It’s back, and mostly better than ever.
After wading through piles of shovelware and waggle with the Wii, Nintendo wasn’t exactly in my good graces in the early 2010s. This was the reason I decided to skip the Wii U, and for the most part, I don’t regret that decision. However, there was one game that almost managed to get me to buy a Wii U on its own: Platinum Games’ The Wonderful 101. With a combination of Platinum’s time-tested action combat and a Saturday morning hero aesthetic I could swear was designed just for me, the fact that I missed out on The Wonderful 101 was one of my greatest regrets. Then Platinum successfully ran a Kickstarter to get the publishing rights on modern consoles, and that regret was swept under the rug. Finally, seven years later, I got to play the game of my dreams, and it was glorious.
The Wonderful 101 centers upon the nearly-eponymous Wonderful 100, a team of 100 superheroes from around the world with the ability to arrange their bodies into gigantic weaponry. Giant hands, giant swords, giant guns; if you’ve got the manpower, you can make anything happen. On the other side is the GETHJERK, an alien federation bent on conquering Earth and wiping out humanity. If you’re expecting a serious drama, you ain’t gonna find it here; The Wonderful 101 wears its Saturday-morning influences on its sleeves, and it’s all the better for it. The characters all exemplify classic hero tropes, with the leader Wonder Red being stalwart and serious, Wonder Blue being laid-back and cocky, Wonder Pink being… the girl, and so on. It’s like going back and watching Power Rangers again, it’s hilarious.
But just because the game is silly doesn’t mean it takes it easy on you. This is a very difficult game, with enemies multiple times your size wiping out large chunks of your health with single attacks. Granted, even if you die, you can just pick right back up where you left off, so actually getting through the game isn’t that bad. It’s getting through with the best scores that’ll take some doing. For the most part, this is more than doable with some practice. You call up different weapons of different sizes by drawing symbols with the right analog stick, and after a while, it becomes second-nature. Platinum made a very smart call in this version of the game by making two very important unlockable abilities, Unite Guts and Unite Spring (used for blocking and dodging, respectively) very prominent in the in-game store and cost next-to-nothing. Though, unfortunately, there are still more than a handful of moments over the course of the game where I genuinely had no idea what to do. Several of the larger enemy types have very obtuse weaknesses; you can eventually figure it out with some trial and error, but trial and error doesn’t get you Pure Platinum ratings.
If you played the original, you’ll remember there were sections where the game would have you control the characters through the screen on the Wii U gamepad. This has been updated to a subscreen you can freely open, close, and swap with the main screen. It works well enough, though in the close-up sections I did experience some slowdown. There were actually some pretty consistent frame drops over the course of the entire game, mostly in fights with larger crowds of enemies. I played the Switch version, so a little hardware incompatibility is to be expected, though I’ve also heard that the PC version has some framerate problems as well, which is unfortunate.
Like a lot of Platinum’s games, The Wonderful 101 is a very niche title, which, in addition to being on the Wii U, is probably why it didn’t sell super great the first time around. If you’re not a fan of Saturday-morning cartoons and Power Rangers, and you don’t have the patience for combat that isn’t entirely upfront, you might not have the best time with this game. If, however, you are right in that strike zone like me, then it is undoubtedly a lot of fun. The variety of weapons, plus some truly bombastic set pieces make it an experience you can really geek out over.