The Wonderful 101 is an action game developed by Platinum Games and published by Nintendo. It released on the Wii U as an exclusive in September of 2013. In February of 2020 Platinum begun a successful Kickstarter to remaster the game and publish it themselves. They subsequently released it on the PS4, PC, and Nintendo Switch in May. I played the Nintendo Switch version.
Platinum is such a weird company. They’re highly creative and talented developers. They churn out quality title after quality title, and yet they’ve only just now begun receiving more mainstream reception. They’ve been a “studio for hire” for the past several years, making games for Sega, Square Enix, and Nintendo. The Wonderful 101 was that one such collaborative title for the Wii U. Despite it being a treat for action fans, it sold like rotten fruit at an empty farmer’s market.
Nintendo offered Platinum a means to port it to the Switch where it would have a second chance, but of course it would’ve been a Switch exclusive. So Platinum decided to strike out on their own by self-publishing the title, and fans showed up for the company. It’s tragic that the whole affair turned into a bit of a mess for obtaining physical copies (I got my Kickstarter physical copy over a month after official retail release), but overall I consider it a success for them.
After playing The Wonderful 101 Remastered, I’m going to label Platinum’s game design “The Kitchen Sink Approach.” When making a game, they first develop a unique and robust combat system, then proceed to throw in every other random idea they can think of. Platforming? Check! Shoot ’em ups? Check! Quick Time Events? Check!
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. In essence, The Wonderful 101 Remastered is a tightly-knit action game where you control a group of color-coordinated heroes using different “unite” abilities to defeat alien invaders. It’s a gameplay mash-up of Okami, Pikmin, and Devil May Cry. This combat premise, uniting the group into different shapes, deepens throughout the game to a satisfying degree. You change weapons on the fly — removing enemy armor with one weapon, stunning the enemy with a second, then dealing damage with a third. It’s gratifying to pull this off, and it demands your attention or else you’ll be hit by the enemy’s own quick moves.
When The Wonderful 101 Remastered stuck to the action portions, I was completely absorbed in mastering the system. It was tough but fair, and I loved the learning curve. But seeing as it’s a Kitchen Sink Game, some of their ideas left me with mixed feelings.
Let’s start with the camera perspective. Most of the time the game uses a charming isometric view with a tilt-shift lens. I love how this looks — it feels like a child playing with their action figures in a massive toy room. The problem is that an isometric view is not good for platforming. Astral Chain‘s platforming works because the camera is properly behind the character, but The Wonderful 101 Remastered’s camera is too far out, making it difficult to estimate gaps. I grimaced through any platforming segment.
Additionally, because the game was originally a Wii U game, there’s actually a second screen that you can turn on and off in the corner. Most of the time you don’t need to worry about it, but some segments will have you go inside of buildings and ships, which changes the isometric camera into a more traditional 3rd Person angle. The problem is, you’ll then have to manage the action both inside and outside the building at the same time, and it always felt awkward.
Many other mini games happen throughout the course of the adventure, often during the boss fights — a batting cage, a boxing simulator, an on-rails shooter a la Star Fox — and it all feels a bit messy. It’s not exactly related to the combat system, but that kind of variety had the potential to be a fun distraction and help with the level’s pacing. However, none of these segments have good conveyance for what you’re supposed to do or how to do it. So half of these sections involve learning how they work, all the while your health chips away as you make mistakes. And then these segments end just as soon as you get the hang of it. They end up feeling cheap and unsatisfying.
I didn’t dislike all of these mini games, though. I was a fan of the shooter sections, and when the boxing boss fight returned, I was much better at it than before. Many unite moves have other functions outside of combat that were fun to use, especially as you explore the charming levels and find hidden secrets and goodies. This was the good kind of variety, the kind I think Platinum was aiming for.
Whereas Astral Chain‘s story felt like a gritty anime you’d see late at night on Toonami, The Wonderful 101’s story feels like the campy nonsense you’d see on Saturday morning. The game is full of visual humor and self-awareness, and I laughed out loud several times. It knows that its premise is dumb, and it leans into that as much as it can. As the story progresses, though, the tone shifts to something more serious, and it actually executes that shift rather well. The gags, however, are always just a one-liner away.
It’s not exactly a must-play action game like Okami or Astral Chain; however, it’s a good supplementary game for those who, like me, has come to appreciate Platinum’s creativity. When it’s not annoying me, The Wonderful 101 Remastered is a great time.