With Bayonetta 2 still a tantalising work in progress, Platinum Games unleash their third title of 2013. Following Anarchy Reigns and the excellent Metal Gear Rising, The Wonderful 101 arrives to give Wii U owners something to cheer about.
Channeling the spirit of classic children’s cartoons – think Power Rangers – Platinum’s Wii U exclusive puts you in charge of the Wonderful 100, mankind’s first line of defence against alien threats – in this case the Geathjerk. The Wonderful 100 are superheroes boasting superpowers like super-punch, super-sword-in-your-stomach and super-shoot-your-face-off-with-a-big-gun. Simple enough, but that doesn’t stop Platinum taking the best part of an afternoon explaining the needless hows and whys.
It’s a slow burner, with its endearingly Platinum mentality and winning looks doing little to ease the truth that – much like Bayonetta – The Wonderful 101′s true joys are concealed waiting to be unlocked over the course of 20-plus hours and multiple playthroughs.
You control the party leader (any of the Wonderful 100 you’ve recruited across the game’s nine operations) with a rag-tag band of supercharged civilians, policeman and other assorted normies following behind in a superb conga line. Get whacked by one of the Geathjerk and your troop scatter, which necessitates a quick dart around the battleground to sweep them back up again. The more underlings in your party, the more damage you deal. It’s a neat feature.
Using the regrettably imprecise draw function of the Wii U’s gamepad, your band of fighters can unite-morph (elongate the ‘i’, bellow ‘morph’) into inanimate objects like bridges, gliders and ladders and, in combat, giant swords, fists and guns (a circle creates a fist, a line a sword, an L-shape a gun and so on) opening the delightful levels up for exploration.
The Wii U gamepad, satisfying once more the role it was born to play, provides an extra layer of awkward to negotiate in what is really only an overelaborate weapons wheel. Fortunately, the right analogue stick serves the same purpose yet still provides a needlessly cumbersome means of cycling through weapons in the midst of carnage. It can be trouble enough keeping track of the party leader in the bedlam of battle without having to gaze down at your groin every twelve seconds. Worse are the sections in which you have to hold the gamepad up as a camera because, because, because…?
Unsurprisingly, and despite the often lousy controls, combat is where The Wonderful 101 shines. Some ingenious boss design makes excellent use of your morphing abilities while the standard ruckuses - though chaotic - are shot through with the death cries of Bayonetta; colourful, lightning-quick, gloriously immediate. Which makes the decision to kickstart the game without either a dedicated block or dodge mechanic baffling. Like Bayonetta, the game comes alive through each perfectly timed evasion followed up with a crushing counter attack. Still, with both unlocked via the game’s currency system, the combat is The Wonderful 101′s crowning glory.
So it’s unfortunate that Platinum have taken great delight in protracting everything out five or six times longer than it need naturally be. The first of nine operations is a two-hour marathon punctuated with brawls against the same handful of enemies and while combat is undeniably great in that signature Platinum way, it grows stale through endless recycling. Even the boss fights are reused liberally and spun out well beyond the necessary mark.
The Wonderful 101 is a good game that should have been a classic. It’s needlessly bloated but undeniably Platinum, managing to give the Wii U a much needed kick up the rear while falling some way short of Platinum finest moments.
The Wonderful 101, by Nintendo and Platinum Games, is available now for Wii U in Europe and is scheduled for release September 15th in the US.