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The Wonderful 101 review

Decent
AT A GLANCE
  • Viewtiful Joe-esque characters and style
  • Spectacular boss battles
  • Loads of depth and secrets
  • Stop-start gameplay is hard to enjoy
  • Some near-unplayable sections
  • Just not as fun as it should be

At face value, The Wonderful 101 may look a lot like Pikmin, but the reality is the polar opposite. What you're actually looking at is effectively Bayonetta wearing a cunning Viewtiful Joe disguise and giving the illusion of control over 100 characters. Although you can split the group for a few seconds at a time, this isn't really a group-managing game at all. Instead, you're essentially controlling one incredibly versatile superhero. Sadly (but perhaps predictably), the result is a bit of a mess.

As you’d expect from a Platinum game, the production values are sky high throughout. The stumpy-legged characters make for likable super heroes and the lead cast converses with fully-voiced, funny dialogue packed with Platinum’s usual gaming references and sass. Artistic flair is evident throughout, from 1950s diner-style marts to futuristic metallic aircraft with sumptuous burnish. It truly is a wonderful world.

"Mission mode gives you a permanently full Unite bar, and the combat is much more engaging as a result"

But then you start to play and the beautiful facade begins to crumble. You can use either the right stick or the GamePad touch screen to draw a line--made up of your followers--who morph into whatever weapon you drew. A straight line for a sword, an S for a whip… they’re easy to remember but neither method is as simple as it seems, as the game regularly mistakes shapes for the whip.

Combat throughout the story mode is unsatisfying. The primary culprit is the Unite Gauge, which is depleted by drawing weapons but also by dodging, which you'll need to do a lot, especially as many attacks come without warning from off-screen. Annoyingly, the mission mode on the title screen gives you a permanently full Unite bar, and the combat is much more engaging as a result. Its inclusion in the main game feels arbitrary. 

The other problem is the way the game bounds from scene to scene at such a pace, throwing in new one-off gameplay variants and massive bosses, you’re never really given enough time to just have fun exploring the core mechanic of just smashing bad guys up in exquisite style. Instead, you're constantly having to adapt the style you haven't really developed yet, before being rushed straight on to the next course. Again, the mission mode is a better bet if you just want to test your combat skills against the ranking system. There's also a 5-player co-op option in there, which amplifies the fun as everyone plays with the combat system in a hassle-free playground.

But the main game doesn’t want you to do that. It wants you to marvel at its boss battles. Frequently mesmerising in their technical wizardry and often sheer scale, the spectacle is tarnished by a criminal lack of signposting. Any chance of getting absorbed into the action is destroyed when you’re forever tripping over obscure progression logic. This is especially true when the only visual cues the game is giving you suggest your current method is working, even when it actually isn’t.

"It’s the clumsy, ham-fisted delivery of some sections that grates the most"

This poor signposting extends to the levels themselves, where apparent dead-ends require you to use the Unite Draw feature to create ladders, bridges, or giant hands to open valves. Trouble is, there’s no consistency. One gap needs a bridge, the next needs the hang-glider… it would be fine if the game afforded you the flexibility to surmount obstacles as you see fit, but it doesn’t. Invisible walls stop you in your tracks until you do exactly what the game wants you to do.

But it’s the clumsy, ham-fisted delivery of some sections that grates the most. One example of this when when the action is switched onto the GamePad screen, where the camera suddenly works on gyroscopic control. When this happens, the game is rendered almost unplayable and simply walking upstairs becomes a serious test of your controller skills. Even one of the regular sections expects you to jump across collapsing platforms without actually letting you see your character. He’s off the screen. Flaws like this are all the harder to swallow when they’re rendered in some of Wii U’s finest graphics to date. Just look at it:

"Those who do persevere with the game and plumb its depths will find plenty of content to master"

Of course, once you finally work out how each section is supposed to be played, the game can be mastered. Accordingly, Wonderful 101 has bags of replay potential as you unlock moves, hunt for the many secrets and strive for Platinum trophies on every section  of every level. There are hidden challenge areas to discover and beat too, meaning those who do persevere with the game and plumb its depths will find plenty of content to master.

But is it worth persevering to find these depths? Sadly, the answer has to be: ‘not really’. With Nintendo's Pikmin 3 having just demonstrated such mastery of both game design and the Wii U hardware, it’s disappointing to see such a superficially similar yet confused and messy game following it mere weeks later. A new IP from Platinum with swagger and style is something gamers have wanted for Wii U for so long. But the reality is that its gameplay just doesn’t gel and numerous baffling design choices get in the way so as to render all the astonishing style moot. It just isn't very fun. And ‘Mediocre 101’ isn’t good enough.

More Info

Available Platforms: Wii U
Genre: Action
Published by: Nintendo
Developed by: Platinum Games
ESRB Rating:
Rating Pending

Topics

Platinum

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10 comments

  • lobsters - May 21, 2014 10:20 p.m.

    I have to disagree with most points in this review. *** You complained about how the game regularly mistook shapes for the whip's. This happened solely because you were unfamiliar with its control scheme. While it is perfectly understandable for you to be unfamiliar such a new and unorthodox system, it does not imply that the system itself is bad. On every difficulty mode except for 101% Hard, every time you start drawing, time freezes to give you plenty of breathing room to precisely draw whatever shape you want. A lot of people on YouTube have made videos highlighting how simple it is to draw shapes in this game; I suggest checking this one out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VWvsbhoX8FU. It specifically targets you, the reviewers. *** You complained about the Unite Gauge, but meter management is a staple of many action games and fighting games. You have many ways to refill your gauge besides letting it slowly regenerate. I'll list 2 below: Every teammate clinging onto an enemy as a result of either Team Attacks or bullets from Unite Gun deals a minuscule amount of damage to the enemy every second or so but also refills your gauge at a constant rate until they stop attacking (because the enemies shake them off, they are recalled by you holding down Y, etc.). Every idle teammate who is physically close to an enemy will automatically start attacking the enemy, refilling your gauge in a similar fashion. After you purchase Attack Liner from the Wonderful Mart, drawing a line through an enemy, particularly large ones, refills your gauge rapidly. This is crucial to gameplay on 101% Hard. Not to mention you can just use a Wonderful Cake if you really need to. Also, if you feel that the game is too punishing, you can always play it on Very Easy in which your Unite Gauge never depletes, ever. *** You complained about poor signposting, but this is again solely because you were unfamiliar with this game. That is, again, perfectly understandable, but it does not mean that the game was poorly designed. I suggest pointing out some concrete examples of attacks with poor signposting to substantiate your claim, while also allowing commenters to provide you with corrections if needed. *** Those are just a few complaints I have towards your review. I know you will never respond to this, but I'm happy if I was able to convince at least one person to reconsider their opinion towards this game.
  • Nikku7 - August 19, 2013 7:36 p.m.

    I'll play it because Platinum made it. The style is enough to carry it for me this time. Now to get a Wii U! The comment section is kinda hilarious here...
  • aaron-smith - August 19, 2013 6:18 p.m.

    I played the entire demo and this game was a blast. I would disagree with most points in this review, which is disappointing since I generally have high regard for gamesradar. Buy this game, because it is worth it.
  • pl4y4h - August 19, 2013 9:10 a.m.

    That's a little disappointing. It's not like i'll pick up a wii u ever, but this seemed to be the one game that would've been incredible for it
  • g1rldraco7 - August 19, 2013 12:23 a.m.

    Superhero fans will love this game, saves me time on what to get for my gamer friend for his birthday.
  • talleyXIV - August 18, 2013 5:30 p.m.

    I was somewhat interested in it after the demo was really cool but now I think I'll have to wait for the whole of reviews (since this one is a month early) and then probably wait for a price drop.
  • DragonLord23 - August 18, 2013 4:10 p.m.

    The one think Platinum needs to do with their games is get rid of the grading system, or make it more streamlined so the game does not start and pause. This is an upsetting score.
  • BladedFalcon - August 18, 2013 3:13 p.m.

    Hrrrm, that's a discouraging score. as a huge fan of platinum, this is probably the one Wii U exclusive this year that was truly interesting for me. And so far most seem to think the game is kinda cool but flawed at best. Though also, I have a feeling that some might just be kind of wusses with the challenge, except both this and the IGN review complain of bad controls. *sighs* I probably wasn't gonna ever play it, but i still wish this game did better though :/
  • shawksta - August 18, 2013 5:07 p.m.

    The control complaints are on Drawing the shapes, that aren't really hard, but they are off and foreign, like Kid Icarus Uprising, except if you don't want to draw, there's the second option of using the right analog stick. Otherwise most of Justins complaints are on Level structure and decisions on the levels.

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