The Wonderful 101 video review: strength in numbers

By Ozzie Mejia, Sep 10, 2013 10:00am PDT

Why settle for just one hero when you could have a hundred of them? Nintendo and Platinum's army of superheroes have arrived in The Wonderful 101, a creative take at squad-based action that's covered in Silver Age-era superhero whimsy.

The planet is being invaded by an alien armada known as the GEATHJERK, and it's up to The Wonderful 100 (pronounced one-double-oh) to defeat them. The narrative is told through the eyes of leader Wonder Red, as he's quickly joined by supporting team members from around the world. The lighthearted romp effectively sets the stage for Platinum's zany action-heavy design.

The Wonderful 101 seems designed with Wii U in mind, with players able to activate their powers by by drawing on the GamePad, a mechanic called the Wonder Liner. The more people you have in your team, the more powerful your weapons will be. Of course, players don't start out with all hundred teammates off the bat. Along the way, you'll have to increase your rank by deputizing endangered citizens. A higher team population allows players to create larger versions of various Unite Morph weapons, like the Unite Sword or Unite Gun.

Due to its unique mechanics, this is a game that takes getting used to, and even Platinum admits that the first playthrough will feel like a tutorial. Once you get the hang of it, the pace starts to quicken and it starts to deliver upon its potential, as you start switching between whips, guns, swords, and other weapons on-the-fly. The action can be relentless at times, especially with titanic boss battles becoming the norm.

The GamePad is used for more than just activating new powers. The Wonderful 101 also takes advantage of both screens to great effect, with some puzzles requiring paying attention to both what's on the TV and what's on the GamePad. These sequences are clever, although their reliance on the GamePad's gyroscopes for camera control can be a bit cumbersome.

And while the super team's weapons are all varied and easy to use, they're not necessarily easy to make. If you take your eyes off the screen to start drawing weapons, you're likely to get hit by an incoming attack, especially on higher difficulties. Fortunately, the right analog stick works just as well and, wound up become my preferred input method--especially for the game's many tricky QTE sequences.

As bombastic as the adventure can be, the game does suffer from poor pacing issues. Most of the time, finding the right path isn't always obvious and too often did I wander aimlessly trying to figure out what to do next. Levels are already pretty lengthy, and these unanticipated pit stops became frustrating slogs.

But once you figure out the path, there are many reasons to come back and keep playing, as there are unlockables sprinkled throughout the world, new members of the Wonderful 100 to discover, and higher scores to achieve. There are even new difficulties to unlock, with the already-challenging "Normal" being the most difficult option out-of-the-box.

The controls may be cumbersome, and the pacing may be faulty, but it's a romp worth sticking with. With its superpowered premise, memorable characters, and fascinating gameplay gimmick, The Wonderful 101 is a theatrical blockbuster that's perfect for Wii U. [7]


This review is based on early downloadable Wii U code provided by the publisher. The Wonderful 101 will be available at retail on Wii U. It will also be available digitally on the Nintendo eShop on September 15th for $59.99. The game is rated E10.

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