Director(s): Hideki Kamiya (Original), Takanori Sato (Remastered)
Supported Platforms: Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, PC
Reviewed On: Playstation 4
Originally released on the ill-fated Wii U in 2013, The Wonderful 101 is a sentai-infused action game with PlatinumGames’s classic touches all over it. Sadly, due to the Wii U’s overall lackluster sales and the lack of press, it largely went unnoticed except for a small cult following. After a successful Kickstarter campaign that passed the $2 million mark, PlatinumGames’s little darling has now been released to current generation consoles and PC.
Why the fuss, though? What made The Wonderful 101 reach cult status from an underperforming initial release?
In essence, The Wonderful 101 (and the remaster) plays like a “best of” Director Hideki Kamiya and PlatinumGames and is infused with the sentai stylings of the Mighty Morphing Power Rangers.
The game starts with a school bus of full children being attacked by aliens known as the Gethjerk, not unlike an episode of Dudley Do-Right. From here, we are introduced to the titular star Will Wedgewood (Wonder-Red) as he unites with the rest of the hundred to help shield the world from most certain doom. As the story progresses, you are slowly taken across the world to a variety of locales and introduced to new Wonderful ones as a way of showcasing new mechanics. While predictable, the game’s story largely complements the core mechanics in a light parody of the superhero/sentai material of yesteryear.
That being said, the predictable but fun story complements the game because it has a very particular way of introducing elements. The above scenario I just described is pretty much the entirety of any formal game tutorial that you’ll get. The Wonderful 101: Remastered, in its most basic form, encourages exploration and experimentation, and that means that you’ll get a lot of little “blips” of information from language cues to fulfill the learning process. At its best, you’ll feel incredibly satisfied bringing a boss to its knees at breakneck speed, and at its worse, you’ll ask yourself why you only had a blink of an eye to learn a mechanic. The game very much expects a certain playstyle that tests your exploration and experimentation skills.
This playstyle largely nest itself within the Unite Morph system that serves as the tool for the attack mechanics and light puzzle elements. Unite Morphs acts as your basic summoning system for actions such as a whip, gun, claw, sword, etc … but with a twist. To activate these morphs, you use the “Wonder-Liner,” which has you drawing symbols with your right analog stick. How fast you’re able to draw in a specific area is the element of success and failure within this system. This is where the game sets its skill ceiling, and most of the difficulty progression is based on your ability to identify, change, and adapt within this mechanic.
Instead of relying on a simple weapon switch, the Unite Morph’s selection makes it a rather creative and thoughtful process instead of a mere afterthought. If your drawing skills are off or if you’re too slow, you will not only lose the opportunity to attack but also disrupt the flow you might have had with an enemy, completely tripping up your timing. The learning curve to mastering the control stick and occasionally drawing in cramped spaces is steep at times. There’s a reward for mastering this system and learning the language of the game, but it also punishes any sense of flow if you’re not firing on all cylinders. It’s a system that will reward seasoned players who are used to a certain amount of difficulty and keen for repeat plays, but can also infuriate beginners or players not willing to invest the time.
PlatinumGames has made efforts to largely revise the initial proficiency ramp. For those who are returning to the series, the Unite Guts and Unite Spring (shield and jump) are now heavily incentivized at the beginning. While these make the game a bit more inviting for newcomers, it only slightly flattens the steep learning curve.
Nonetheless, these mechanics work well with the isometric camera. With your right analog stick dedicated to morphs, you don’t have a whole lot of ability to finesse your camera. With the isometric angle, you’re able to largely put that camera control in the back of your brain while everything comes streaming past you. This angle also plays on The Wonderful 101: Remastered’s overall size and creates a unique aesthetic and design. It’s a well thought-out implementation that not only helps the player, but also creates a unique stylized look.
The graphics and the overall style of the game are a great reminder of the deliberate choices that Hideki Kamiya and company have made. The overall grandstanding appearance of buildings and destructible elements only helps to contrast the small look of the Wonderful 100 themselves and their ultimate collective ability to fight against these imposing foes. While you can see some treads on the tire with the resolutions in this remaster, it’s balanced out with a fairly steady framerate and presentation.
The music and sound design are also largely the same from the original, which is no small feat. The symphonic work supports the sentai elements and builds up boss fights. The design compliments and accentuates the more parody-heavy moments and supports the earnest superhero feel of the game.
The Wonderful 101: Remastered speaks to a specific subset of gamers with its depth of no-nonsense gameplay. The game genuinely plays like a parody and love letter to the cheesy action games of yesteryear. It oozes with a certain style and design philosophy that gives it a charm worthy of its cult following. While this remaster certainly doesn’t add a whole lot to the original, it certainly delivers the same action gameplay that players originally fell in love with.
With that being said, the overall difficulty ramp and the gameplay difficulty spikes have the potential for turning away players new to the series. Newer gamers or those looking for a less intense experience might struggle with The Wonderful 101: Remastered’s quirks. It’s earnest charms and eccentric story are at least worthy of a try, though.