|Title: The Wonderful 101
Developer: Platinum Games
Release Date: September 15, 2013 (US)
Genre: Mass Hero Action/Strategy
Platforms: Wii U
Age Rating: Teen
The Wonderful 101 has taken quite a while to get here. It was first announced at E3 2012, under the name Project P-100, as a potential Wii U launch title, but released many months later (and you can add another month to the tally for North America). This long-awaited action title marks the first collaboration between Nintendo and fabled studio Platinum Games. I have made my love known for this developer’s previous work, so naturally, The Wonderful 101 was a day-one purchase for me. Yet, with that said, I was still unprepared for this game’s ridiculous awesomeness.
Unlike Platinum’s previous titles, The Wonderful 101 has an air of family-friendliness around it. Despite its Teen rating, the only content of major concern is some bawdy innuendo and the occasional panty shot or quick reference to alcohol. In my opinion, there is almost nothing here that couldn’t be shown on a cartoon like The Powerpuff Girls nor an average Power Rangers episode, and I would have no problem letting an 8- or 9-year-old play this game. Kids aren’t the main audience for The Wonderful 101, though; rather, this game is aimed at teens and adults who watched the aforementioned cartoons and live-action shows in their childhood. And it’s a Platinum title, so the difficulty reflects that. The Wonderful 101 is not just a love letter to the entire superhero team trope, nor is it merely Viewtiful Joe‘s successor in interest. Even with the occasional flaw, this crazy and inventive action game is way too wonderful to pass up.
The Wonderful 101 puts you in control of a team of heroes that calls themselves The Wonderful 100. That’s pronounced “one-double-oh,” and the game’s title stems from the fact that you are in control of them. And your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to fight off a fearsome group of aliens called the GEATHJERK. If you’re paying attention, that’s an acronym for the “Guild of Evil Aliens Terrorizing Humans with Jigawatt (sic) bombs, Energy beams, Ray guns and Killer lasers.” Any questions about this game being self-aware can be answered just by that acronym, but there is certainly more to The Wonderful 101 than that.
There are seven main characters in The Wonderful 101, all of them fitting a not-exactly-typical character archetype. Wonder Red is the new kid in town, and he just so happens to have the leader spirit that the group needs so much. Wonder Blue has a hotheaded personality that underlies his laid-back “surfer dude” accent. Wonder Green is a fat French kid who is rarely seen without candy or his gun. Wonder Pink is the lone female, who is obsessed with her appearance and whips everything into shape, literally and figuratively speaking. You get the picture, but even the strangest stereotypes are portrayed with the kind of absurdity and subversive qualities found in other Platinum titles.
The story of The Wonderful 101 is as campy as you’d expect from an homage to Power Rangers. In a post-apocalyptic world, the CENTINEL security team, proud owners of The Wonderful 100, put up a defense shield around the earth. Codenamed Margarita, the shield’s powers are encased into a series of goddess statues across the globe. Unfortunately, GEATHJERK will stop at nothing to steal these statues and put an end to peace on Earth. There’s also a subplot with the fierce Prince Vorkken, the gorgeous leader of an interplanetary space pirate squad, and the mysterious Immorta. Oh, and the team owns a little robot named P-Star, named, of course, after Platinum Games’ own logo. And other references and shout-outs to the developer are scattered throughout the game. Yes, the mood is quite campy, but there is some genuinely good story material here, and the script is flat-out hilarious as well.
No superhero homage can be complete without a splash of color, and The Wonderful 101 has it in spades. The game’s cartoonish qualities lend themselves well to the art style, character designs and environments, all rendered in glorious HD. In a few of the game’s cutscenes, the characters have a “bobblehead” effect as they speak, similar to Thunderbirds or Monty Python, which is a nice touch. Despite the HD details and the fact that you’re controlling hundreds of heroes at once, there is almost no slowdown to be found, and the game runs at a nearly constant 60 frames per second with ease. The Wonderful 101 is not a game to underestimate in the graphical department, as it provides a rather dazzling and seamless showcase of what the Wii U is graphically capable of.
As far as sound goes, The Wonderful 101 does not disappoint here, either. The music is as epic as it needs to be, with the best moments including the theme song, “The Won-Stoppable Wonderful 101,” as well as a song that plays whenever Vorkken appears. Once again, suffice it to say that Platinum’s game soundtracks are among the best in the industry. And the voice acting is even better, with a cast of A-list voice actors including Roger Craig Smith (of Sonic fame) as Wonder Blue, Tara Strong as Wonder Pink, Yuri Lowenthal as Wonder White and Kari Wahlgren as Wonder Green. And in another case of spot-the-reference, there are a few great shout-outs to these talents’ previous bodies of work, such as a villain calling Wonder Pink a “ditzy, cheerleader-looking, pom-pom-headed (BEEP).” Sound familiar?
Of course, the super-heroic nature of The Wonderful 101 is most definitely well-matched to the gameplay. Despite its cartoonish look, however, don’t be fooled into thinking that this game is easy. In fact, this game hearkens back to the days of the NES, where gamers had to spend quite some time with a game before it finally “clicks.” You could say The Wonderful 101 is a bizarre hybrid of Pikmin‘s strategy, the deep combat you’d find in Devil May Cry, the drawing controls of Okami or Kirby: Canvas Curse (depending on your playing style), and the atmosphere and crazy antics of Viewtiful Joe. It’s a safe bet to say that The Wonderful 101 takes a high number of risks. But does this lead to high reward? Yep.