The whole “if you had to take one [x] to a desert island” question is pretty hack, but if the question was “what publisher’s catalog would you take,” Clover/Platinum’s works would be in the running.
Viewtiful Joe, Okami, Bayonetta, Metal Gear Rising, NieR: Automata: all these titles are considered classics in their genre, not to mention the numerous others that I could still bring to that final destination. I deliberately left out God Hand, as it’s in the running for “single game I’d bring on a deserted island.” I have choices here, people.
You get the point. Wonderful 101 is probably going to be on a lot of people’s lists too, but not everyone got to play it due to the unfortunate fate of the Wii U. That changes this month.
The Wonderful 101: Remastered (PC, PS4 [reviewed], Switch)
Developer: Platinum Games
Publisher: Platinum Games
Released: May 19, 2020
Leave it to Platinum to take the “small army” concept of Pikmin and its ilk and make an action game out of it. The Wonderful 101 is lovely on so many levels, chiefly because it’s unlike pretty much every game out right now (still) from both an aesthetic and gameplay perspective.
Taking control of a swarm of superheroes, you’ll do battle with the evil alien Geathjerk Federation under the guidance of Wonder-Red, a badass who also happens to teach elementary school. The whole premise and light hammy touches smack of old school sci-fi and spy Americana, while adding in a Japanese-tinted Kaiju spin. While the narrative is often background noise, the whole symphony of madness comes together with the chaotic gameplay. That “swarm” combat mechanic, mind, is mostly what makes Wonderful 101 so special, even if it sometimes falls into a rote routine.
To fight back against the alien menace, you’ll curl or crease your collective of heroes into lines to craft weapons: a straight line is a sword, a squiggle is a whip, and so on. Longer lines mean stronger weapons, and you can craft a few auxiliary things like hang gliders with other shapes. The game’s dodge (a slinky maneuver) and block (gelatin) are also unique, and add some calculated action tropes in with the madness of the system. There’s a “light parrying system using Jell-O.” How many times do I get to type a phrase like that out?!
Being able to double-jump up to new areas, quickly solve light puzzles and navigate hidden locations and secret missions is pure Platinum. Beyond the 15-to-20-hour campaign, multiplayer missions are also still in, and thankfully can be played completely solo or with a crew of up to four players. More content is also coming down the line.
Despite all those great oddities, some of Platinum’s finer touches get lost in the madness. Some portions of Wonderful 101 feel like work, sandwiched in-between some of the crazier sections that reinvent the way you approach the game. While select enemies do require a bit of strategic pondering, many are pure cannon fodder, meant to increase your score or keep your combo going. That fluff is fine in most beat ’em ups, but it can get tedious in 101‘s longer levels.
It can also occasionally be a drag in the mechanical department. Having to swap between a single-target/ranged/crowd control morph is fun at first, but can become routine over time, especially during stretches that don’t grant new toys to play with. Similarly, drawing lines around citizens to “collect” them is still wonky and imprecise. The crafting system feels half-baked and superfluous. Often times menu-based hangups can get in the way of more action. Many ship upgrades are also menial enhancements at best, and without the help of the Wii U GamePad, the screen can get really busy.
You can argue that Wonderful 101 was never meant to be that technical, though. There’s a cheery gusto to it that will force even the coldest of folks to smile. Stylistically it always ruled on the Wii U (which frankly had some underrated visual triumphs like Super Mario 3D World), but the remaster further does it justice by brightening and sharpening everything up a bit, with only a few occasions of slowdown.
Aesthetically, the Sentai look only elevates it, as does the wacky lore of “mentally sound and physically fit” individuals from across the world donning powered exoskeletons: Platinum cares about this world and the Polly Pocket character designs. While there are some serious moments, Platinum isn’t afraid to get silly as often as possible, with comedic elements like the normally stalwart heroes falling over themselves during triumphant victories, or plenty of in-fighting between the crew. There’s also options for English and Japanese vocal tracks, and you can toggle the tutorials on or off.
You’re probably wondering how the remaster — which does not make use of the frankly brilliant Wii U GamePad — fares as a single-screen experience. While the new coat of paint on the already bright visual style is great, the removal of a whole control style is most definitely the biggest departure this time around. The thing is, the Wii U always had a backup plan in case you didn’t want to draw symbols on the pad, and the analog stick method translates yet again to modern platforms.
Given that I mostly opted for the analog method in the original, it didn’t take that long to get used to. The PS4 edition, which I played through for this review, does allow players to draw Wonder-Liner shapes on the TouchPad. It’s not as foolproof as the giant GamePad screen and can get really finicky, but again, the analog method works just fine. At least it’s there as an option.
The Wonderful 101 deserves this new Remastered lease on life after the way it was treated on the Wii U. For nearly seven years we’ve clamored for a re-release, and now we have it. Go play it this time.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]