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The Wonderful 101 review

Making a good fist/sword/bomb of it

A word heard often enough begins to sound like nonsense. Something about repetition bores our restless heads, and reduces a term to what it truly is: the emanations of a fat tongue slapping against teeth while food-scented wind blows past. By all rights, The Wonderful 101 should let us guess what its voice actors had for breakfast within the first hour - you're unlikely to have heard "Unite" more cumulatively within the rest of your life.

Those two syllables burst from your speakers roughly once every two minutes as you play, but never sound nonsensical. Unity is everything to this game: a high concept that saturates story, themes and even its bombastic theme tune. Not that you'll have time to ponder such things; the way Platinum works the notion into a genuinely new, and initially baffling combat system will take every ounce of concentration you have.

Crowd Control

The Unite system is, at a base level, a snazzy way to switch weapons in a Wii U action game: draw a circle (on the GamePad screen or with the right analogue stick) and your followers form a fist, draw a wavy line and they conjoin into a whip. It's efficient, memorable and enables the player to carry the game's entire arsenal with them at all times, but that's not necessarily the exciting bit.

No, it's in the way that system is stretched and expanded throughout, even built into the many cutscenes, that begins to break the mould. While the way the game spools out fenced-in battles spread over levels joined with light platforming and puzzles will be familiar to anyone who's played Hideki Kamiya's games before (Devil May Cry, Viewtiful Joe and Bayonetta are all his) the presentation is wholly new for the developer.

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The Wonderful 100 (you - yes, you - are the additional '1') is a group of superheroes united by their mission to fight off an alien invasion and you play as every one of them, simultaneously. The approach to control is similar, but more ambitious than Pikmin's: pick a weapon and its wielder becomes the leader of the group, with every other member automatically swarming behind him or her as they move.

This has a huge impact on the rest of the game's design. Firstly, to fit that multitude of characters onscreen the camera takes a roughly isometric position well above the battlefield. It leaves your group as a flitting set of fairly ugly specks, albeit dwarfed by beautiful worlds rendered toy-like by the scale and a neat tilt-shift photography effect that accentuates depth of field. Secondly, and more importantly, the focus on the sheer volume of characters you have adds seemingly endless layers of strategy, exploration and collection to a game otherwise about stumpy men and women in masks punching robots. It's all, well, united by the Unite system.

Combat, you see, isn't as simple as picking a weapon form and bashing away. The Wonderful 100's superpower sees key members (to your right) fusing the remaining ninety-something into objects. Imagine Green Lantern's constructs, only made of jellified humans, and you're pretty much there. The clever bit is how this 'people as fuel' concept is woven into your strategies.

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You're constantly on the lookout for recruits to join the team, both named members of the 100 scattered throughout the game and the citizens you're trying to save, who can be corralled and instated as temporary team members. Heroes are enlisted by encircling them with the Wonder Liner, the tool usually used to sketch the weapon symbols. A larger team benefits these weapons: the more members fed into a Unite Fist, achieved by drawing a bigger circle, the bigger the hand becomes. The bigger your group, the bigger the stockpile of fleshy green shells you have for the Unite Gun, the longer the Unite Sword and so on.

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Comments

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  1. BattleGooseUK Saturday 7th Sep 2013 at 13:25

    For the 1st hour or so I wasn't convinced with this game but it has surprising depth and is ruddy difficult, once you know what you're doing it's very rewarding! I love it now, but it's definitely a slow burner and not an instant WOW.

  2. Time-Bomb Saturday 7th Sep 2013 at 14:51

    The demo really didn't convince me to buy it, but after seeing loads of people on here and Miiverse say it's great once you get into it, I've put it on, my Christmas list! (I would buy it, but Pokemon and Mario World take precedent!)

  3. GamerOutlaw Saturday 7th Sep 2013 at 17:05

    The demo really didn't convince me to buy it, but after seeing loads of people on here and Miiverse say it's great once you get into it, I've put it on, my Christmas list! (I would buy it, but Pokemon and Mario World take precedent!)

    This don't devs make demos to entice people? Was going to buy this as well, but after playing the demo I'm not going to bother. I don't even care if it turns out to be the single greatest game on the Wii-U and I'm missing out on something amazing.

  4. Argenthor Saturday 7th Sep 2013 at 17:26

    The demo really didn't convince me to buy it, but after seeing loads of people on here and Miiverse say it's great once you get into it, I've put it on, my Christmas list! (I would buy it, but Pokemon and Mario World take precedent!)

    This don't devs make demos to entice people? Was going to buy this as well, but after playing the demo I'm not going to bother. I don't even care if it turns out to be the single greatest game on the Wii-U and I'm missing out on something amazing.


    I liked it, but a bug halfway through forced me to stop and I never felt like going through it all again.

  5. MJTH Saturday 7th Sep 2013 at 19:48

    It's weird to see people say the demo didn't convince them, since it was the biggest factor in convincing me to buy the game. I'm having a great time. However considering the games sales figures I guess I'm in the minority...

  6. TheVelvetRoom Sunday 8th Sep 2013 at 02:34

    Platinum games tend to have that effect. Just as the case was with Revengeance's demo, it showcased a fairly unexciting sequence, with poor explanation of the key systems. Had I never seen the actual first level of MGR in a youtube video, I'd have never bothered with such a great game. Bayonetta's demo was fairly short and mundane too, but I did enjoy it enough to buy the full game because it was a pretty easy game to grasp in the first place.

  7. bazmeistergen Sunday 8th Sep 2013 at 07:02

    Dear people.

    The game is a 100 million times the game you tried in the demo. It really is very funny, challenging, engaging and entertaining.

    You should pick up a copy.

    Thanks.

  8. ShadowofPain Monday 9th Sep 2013 at 01:19

    This game is a masterclass game. Thing is though, as absolutely incredible an experience I personally found it to be, I can't recommend it to every WiiU owner like I can, say, Pikmin 3 or Rayman Legends. It's just too inexcessible in nature. It really requires patience to get your head round its various mechanics, as well as the patience to be able to endure failure and poor ranks time and time again as this game, despite its rather accessible, charming appearance, is fiendishly difficult (do not be afraid to jack it down from Normal to Easy or even Very Easy).

    However, for those who do have the patience to try to get their head round the various mechanics here lies a game that is arguably the best thing Platinum has created (and they've created some really stellar games). The game is bursting with charm from the dialogue and character interactions to the various references and nods to Platinum's past history, the battle system is robust and belies quite an amazing amount of depth, the art style and visuals are super vivid and eye popping, the game is super fluid, there's a amazing amount of variety in the puzzles and enemies but more than anything this game just builds an incredible amount of hype. Much like Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance released earlier this year, this game does an incredible job empowering the player. It makes you feel like you're a super hero. One that's growing with each mission (partially due to the upgrading system and partially due to the simple fact that you're gradually improving as the game progresses) and it's full of grand, spectacular moments that help craft a truly memorable experience. It just left my mind blown.

    I apologise for such a long comment, I just really wanted to express my thoughts on this game. Whilst I did say it's not for everyone, any hardcore, patient WiiU owner that's dying for a new game really should think about picking this one up. These are the kinds of games the next generation of gaming needs.

  9. imbusydoctorwho Tuesday 10th Sep 2013 at 11:45

    Certainly a great game, full of plenty of laughs and a really good challenge.One of the best on Wii U atm.

  10. MetsuHadoken1995 Friday 4th Oct 2013 at 10:49

    I only played the demo and couldn't get into this game at all. I do really like the art style and concept but I couldn't get on with the controls for some reason and the gameplay didn't amaze me. Maybe I'm just a stick in the mud.

  11. OmegaBear Friday 7th Feb 2014 at 08:39

    Another review I couldn't disagree more with. I never played the demo and purchased a copy of this game based on the wonderful reviews it was getting, including one that lamented that the game had dropped in price, but like so many who played the demo, I was quickly disenchanted. I even gave it a few chances, having restarted from the beginning several times just to be sure it wasn't just my inept middle aged reflexes. But I think I gave this game enough of my time.

    While the fireworks are top notch and I love the characters, music and the story, the controls were just too off the mark. Struggling to unite hand or unite sword drove me insane, and I finally gave up after repeatedly sending my people off into areas I couldn't not see, and in some cases with no clue what to do once I got there. Unite Build? How? What? It's not in the move list, so it technically doesn't exist. Frantically searching for clues, I kept losing lives while my people are getting destroyed in real time, not paused while I divert my eyes to the gamepad, a feature that would have been nice to implement or given as an option. "Would you like combat to pause when looking at the gamepad?" Sure, that might help!

    Perhaps I was also wrong for playing in normal mode. I could play easy mode I guess, but that wouldn't give me greater control over the camera either, which occasionally likes to nest behind objects that block my view. Panic ensues. I hate that feeling and avoid it as much as possible.

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