Luke spends his time playing video games, binge-watching TV and hanging out with his German Shepherd, Ziggy and Bernese Mountain Dog Pandora.
May 22, 2020
The Wonderful 101 was one of the gaming highlights of 2013, mixing quirky characters and a fun comic book superhero style presentation with frenetic action that PlatinumGames are known for. You might not know this however, as the game launched exclusively on the Wii U, a platform that really didn’t have the install base to give niche titles like this one the mainstream credit they deserved. Now, The Wonderful 101 Remastered breathes new life into this crazy fun action game, now available on PlayStation 4, PC and Nintendo Switch. It’s still an incredibly fun romp, but some of the finicky mechanics hold it back from being completely wonderful.
Wonderful 101 puts you in the superhero boots of Wonder-Red, among others, who band together with their superhero squad to form the Wonderful 100 – the extra 1 is you, of course. Battling against alien invaders, your group of heroes combine – literally – to create larger weapons, like a fist, sword or whip using “Unite Morph”, allowing you to take down larger enemies. To achieve this, you have to draw shapes on the screen. This can be achieved in multiple ways, depending on your choice of console; the right analog stick works well enough, but on Switch, drawing on the touch-screen with my finger worked a little bit more reliably when playing in handheld mode. On PS4, the touchpad on the DualShock 4 can be used. It does create a moment of disconnect from the action while you draw, and every now and then the shape wouldn’t register properly as if I hadn’t done them quite right, which proved to be a little annoying.
The aforementioned weapons interact with the world and the baddies in different ways, from basic things like using the fist to turn a knob to open a door, to learning which weapons work best against particular foes based on their defenses and unique attack patterns. This is where Wonderful 101 gets interesting, as it’s often not explicitly said which weapons you should use for different times. This means some experimentation as you figure out how to tackle different challenges, and you could potentially find this frustrating while you’re figuring it out, taking damage and losing lives in the process. Persistence pays off though, and the flip-side of the frustration is that it’s very satisfying figuring out the right combination at the right time to achieve the biggest damage and best combos.
“…it oozes style and humour at every opportunity. It’s a joy to play, even when it’s consistently kicking your ass.”
Still, the game is pretty forgiving, and there’s never a “game over” screen to the point where you have to retry a level. Like other Platinum titles, each combat section gives you a grade and medals associated, and at the end of the mission you get an overall grade. If you die during, you’ll be penalised – so I can see that there would be plenty of folk out there who would spend time finding the best strategy to get the highest scores possible, providing some replayability.
The original Wonderful 101 made use of the Wii U’s gamepad as a second screen, using it as a sort of radar with important information like heroes in the area, available items and so forth. in Remastered, you can have it either as picture-in-picture and choose where on your screen you’d like the second screen placed, or you can have dual-view mode that shows them side by side. This works fine on my 65″ TV, but doesn’t work quite as well when the game is being played in handheld mode on Switch. The radar takes up too much screen real estate when there is already so much going on to keep track of with the large number of heroes, enemies flooding the screen, drawing shapes… it’s just a lot, and can come off as cluttered.
Even when it is at its most frustrating, whether that be due to difficulty or the on-screen chaos, the game still proves to be quite entertaining. As you progress through the campaign, it expects you to keep up and apply what you’ve learned from previous battles in order to have the most success possible. Taking down a boss with style and speed is as satisfying and rewarding as any other PlatinumGames experience I’ve had, and to no surprise, it oozes style and humour at every opportunity. It’s a joy to play, even when it’s consistently kicking your ass.
Despite its flaws with some of the gameplay concepts, The Wonderful 101 Remastered keeps the pace fast and exciting throughout, with a cheeky sense of humour and irreverent self-awareness that makes the entire experience charming throughout. It’s colourful, wacky and a lot less serious in tone than say, Bayonetta or Astral Chain. The improvements to the game seven years later offer better tutorials and more on-screen displays that make the initial difficulty a bit more palatable, and the cartoon-like style means that it holds up pretty well in the visual department with the upgrades in place. There are also certain abilities emphasised for purchase from the in-game shop right at the start, so clearly they’ve identified where players struggles were in the original and put some fixes in place to make this more welcoming for newcomers.
The Wonderful 101 Remastered is a fantastic opportunity to experience another underrated gem from the Wii U era. It’s more accessible this time around, but still has moments that are quite frustrating; that being said, once the somewhat strange mechanics start to click into place, it becomes a very enticing action game that feels as high-energy as it looks. While the combat and controls are a little bit clunky at times and the “second screen” can take up a bit too much real estate, especially in portable mode, that doesn’t stop The Wonderful 101 Remastered from being fast-paced superhero fun that anybody looking for a challenge would enjoy.