Pointing at The Wonderful 101 and calling it an odd looking game is like pointing at Piers Morgan and calling him really, really annoying; you’re dealing in facts rather than interesting observation. The Wonderful 101 is an odd game because it’s one that draws visual similarities to Pikmin, yet it’s a game that, in play, feels more mechanically comparable to the likes of Bayonetta. The Wonderful 101 (previously known as Project P-100) is a game destined to, at least initially, confuse just as many as it delights.
Let’s elaborate. Yes it looks a bit like Pikmin and, yes, it sounds a smidgen like Pikmin too if Marvel were to get their ideas around the concept. You play a small group of super heroes that are recruiting everyday citizens in order to amass a force large enough to fight back against the hulking robots terrorising the city. A leader marshalling smaller lifeforms to fight back against larger predators. Yeah, that’s a bit Pikmin.
But aside from one little gameplay quirk that we’ll get to shortly that is effectively where the comparisons to Nintendo’s carrot men end. You may be in control of a group of up to one hundred heroes but for all intents and purposes those heroes act as one. They move as one, dodge as one, and repel enemy attacks as one. While they may scatter occasionally and do the odd ting solo, if you ‘do’ anything they’ll come right back to the group. You’re not controlling a leader and his followers so much as a blob of do-gooders.
That one gameplay quirk, however, is that to build the ‘batteries’ that power your special moves you’ll need to command your surplus of heroes to swarm forward and start thwacking your enemy’s toes. Building battery power then grants you the ability to deal the real hurt by transforming your troupe into a number of powerful ‘things’ by drawing the appropriate line on the Gamepad’s touch screen (you can also ‘draw’ lines with the right analogue stick, but it feels slow in comparison to the touch screen). In our demo there was a sword (draw a line), a fist (draw a circle) and a gun (draw an L) present, with each power specialising in a particular style of combat. Your transformations gets bigger the more heroes you have under your control, natch.
It’s about now when you start to realise that The Wonderful 101 is really just a thoroughbred action game. Coming from Platinum Games’ Hideki Kamiya you wouldn’t really expect anything else, but it’s rare for a game’s visual identity to beguile quite as much as The Wonderful 101′s does upon first glance. It’s perhaps most interesting to note, then, that the isometric view probably winds up being a far better fit for an action game, seeing as it gives you a larger overview of the current combat arena and thus greater spacial awareness…
“[The Wonderful 101] is Hideki Kamiya’s MO right down to the M and the O”
To illustrate further here’s how a fight goes down in The Wonderful 101 – We walk into an area and a pair of enemies drop down. One is a cannon tank, the other hulking melee brute. We run our group towards and ‘mass attack’ the melee bot to build our batteries, the little dudes drumming his ankles and shins with great gusto. Noting that the giant ‘bot is rearing up for an attack we pull the shoulder button to dodge our squad backwards, deftly avoiding his attempt to flatten our group.
Duracell’s charged it’s time to go to work. We transform into the Sword and uppercut the brute into the air, jumping after him at just the right moment to avoid a cannon blast. We’d love to take a moment to applaud such seamless choreography but there’s an enemy to juggle, we swipe at now airborne baddie and destroy him in mid-air. We now drop to the floor and disperse the transformation, gotta save energy. We quickly note that the cannon is just about to fire another volley so we pre-empt the oncoming cannonball by transforming our troupe into a blob of jelly by pulling on the other shoulder button, thus returning the speedy ball of steel right back to sender. Ka-boom, win, get graded on combat efficiency, move on.
In motion it’s clear – The Wonderful 101 is a tricky action game that tests your ability to react to huge brawls and varied enemy types. The Wonderful 101 also includes the odd puzzle-y segue to keep gamers on their toes (one of which require some natty Gamepad and TV comparison). This is Hideki Kamiya’s MO right down to the M and the O. We’ve seen him do it from Devil May Cry through Viewtiful Joe, Bayonetta, and now The Wonderful 101. The style and look may change, but his attitude to game design is the same as ever. Considering the man is the king of the modern action game, we mean that in absolutely the best way possible.
Of course there’s another ‘Kamiya-ism’ that makes itself quite clear when you start to tinker with The Wonderful 101. This is a game with many more little ideas that don’t make themselves completely obvious, but make the game all the more satisfying when you find them. They also move it back towards those strategy, Pikmin-like roots we told you to forget about. We know, he’s a devious one is that Kamiya.
Say there’s a car on the side of the road, draw a line towards it and a few of your heroic colleagues will split from the group and hoist it onto their shoulders, launching it at nearby enemies upon your command. This idea is introduced through an oil tanker blocking your path – simply attack it and it will explode, killing innocent civilians trapped under it. Command your squad to lift it up and you’ll save those unfortunates, able to draft them into your growing group.
It’s a small element then, and one not explored to great depths in the demo we recently got our mitts on, but it shows that The Wonderful 101 is a game that seems to truly blossom the more you investigate. Y’know, like Bayonetta.
Action? Strategy? Action focus with a dash of strategy, we’d say. The Wonderful 101 is an odd game, there’s no avoiding that, but it’s unquestionably a brilliant one that demands you play it to understand it. And then play it some more to understand it some more. And then play it some more to etc. etc. Despite its vivid colour pallet The Wonderful 101 is actually the Wii U’s premier action game. Until a certain witch shows up at least. Don’t let it evade your attention.