Friday, January 29, 2016

The Wonderful 101 (Gaming Grunts Review Repost)

Note: This review was originally published on September 14th, 2014 for Gaming Grunts, which went under some time ago. Having recently salvaged most of my articles on there, I've decided to give them a new home here for archival purposes. Please bear in mind they differ in structure from this blog's reviews, and be sure to join me at the end for a bonus reflection!

From the wonderful folks who brought you modern classic action games such as Viewtiful Joe and Bayonetta, Platinum Games dishes out alien-pounding combat a hundredfold with The Wonderful 101. Released last fall, The Wonderful 101’s creative twists on the action genre and costumed antics have earned it a comfortable cult-status within the gaming community. While the game’s overtly complicated learning curve is infamous for turning off players, those who take patience and effort in learning the game will be rewarded with a surprisingly deep combo system and endless replay value.


The third Geathjerk invasion is upon us!  Even Earth’s advanced technology is no match for the alien might…except for their secret weapon: the Centinel Suits! Costumes designed to amplify the body strength of the wielder, these suits are granted to one hundred brave souls whose faces are forever masked and whose tombs are forever unknown. They are the Wonderful 100, who combine together to Unite Morph against their alien foes! But who is the 101st Wonderful One? Ah, that’s you.
Inspired by the Japanese Super Sentai (more familiar to western audiences as the Power Rangers), The Wonderful 101’s superhero shenanigans feel right at home with the Saturday morning cartoons of old. While it’s not afraid to dip into darker themes and risqué imagery (Hi, Wonder Pink), its delightfully tongue-in-cheek nature and parody-inspired dialogue are joyously fun throughout.


Like many other action games of its breed, The Wonderful 101 rewards players based on the application of combos and time/dodge efficiency. Players control a crowd of Wonderful Ones under the direct leadership of any selectable Wonderful One, and through drawing a shape via GamePad can switch to any Unite Form as they feel is appropriate. Through combining a number of Wonderful Ones together (a process known as the aforementioned Unite Morph), they can form such powers including Unite Hand (a magma-colored fist that deals immense damage and is easy to combo with), Unite Sword (its broad strokes being designed for enemy crowd control), and Unite Bomb (unleashes a force-field that slows down enemy movement).

When applied properly, the numerous Unite Morphs unlock a level of depth unlike any other. So long as the Unite Gauge is not emptied through repeated use, Unite Morphs can be switched in an instant while pummeling enemies, and be utilized for all sorts of combos. As peripheral Unite Morphs can be bought at the Wonder-Mart and certain Unite Morphs being useful for situational purposes (such as Unite Whip removing dangerous spikes off of enemies), there’s virtually an endless amount of experimentation to be had.


The Wonderful 101 looks great. True to its color-coded superhero origins, everything from the glossy character models to the jelly-esque Unite Morphs instantly pop to the eye and feels right at home with the aforementioned kids’ cartoon motif. The location aesthetics are also particularly impressive, as they bear much resemblance to the set pieces for your childhood action figures. While the actual character models are low-poly, this is understandable due to what is undoubtedly a graphically labor-intensive game. Nothing but praise here.


A bombastic music score and hilarious voice acting compose The Wonderful 101’s sound, complete with its own cheesy opening theme song (“Go, go team! Demolish those fiends! Toss ‘em in a garbage can~”). The score is appropriately invigorating within both the game’s feats-of-wonder context and pumping the player up; in particular, any song associated with the boss climaxes is absolutely guaranteed to get your adrenaline rushing (seriously, listen to the above video if you don’t believe me). While the music can successfully switch tones in a heartbeat (guest composer Norihiko Hibino–known for Metal Gear Solid 3–contributes well in this area), it’s the sounds of triumph and battle that will stick with players the most.

Huge props to Platinum Games’ localization team for the over-the-top voice casting, which perfectly captures the game’s campy nature. Anything involving accents is hilarious, none the least of which are Wonder Green’s French-laden dialogue and Wonder White’s faux Japanese-American dialect. Other highlights include the lead Wonder Red (who has a tendency to overexplain. A lot.), Wonder Blue’s “dude-bro” speak, and antagonist Prince Vorkken waxing poetics over his not-so-tragic (?) past.

Challenge and Difficulty

The one rule in approaching The Wonderful 101 is this: it takes time to learn, and the game’s one glaring flaw is that it does not give newcomers much to start with. As fun as the game’s concept is, initial playtime with the game is undeniably daunting with the mass-control of a crowd of characters and the workings of the various Unite Morphs. While action games should not hold the player’s hand in executing combos, that key concepts being left unexplained such as support morphs for dodging/blocking are left unlocked for in-game purchase or as to why the game inexplicably switches leaders in-between Unite Morph transitions  is just simply baffling. Seeing as to how quick, non-intrusive tutorials were peppered about in Viewtiful Joe and Bayonetta, it’s a shame that Wonderful 101 just leaves its explanations to quick window pop-ups.

In spite of this flaw, players shouldn’t lose hope. The appeal of the game’s immense combo depth is enough of a reason to keep going, and by itself the game is appropriately challenging even after everything begins to click. While something resembling an actually helpful tutorial would’ve been much appreciated, this flaw does not bring down what is ultimately a fantastic, full-fledged action game.

Replay Value

Much in the same vein as Viewtiful Joe and Bayonetta, the first playthrough of The Wonderful 101 can be thought of as a tutorial that rewards patience, dedication and learning. You’re constantly having your head handed to you from dumb mistakes and are frequently rewarded with the lowest of performance grades (appropriately dubbed here as “consolation prize”), but you continue to persevere. By your second playthrough, you’ve figured out the inner workings of the Unite Morphs and this come prepared for what lies ahead, beaming as your terrible old scores are replaced with shiny golden trophies.

Platinum Games claims The Wonderful 101 contains two times as much content as their previous titles, and a quick skim of the secrets, galleries and challenges presented proves that claim. Collectibles such as figures, lore files, and even extra team members are  hidden throughout the game’s many missions, and treats and secret missions require some extensive combing. With the Bottle Cap reward system yielding unlockable characters and morphs through numerous difficult challenges, players who find themselves enarmored enough with the game’s mechanics will undoubtedly spend countless hours perfecting their combo potential.


  • Utilizing Unite Morphes is incredibly satisfying.
  • Bright use of aesthetics.
  • Overtly familiar “action-show cartoon” style is refreshing and fun.
  • Bombastic score is a blast
  • The voice-acting!
  • Limitless replay value.


  • Learning curve is more complicated than it should be.
  • Unexplained mechanics induce frustration.


While it's a shame the overwhelming controls and concepts tend to scare away newcomers, those who stick with The Wonderful 101 will discover a game of immense depth, undeniable charm and good ol' alien bashing. There's no denying it's oddball nature, but just like any other action game, getting combos to regularly click into place induces joyous rushes of dominance like no other, and the overly tongue-in-cheek tone is a blast to watch and engage in. If you're willing to overcome some inevitable frustration, this overlooked classic is worth your time.

Reflection: I think now I'd give the score just a tad below nine. It's still a wonderful game (pun intended!), but those learning curve flub-ups are pretty bad. Everything else rocks, though.

Not much else to say except that I don't think any blog review for The Wonderful 101 will be coming in some time. I was steadily aiming for 100% last time I was playing, and I'll probably be juggling that between the two Bayonetta games. It's on the backburner, but do forget about it until the time comes.
Oh, and for those waiting for the Kirby Super Star Ultra'll be coming TOMORROW!

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