I missed The Wonderful 101 the first time around, to be frank. I… may have done that thing when you buy a game on sale, then it festers in your backlog in perpetuity. Even so, what fascinated me about this quirky cult classic was how it was criticized. Hideki Kamiya’s passion project has a very kitchen sink approach to everything he’s into, combined with meandering Wii U gimmickry. I was worried going into this one! I love PlatinumGames, but what if I didn’t love The Wonderful 101 Remastered? Good news folks: I really like it. And a big part of that is how intuitive the experience is on Switch.
A lot of consternation over The Wonderful 101 back on the Wii U was that there was so much going on it was difficult to play. Not only was the difficulty a little on the unforgiving side (even on easy), the controls were a bit too demanding for most players, especially those trying to play on their TVs. Swapping between weapons (fist, sword, gun) felt cumbersome, with the right stick being an option, but the clear intent being the touch screen. But unless you wanted to just play on the gamepad with its low-res screen and washed-out visuals, you had to be able to keep up with the action and finagle with the touchscreen (which preferred a stylus over a direct touch) to play that way.
On the Switch, and especially the Switch Lite, The Wonderful 101 Remastered is just easier to play. Platinum did make adjustments to the difficulty balancing, and added some extra tutorializing and small UI adjustments to make everything more clear. But it’s so much easier to play the normal gameplay loop the way it was designed in the first place. Playing on handheld mode gives you access to the touch screen, the stick controls, and an actual good-looking screen all at once. It works pretty well, and seems like The Wonderful 101 Remastered also lets you fudge the motions a bit too (hard to commit to that one since I haven’t played the original).
I found myself swapping back and forth between the stick and touchscreen, depending on what The Wonderful 101 Remastered’s needs were. For example if I needed to etch a quick circle out to change stances in combat, it was much easier to just do it with my finger. However, if I wanted to swap to sword (a straight line up) or collect civilians for my group, just using the stick felt more natural. And all the while, just playing on easy mode felt like a good mix between forgiving and just tough enough I still had to pay attention and learn the game’s defensive maneuvers. It also helps that while there isn’t a massive visual upgrade, even playing on handheld mode The Wonderful 101 Remastered almost always maintains a stable frame rate, hitting 60 fps or very close to it.
I’m still making my way through, but after going back and reading reactions and criticisms of the original Wii U version, it makes sense how cumbersome some people found it. It’s a similar situation to Star Fox Zero, in that making use of the gamepad beyond a map or something simple was more than most players could comfortably deal with. The Wonderful 101 Remastered addresses those problems upfront, giving players a non-touch option so they never have to leave the buttons, while still giving Switch players active use of the multi-touch screen. You don’t have to swap; they both just work. Combined with some other little tweaks and balance tuning, The Wonderful 101 Remastered’s ultimate goal is not a “remaster” in the visual sense, but rather taking a creative but flawed concept and making it more approachable. This is achieved without compromising the creative vision, and perhaps even gets it more “right” than before.
The Wonderful 101 Remastered is out now for Kickstarter backers, but will be readily available for the Nintendo Switch, the PC, and the PS4 digitally on May 19, 2020 and physically on June 30.