Earth finds itself once again under threat after suffering a further invasion by the GEATHJERK Federation Supreme Armada, their third effort to conquer the planet since first attacking without warning some 40 years ago. Humanity, therefore, turns to its last line of defence, the CENTINELS Planetary Secret Service – special combat agents scattered across the world in secret field offices, who united form The Wonderful 100.
And that largely sets the premise for the game, with the player leading their merry band of heroes across the globe as they rush to defend strategic locations, save citizens, tackle monstrously-sized bosses, and remain stoic in the face of such potentially world-ending danger. You’ll stride down the lava-filled caverns of an Amazonian temple in a gargantuan mech, wander the streets of war-torn Blossom City, and take to the skies to frantically chase escaping foes aboard the CENTINELS spaceship.
The script itself proves joyous throughout, delivered with overenthusiastic aplomb – even if peppered with cheesy lines and puns that nostalgia would largely associate with the likes of 90’s cartoons and Power Rangers. But it works, especially alongside thrill-a-minute action sequences that most can readily expect from Platinum’s explosive output. Comedy soon becomes the narrative’s greatest strength, and it regularly exploits that fact.
Underneath its appealing cartoon aesthetic, many aspects of The Wonderful 101’s core structure will be familiar to those that have romped their way through the Japanese studio’s recent output – be that the critically-acclaimed Bayonetta, the gun-blazing glory of Vanquish, or the equally well-favoured Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.
As your squad traverses the world, each of the broader missions finds themselves divided into succinct operations. You’re measured on your performance between each, ultimately leading to you being awarded an overall rating in recognition of your prowess, which spans from a meagre Consolation Prize through to Pure Platinum medals.
Whilst your progression through each mission is largely linear, this naturally opens itself up to endless replay value for those who enjoy improving upon their high scores. Players are free to revisit any previously completed operations throughout the course of the game’s central Story mode, rewarding you with the opportunity to return with new skills in tow in an effort to not only best your previous scores but to recover hidden trinkets you may have missed.
The Wii U GamePad is also well utilised, with moments seeing your heroes wandering into buildings and the action shifting down to the controller. Stand-out instances see you commandeer a GEATHJERK vessel, the TV screen tracking you flying over the cityscape as you hop your squad between control buttons visible on the GamePad’s screen. It’s certainly a stronger glimpse of the controller’s potential. Off-TV Play is also available, although detracts from the full-blown experience.
Naturally, it is The Wonderful 101’s frenetically paced battle system that delivers the more major innovation, players drawing rank formations, dubbed the Wonder-Liner, for their heroes to form that correspond to the varying Unite Morph attack abilities at your disposal.
Much of the early portion sees you juggling between bashing foes with Wonder-Red’s fist and slicing them with Wonder-Blue’s Valiantium Blade, though Platinum slowly introduces further weapon-based attacks as further characters join your ensemble at sporadic intervals during the ongoing narrative. Later opening your arsenal up to a spiked whip, rocket-propelled hammer, sharpened claws, and time-bending bombs. Once you’re more accustomed to how each work, combos that combine each await to be discovered, whilst characters also level unlocking more advanced attacks for your perusal.
The variety of attack choices prove just the right number and, more importantly, are manageable. Switching between them is as simple as drawing the relevant gesture on the Wii U GamePad’s screen, which takes some getting used to at first but most will soon ease into it through continued play. There’s also the option to use the right stick, although this heightens inaccuracy in the heat of battle – especially with some of the later formations you’re required to use. Quickly using your index finger to draw the designated shape is far more effective, if not 100% successful, but you’ll surely decide for yourself which you prefer.
What may come as an initial surprise is just how punishing the experience can be, especially for those new to Platinum’s definitive take on the action genre. Three difficulty settings are available to you at the start; Very Easy, Easy and Normal, though the latter levels plenty of challenge at the player and could be interpreted as a Hard setting within many of today’s games. Be prepared for frustration, and to knock the difficulty down a notch if you find it a struggle.
As per usual, progression and unlocks serve to ease the burden of such difficulty. Spending time browsing the Wonderful Mart between your adventures will make sure that you get the job done, with the virtual store’s shelves lined with items and abilities that will improve your chances of success. Whilst health-restoring foods will often prove useful, it will be the additional Unite Morph moves, Custom Blocks, and Skills that will necessitate you regularly exhausting your accumulated funds. Though items can also be crafted through a concoction of gathered space peppers, carrots and eggplants to save money.
Whilst attack has always been described as being the best form of defence, that certainly isn’t the case within The Wonderful 101. Strategy is required here, and evasive action is far more important than going on the offence. It is only through the Wonderful Mart that you’ll be able to purchase moves such as Unite Guts, which sees your troupe converge to form a large jelly to repel attacks, or Unite Spring, which allows you to directly dodge out of the way.
Custom Blocks add a further layer of thought to this, which in essence provide performance bonus enhancements – using the Unite Gauge to negate damage, strengthen attacks, or enable counterattacks, for example – whilst Skills can allow you to quicken the speed of your drawn formations.
Whilst those seeking to elongate their time with the game can search for hidden GEATHJERK files, Wonderful files, and Wonderful Figures, an achievement-style Bottle Cap Collection fuels further attachment to your assembled force. Earning Platinum medals, performing moves a set number of times, and vanquishing bosses will allow you to unlock such rewards. Secret missions can also be discovered, and there are multiple costumed heroes hidden around for you to enlist.
Beyond this, up to five players can battle their way through separated Wonderful Missions. These are essentially challenges, tasking you with defeating enemies as quickly and rewarding you with bonus time during which you can enlist further allies and nab items to aid you along the way. With more players involved, your squad becomes progressively divided between you, whilst the action becomes all the more frantic – a shared health gauge ensuring players remain careful in their approach.
That this is limited to local multiplayer is an immense disappointment. Despite being blissfully aware of the technical limitations involved, the Wii U largely continues to exist as an offline-only console despite the continual draw of the blossoming Miiverse.
It is The Wonderful 101’s Story mode that delivers the knock-out experience that many early adopters have been clamouring for. It’s been a while since I’ve played through a game that relentlessly provides blistering action-sequence one after another that serve so many memorable moments, and there’s plenty of opportunity to bask in the game’s tokusatsu-inspired glory.
An energetic adventure throughout, with such charismatic charm it is easy to forget that this is an entirely new IP that suitably deserves a successive sequel in future. And for such undoubted quality, PlatinumGames‘ sheer talent in the genre remains unquestionable.
Version Tested: Wii U
Review copy provided by Nintendo