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.