprisingly subtle amount of tapping on the fourth wall. When you mash buttons to make a multicolored international network of superheroes save the world, sometimes they mash right along with you.
But no matter how you dress it up you can tell a Platinum game as soon as hands reach controller, and not only does The Wonderful 101 feel just as smooth and responsive as any of the developer’s previous entries but it’s also one of the only titles I’ve seen to make an honest effort to work as much of the Wii U’s unique functionality into gameplay as possible. This applies both to the trademark fluid, combo-intensive combat by way of touchscreen use and the bits of exploration between; I’ll admit that things like using the tablet controller’s gyroscope for hands-on mounted turret control and switching between television and tablet screens for puzzles with simultaneous indoor/outdoor elements doesn’t immediately come naturally, but with a little time to acclimate I was reminded of the seamless integration in the likes of Nintendoland and found myself wishing more Wii U games were actually designed with the Wii U and its individual strengths in mind.
None of these elements ever extend to the point where they become inexorable from the game, though, and between that and a few of its less common qualities the game can come off as – and I’m loathe to use this term for how much abuse it’s gotten in the way of modern Nintendo – gimmicky. Creating objects using a crowd of Pikmin-style tagalongs is a central mechanic, and while gathering team members to increase the size and power of your combination attacks is a great idea it necessitates pulling the camera back so far that your characters are extremely tiny if you want to see what’s going on around you. Character action is a genre dependent on being able to read the movements of everyone on the screen, and not only does this rob you of the visual tells that would make stringing the complex combos the game begs for easier but it makes platforming a pain in some of the more hectic stages. Think navigating narrow, collapsing footholds is a pain? Try doing it when you can’t tell exactly where the character you’re controlling is in a crowd.
It’s not flawless, but The Wonderful 101 makes one of the strongest showings for owning a Wii U yet. I’ll admit that personality goes an incredibly long way towards my enjoyment of a game, but this one has the mechanical strength to back it up in spades. Difficulty options, hidden collectibles and missions aplenty offer you more than enough excuses to extend your time with this title if you find yourself liking what you see, and short of distaste for the genre or tone I’m at a loss for reasons you shouldn’t find a way to at least give it a try.