Tech News on G4
The Wonderful 101 a hot mess
Oct 11, 2013
By Daniel Barron - G4 Canada
If games were given scores based on how polarizing they are, The Wonderful 101 would no doubt be a perfect 10 out of 10, and would easily be the top contender for 2013's game of the year. As thrilling and inventive as it can be, though, there's far too much holding it back, and it only leaves us wondering "what if?"
Fitting The Wonderful 101 into an existing genre is nearly impossible. At its most basic level, you could probably get away with simply calling it an action platformer, but it's so much more than that.
The game follows the exploits of Wonder-Red and a team of 99 other protagonists who are known as the Wonderful 100. The person holding the controller makes it an uneven 101, although the team is continually referred to as both the 100 and 101, and this is just one example of how developer Platinum Games goes out of its way to be confusing for no good reason.
The team is tasked with protecting Earth from all manner of bad guys, and in this game, all hell breaks loose when an alien force known as Geathjerk attacks. The plot takes the player through numerous and varied missions around the planet as they take on the forces of evil.
Although combat in The Wonderful 101 is extremely deep, the basic premise revolves around Unite Morphs - shapes that the player can draw using the Wii U Gamepad or the right analog stick, which result in the creation of weapons. The onscreen heroes will morph together to create the object, with examples ranging from a straight line for a sword, to a squiggly line for a whip, to a circle for a hand.
Coming out victorious isn't simply a matter of drawing a gun and mashing a button until you've shot everything on screen to pieces, though. Even the most basic enemies can be quite formidable, and you'll have to learn patterns, tells, and what weapons are most effective.
And here is where the biggest problem with The Wonderful 101 lies. Quite simply, it does a terrible job of explaining things, and that's if it even makes an attempt at doing so in the first place. Players are left to fend for themselves, and while a lack of hand-holding isn't necessarily a bad thing in many games, it is in a title that's as frantic as The Wonderful 101.
Explanations pop up onscreen, but don't stay very long. There's an easy access quick guide for newly-acquired skills, but you can't pause the game to view this menu, and in a game like this, if you look down for a moment, there's a good chance it's a moment too long and your band of 100 heroes will have been dispersed across the screen after being hit, and you'll have to gather them all up.
Of course you can always go into the pause menu to look over skills and unite morphs and whatever other numerous things the game throws at you over the course of this overlong adventure, but then, what's the point in even having the quick guide?
You're given the chance to practice offensive and defensive moves during brief load menus in between levels, but you can be sure that this isn't enough to hone the advanced skills you desperately need to find success in The Wonderful 101 on the innaccurately-named "normal" difficulty.
There are some light puzzle elements strewn throughout the levels, but many of them are barely explained, if at all. Sure, sometimes you'll be given an onscreen prompt, but there are more than a few rage-inducing sections where you're given absolutely no hint as to how to proceed next. It's by sheer luck - or a Google search - that you'll manage to proceed further, but not after dozens of deaths.
Another issue that completely works against the game is the camera, which the player has no control of in The Wonderful 101. Normally, manual camera controls fall to the right analog stick, but of course, that's used for drawing Unite Morphs, and God forbid Platinum Games allowed an option to change that. A fixed camera can be frustrating at best in most games, but it's downright unfair in the Wonderful 101.
The reason for this is because defending against most enemies requires keeping a close eye on their aforementioned patterns and tells, but I lost count of how many times the camera decided to zoom in on me so much that one or two enemies were simply left out of view. This resulted in my characters being knocked over mercilessly and repeatedly because I couldn't see what attack a particular bad guy was planning on unleashing, or when.
The controls themselves leave something to be desired as well. Drawing using the right analog stick is unreliable at best, and while scribbling on the Gamepad is slightly better, doing so requires the player to take their eyes off the screen for a few moments, and you'll learn quickly that every second is precious in The Wonderful 101. In other words, neither option is ideal.
The design choices in the game often make absolutely no sense, and they cover everything from the major to the minor. For instance, you can mix pieces of food you pick up throughout levels to create healing items (another aspect of the game that is never explained), but even the mixing process is overcomplicated. You choose how many pieces you want to use with an analog stick, then press the Y-button to confirm, then the X-button a few times to do the mixing. Why not simply choose the healing item you want, and press the A-button to confirm?
Platinum Games also decided to throw an inordinate amount of different situations into the game, giving The Wonderful 101 a disparate feel throughout, and no one section feels particularly better than another. There are several moments where you'll control a spaceship (none of which are any good), or another where you'll be scrolling sideways as you dig through a grid-like area as you're being chased by a wall of lava.
The developer even attempts to throw in some moments where you'll be forced to control your team of 100 (or is it 101?) using only the Gamepad screen. These are consistently awful, and only serve to make the default camera seem like the best thing since sliced bread.
Of course, there is some good to be found in this mish-mash of bad ideas and failed execution. First and foremost, battles can be exhilarating when everything - namely, the camera - is co-operating. Despite the game's worst intentions, the dedicated player will get an understanding of how combat works, and stringing together combos feels great when the weapons you want to draw actually work the first time.
The game looks fantastic, and considering the plot revolves around superheroes stopping an invasion of a power-hungry alien race, it gives off a real Avengers-like vibe. Of course, just like that Marvel movie, the endless action and goofy, cliche-ridden story in The Wonderful 101 does get grating after a while.
This game is sure to have its fair share of devotees who will insist The Wonderful 101 simply requires some patience in order to see what it has to offer. Unfortunately, Platinum Games' grand vision falls flat in too many ways to count, and the most interesting aspects of the gameplay - most notably the Unite Morphs - are the things that are implemented the worst.
The Wonderful 101
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