The Wonderful 101: Brings Back The Discovery Of The NES Era

By Robert Ward . September 14, 2013 . 5:00pm

It wasn’t more than an hour into The Wonderful 101 when a close friend of mine walked through the door to my home and, having overheard a portion of the exaggerated dialogue between Wonder-Red and one of the games (several) over-the-top villains, Laambo, (which I’m still debating, given his tilted beret and attitude, is a vicious butchering of the Japanese pronunciation of Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo) asked me “Oh, hey, are you watching Power Rangers?”


My response was fitting. “Nah, I’m playing The Wonderful 101, which is like being a Power Ranger except a hundred times more badass.” I stand by that statement. Just listen to the theme song.


Here’s the sticky: you’re a member of the CENTINELS Planetary Secret Service, trusted with the task of protecting planet earth from the nefarious GEATHJERK—that is, the Guild of Evil Aliens Terrorising Humans with Jiggawatt bombs, Energy beams, Ray guns and Killer lasers—who are doing precisely what their name suggests. You control Wonder-Red, an infallible leader with a strong sense of responsibility and righteousness, as you recruit other Wonderful Ones, coming together to make powerful Unite Morphs in order to defend the inhabitants of earth.


Does that sound familiar? It should. There have been plentiful (perhaps even exhaustive) reviews and articles explaining how the game is influenced by Japanese tokusatsu shows, where mighty heroes battle larger-than-life enemies with (more often than not) large mechanical beasts and shiny suits that grant them special powers. The thing that really brings that aspect of the game to life, though, is its superb writing. From extended bouts of maniacal laughter to campy insults, the game really speaks true to its source material.


For example, the aforementioned Laambo delivers alliterative monologues insulting the Wonderful Ones in a style all-too-similar to that of Power Rangers’ Goldar, and delivers some eye-rolling puns while he’s at it. (Like calling the Blossom City Goddess statue “no delicate flower”) Meanwhile, Vijounne, a villain you’ll meet later in the game, is full of derogative down speak that plays off of Wonder Pink’s feistiness.


Complete with ludicrous and blatantly stated schemes, scaled battles that make Shadow of the Colossus seem like a children’s sandbox, and campy dialogue, The Wonderful 101 recreates and elaborates on the best aspects of its source material; but it also revives something from Kamiya’s past that not all gamers will be quick to adapt to: unforgiving difficulty characteristic of the Famicom (NES) era.


Perhaps it’s a product of having just finished the tutorial-ridden Mario and Luigi: Dream Team, but The Wonderful 101 lacks any sort of direction when it comes to telling the player how certain game mechanics work. It never tells you to buy Unite Guts to deflect the projectile onslaught of a shielded GEATHJERK Hoedown, which you can’t touch with unite morphs, but it implies that you should by selling the Unite Guts unite morph at a low price. After you know you can deflect attacks with the Unite Guts morph, though, you’re never told which attacks will just break right through it.


In that sense, The Wonderful 101 takes a passive sense to teaching the player what does and does not work, and it does so primarily through trial and error, through memorization and familiarity, but most importantly, through experimentation. It’s an old system, and one I think this current generation is distant from. It’s the lack of handholding, though, that makes it so special. The game knows you’re a smart person. It respects you as a player, and although it seems unfair at times, it gives you everything you need to be successful.


The game is set up in nine episodic “operations,” each consisting of three parts. The first part is generally exploration and objective based (activate this, find that), the second is combat-oriented and often has a mid-boss, while the third is usually an epic boss fight that involves the Wonderful 100 entering unlimited mode—which they activate with wild arm movements and a thumbs up. This mode also makes the mask they wear cover their entire face. These parts happen to be the most enjoyable sections of the game, because there’s so much depth to the combat.


Every new weapon in your arsenal has a very specific purpose, but is never completely outshined by another. You have to use all of them together in combat if you want to be successful. The real appeal here, though, is for the combo crowd. The Wonderful 101 prides itself on its combat system. A set of three or four commands for each weapon lets you mix and match offensive strategies in the midst of a heated battle. You can even recreate Dante’s famous combo from Devil May Cry using the wonder stinger (fist), wonder rising (sword), and wonder stinger (gun).


Like most of Kamiya’s games, you get ranked based on how well you do in battle, but do not expect to get gold, platinum, or pure platinum medals right off the bat. Not only does it take puh-lenty of time to get used to forming unite morphs fluidly enough to pull of combos, but you’ll be able to pull off better performances when you have more abilities at your disposal. Revisiting Operations when you’re twice as strong, I think, is a huge part of The Wonderful 101’s replay value. It’s kept me coming back to it, despite my several encounters with frustration, and I see myself coming back to it time and time again.


Food for Thought:


1. There are some awesome callbacks to some of Kamiya’s old games. For example, in Operation 002, the way you defeat Ohrowchee is by slicing it in half length-wise down the neck—which is precisely how you depart Orochi, the main antagonist in Okami.


2. A short list of everything you should know before playing: The Unite Sword deflects lasers. Lasers cut right through Unite Guts. The Unite Spring is essential and the game is almost unplayable without it. You get more points in quick-time based unite morphs if you use more Wonderful Ones, so make it as big as you can. Take battles slowly, it’s not always about time for those platinum medals, it’s about damage!


3. Although I didn’t get to mention it, The Wonderful 101 really takes advantage of the Wii U GamePad. When you enter buildings, the screen switches to your GamePad. In these situations, you’ll often have to keep track of what’s going on in and outside of the building to continue to the next area. It’s inventive, fresh, and moreover, fun.

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  • SetzerGabbiani

    Picking it up tomorrow. I loved the demo! I also have a feeling that this will be one of the first collectors items for the Wii U…it may get pretty expensive when it’s out of print.

    Great point about the experimentation. That aspect of gaming is mostly lost on today’s gamers, for sure.

  • Laer_HeiSeiRyuu

    Downloading in 3 hours!

  • Heisst

    First review I’ve seen that actually mentions the high difficulty and lack of handholding as a plus rather than a minus.

    • Robgoro

      It’s nice to play a game that says “hey, you’re not as good as you think. Get better.”

    • Thom

      God I know! Was getting so sick of all the “It was too hard. Couldn’t master the controls in the time it took to review it. Average score.”

      • Laer_HeiSeiRyuu

        It irks me when people say “controls”

        Its not even the controls man, what is this are you playing Kid Icarus uprising?

  • PreyMantis

    Damn it, Amazon, where’s my game!?!?

  • PreyMantis

    Damn it, Amazon, where’s my game!?!?

  • Guest

    This game hit me hard at first, but that made very rewarding to learn and master every movement.

    Just as the reviewer mentions, coming from hand-holding games, in my case PC games like Bioshock Infinite and Tomb Raider (2013); makes the experience so refreshing. It’s just wonderful when you successfully pull a stylish combo.

    I had so much fun with the demo and now I’m looking forward to the complete game.

  • Göran Isacson

    Having read other reviews, one of them complained that the screen often felt cluttered and that it was hard seeing what was going on, attacks coming from all directions and you never had a clear picture you could respond to in a timely manner. Do you agree with that assessment, or did the GUI work just fine for you?

    Personally, what I’m mostly curious about is the weapon switching. I suppose that I can see part of the reason they included the “draw out the weapon shapes” as a mean to change weapons. It allows you to switch to the EXACT weapon you want as opposed to just cycling through several weapons, and you can have as many weapons to choose from as there are symbols to draw. Plus the fact that you can also decide how powerful the weapons are depending on how big you make the line.

    What I am somewhat skeptical about to is how effective it really is to switch weapons mid-combo with this system, as opposed to just hitting the “switch weapon” button. In a game about combos, you want the weapon switching that allows for bigger, more damaging combos to be efficient. What I hear many say is that it takes some time to get used to this new system, and what I’m mostly curious to is if it’s WORTH spending the time. At the end of the day, does the new system really ADD enough that it isn’t a case of “change for changes sake”, that just introduces unnecessary complications and tries to fix something that isn’t broken?

    That is the one thing that’s worrying me here- whether the new “line-change” system is interesting and opens up enough possibilities that it is either better than the “button-change” system, or that it does so much new that it’s not really worth comparing the two.

    Also buying the dodge and block move sounds weird to me, since I don’t know why they couldn’t just include something so necessary from the start. The only reason I can think of is that they act as a sort of “entry-pass”: you must be this aware of game design/combat game standards to realize that a dodge and a block is necessary and must be purchased (and once purchased USED so don’t go thinking you can button mash your way through this game kid) before you can be allowed to progress further in game. Inability to learn this will result in game overs and thrown controllers and no fun at all. Can’t say I really like that kind of thinking, but it’s Kamiyas game…

    • Laer_HeiSeiRyuu

      The drawing mechanics are akin to having analog controls on a weapon switch button that could be activated by holding ZR+L in some alternate universe where the WIIU had analog triggers. Drawing works better, also having weaker weapons lets you combo longer.

    • Auvers

      you have to think of drawing the shapes like putting in a command and not so much drawing a picture. I’m not an expert yet but drawing them and building up combos is something you can definitely do but it’s not something that will come easy without practice if you aren’t playing it on very easy. Buying the block move is something you have to do in Bayonetta and Viewtiful Joe I believe too so that’s common for Platinum/Clover games. Only thing that I can think of off the top of my head fully agree with as a negative in the reviews is that it can be difficult to tell where you are (this is based on the demo and some of the videos I’ve watched btw) it really is hard to tell and if the marker for where you are was floating over head rather than a circle your leader character is standing on it’d be alot easier to see, the circle can get covered too when you have alot of other characters surrounding you.

      It really sounds like it’s about some of the same learning curve and difficulty of their other games. As long as you can have fun with it without having to become overly technical I think it’ll be fine.

    • Heisst
    • Robgoro

      One thing that I definitely forgot to mention was that the left shoulder button is your best friend in this game. Sometimes, the camera automatically frames the screen around you and your heroes, which makes it extremely difficult to fight groups of enemies – but hitting the left shoulder button will zoom out and let you view the whole screen. The only time I had an issue with the camera was inside of buildings, because it was confused as to whether or not I wanted to use the gyroscope or the right stick. Other than the occasional frustration, the camera doesn’t detract from the game much at all.

      The combat is fluid and beautifully done. The team put a lot of care into making it satisfying and convenient, and it shows – but again, it takes time to get there. Drawing the weapons (a line for the sword, S for the whip, Z for the claws, etc.) becomes second-nature once you play enough – and because time slows down every time you draw a new unite morph, this process is quick, effective, and will rarely hinder you in the middle of a battle. A large part of it comes from familiarity and experience, though, so don’t expect yourself to be used to the combat system before the third operation. It took the best parts of Okami, Viewtiful Joe, and Devil May Cry, making every encounter something to look forward to and not something to plow through for the sake of progress.

      I felt the same way about dodge and block – but again, I think that it’s definitely a remnant of another era. It doesn’t want to tell you because it thinks that you’re a smart enough player to figure it out – as frustrating as that is, it’s something that’s been gone from gaming so long that it’s nice to actually feel like you have a challenge to meet yourself, and not one whose solution is given to you by the development team. It’s not something everyone will like, especially in a day and age where, because every game is “someone’s first game,” many have gotten used to being told what to do as opposed to figuring it out.

      Frustrating, but refreshing.

  • mojack411

    Getting my pre-ordered copy tomorrow. Can’t wait! I really hope this does better here than it did in Japan.

    • wharcraff

      Maybe Japan is kinda over the tokusatsu craze.

      • DemonKingAsura

        Or maybe it was on the Wii-u, and the Wii-u has just been doing bad there.

        They are not even close to being over Tokusatsu at all.

  • 60hz

    pickin this up AND I DON’T EVEN HAVE A WII/U!

    • Solomon_Kano

      I’m inclined to do so as well. Not sure when I’ll pick up a Wii U, but damn if I don’t want this anyway.

      • Laer_HeiSeiRyuu

        Get one in 5 days?

  • popyea

    I just finished the game today. Loved it, and oh my god that last operation is one heck of a climax.

  • Thom

    I have a feeling that many newer game players these days would have had a miserable time with Contra or Ghouls and Ghosts, which is a shame.

    • Korius

      I still have a miserable time with Ghouls and Ghosts, but then again the game was made to make the player miserable.
      Contra is still a blast though.

      • JustThisOne

        xD In all honestly, most of the older games were made to make the player miserable. But then it was also made to make the player like the pain, come back for more, and conquer it.

    • I can see it now, “Y wont Arther crawl?”

    • The funny thing is that I actually find Contra somewhat easier than some of the games coming out today. I guess it’s because Contra is the type of game that demands you to learn the stages and enemy patterns while some games I’ve played these days seem content to throw waves of enemies at you or impose arbitrary restrictions to make up challenge that is lacking. Contra is ridiculously hard at first, but with repeat playthroughs, it becomes a breeze.

  • Solomon_Kano

    So Kamiya won’t hold our hands? A game to fit the man’s personality — seriously, follow him on Twitter! — and I couldn’t be happier to hear it.

    When I get a Wii U, this will be the first game I play.

    • ShadowDivz

      But…. how will i know how to jump if the game doesn’t tell me how?

      • Laer_HeiSeiRyuu

        Download some egoraptor into your veins?

    • Laer_HeiSeiRyuu

      You should then download Toki Tori on it

      • Solomon_Kano

        Will keep in mind.

  • wahyudil

    should I buy this even I planned to buy Wii U next year when Smash Bros out?

    • Laer_HeiSeiRyuu

      Most will give you a resounding yessir!

    • You could buy it now and just wait on the Wii U if you’re waiting for other games to come out. By the time Smash Bros comes out, the system will have already dropped its price and you might even be able to find a good deal. I got my system on sale, even though I wasn’t planning to get one until at least the end of next year. it was too good of a deal to pass up.

  • Chardo

    it will be rated low by casual reviewers on other sites and frowned
    upon for its low sales, but in years in the future, it will be
    recognized as a gaming masterpiece, just like god hand did.

  • AnimeRemix

    Bought the game out of BestBuy today. Loving the heck out of it so far! The game really didn’t take me long to get use to.

  • Waiting for my copy to come in. I know I’m going to fall in love with this. This really is the kind of game you need to look at twice in order to truly appreciate it. The first time I played the demo, I was overwhelmed and wasn’t sure if I would like it. The second time, it was an absolute blast to play. I think too many people these days are just looking to rush through games instead of actually taking the time to appreciate the kind of work that went into them. It’s why games are starting to feel shorter and more linear.

    The ADHD mentality our society is creating can be felt throughout so many different parts of our everyday culture, and video games are just one of the many victims of it. Regardless of whether this game sells well or not, I know I’ll have a blast with it. Glad to see Nintendo is willing to fund and support something like this even if they know it isn’t going to become a huge hit.

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