I’ve never been a huge fan of combat in brawler games like the God of War series, or even the modern Batman games. It often felt to me that, even though those series had depth in their combat systems, the easiest way to play was just to button mash, and 95% of the time that’d get you through everything. Or in a game like Assassin’s Creed, just wait for an attack, hit counter then mash the attack button. Repeat as needed. I know there are developers that would be saddened by my approach, but I never felt challenged enough to need to further my skills in battle. I think you can see where I’m going with this.
The best thing about The Wonderful 101 is that it forces you to learn. You need to get better at the motions and dive deeper into the combat systems to beat the game. In that sense, it feels more like a fighting game than an action brawler. I played through the game on ‘Normal’ difficulty, and a few times early on I was tempted to back it down to ‘Easy’ or ‘Very Easy’, but I’m glad I didn’t. The most powerful thing you can do in combat, is use part of your ‘battery meter’ to form a ‘Unite’ power. That could mean a fist, a gun, a whip, a blob, a ball, a rocketship and a few others. The more of your massive crowd you include in your ‘Unite’, the stronger it is. To create them, you write on the gamepad the symbol of the unite you’re creating. Which honestly doesn’t work all that well. In a game where you’re focused on multiple enemies, controlling a large group of individuals that need tightly timed blocks and attacks, taking your hand off the controller to scribble something just didn’t work correctly for me 70% of the time. I then realized you could simply use the right joystick to ‘draw’ your Unite symbol. Suddenly the combat clicked, and I was off to the races. It made such a massive difference to what I was able to do, I wonder who in their right mind would use the drawing mechanic.
What started out in life as a game using the regular Nintendo cast was remade with a completely unique group of caricatures. I’m not going to call them characters, because that would imply some measure of development or depth. The fat french guy has a terrible accent and likes food. The ‘tough’ guy is always bragging about how awesome he is, and the woman worries about how she looks. I know they’re being ridiculous intentionally, but instead of playing on the stereotypes in some way, they just exist. In some way they fit the over-the-top insanity of the plot and colourful craziness of the world, but they pulled me out of the game more than they drew me in. Nintendo balked at the idea of Princess Peach forming part of a bridge that Mario would walk over, but I feel that it’s really a shame in a Nintendo exclusive title that finally gives us more than the regular cast, we just get caricatures that exemplify the stereotypes even more so than than Mario and the gang.
Those two criticisms given, almost everything else about the game I really enjoyed. The plot was a typical ‘save the world’ type, but it was over the top enough and filled with massive Jaeger-size robots enough that I quite enjoyed it. There were a few moments of complexity and seriousness later on, but I felt the silliness just didn’t allow them to shine through. The world created was full of secrets and humans to rescue and recruit, and though extremely linear was varied enough through my ~20 hour playthrough that I didn’t get bored. There is quite a lot of content on offer, and that’s ignoring the 5-player co-op mode that reuses some levels from the main game.
The orchestral score and theme song are fantastic, and the plastic toy look of the graphics play quite well with the art style. I was initially put off by the utter shininess of everything, but it grows on you as you immerse yourself in this wonderful playset of a game.
The long and the short of it is: if you enjoy action games, brawlers and combat systems with depth, this is a fantastic game and a reason to own a Wii U. Clunky puzzles and on-rails sections aside, the action kicks off in chapter one and doesn’t let up until the end. It’s a fantastic ride let up by some frankly insulting caricatures.