Review

The Wonderful 101

Swingset Superheroes

The Wonderful 101 is a grade-schooler’s superhero fantasy come true.

By Derrick Sanskrit • September 12, 2013

Somewhere in my parents’ attic is a large box containing a couple hundred action figures. For years, I would craft elaborate performances by the Silverhawks, She-Ra (Princess Of Power), Snailiens, and others—stories about brotherhood and betrayal, good and evil, and a whole lot of posturing to look cool. Classic novels like The Three Musketeers and Robin Hood and the pop culture of the time like Chris Claremont’s X-Men and Sailor Moon taught me that those were the hallmarks of good storytelling. The stories never ended. They just got bigger and led to grander adventures. New backstories were introduced every time a new toy was acquired. It was fantastic, in every sense of the word.

The Wonderful 101 is the equivalent of dumping a box of 400 action figures out in front of a kid and telling them to go at it. The hyper-kinetic lovechild of Platinum Games (best known for Bayonetta, a fast-paced, intricate action game about a witch whose hair is also her clothing) and Nintendo (best known for the virtual bowling simulator in every retirement home in the world), The Wonderful 101 tells the story of a United Nations-sponsored team of 100 heroes that defends Earth from whatever happens to be threatening the planet at the moment. In the game, the threat du jour is a hostile intergalactic fleet by the name GEATHJERK, an acronym for the “Guild of Evil Aliens Terrorizing Humans with Jiggawatt bombs, Energy beams, Rayguns, and Killer lasers.” That’s exactly the kind of outlandish follow-through a preteen storyteller eats up.

The Wonderful 101

You start out with Wonder-Red, a by-the-books spiky-haired hero, and collect his 99 teammates along the way, though the story only ever involves six of them: Blue is a California loner, Green a French goof, Pink a European fashionista, Yellow a timid Russian, White a Japanese philosopher, and Black a tech prodigy from New Delhi. Together, they’ve got the multinational Super Friends vibe that Captain Planet could never quite muster, though the interpersonal dynamics basically boil down to this: Red and Blue don’t see eye-to-eye, and Green has a crush on Pink, but she thinks he’s gross—same as every formulaic team dynamic ever. The varied personalities are ripe for sharp moments of character banter, and while there’s a bit of that, the game never forgets that we’re primarily here to beat up bad guys.

And the fighting really is the heart of The Wonderful 101. Waves of thugs and beasts with names like Nyerk and Dough-Goo are beaten back by transforming the band of heroes into giant weapons. Standing on each others’ shoulders, the colorful heroes become an enormous sword, whip, gun, or whatever the situation may call for. It’s a combination of the “together, we can do anything” trope and the “my G.I. Joe doesn’t have kung-fu grip, so I’ll just imagine something unbelievably awesome for it to do instead” schoolyard mentality that drives the whole work.

The Wonderful 101

And like the stories told on playgrounds, the scale and silliness of the adventure is constantly escalating. Each time I thought I’d seen the biggest, most over-the-top action sequence The Wonderful 101 could throw out, the next level would start with something even more grand and ludicrous. Late sequences seem as though the developers were playing Punch-Out and Star Fox and said to themselves “you know what would make this crazier?” And then after making it crazier, they added cyborgs and explosions.

The scale of the action is enormous, but The Wonderful 101 never takes itself all that seriously, frequently winking and nodding to remind the audience that it’s all in good fun. When a robot turtle the size of a house smashes your heroes, they will be, at worst, temporarily flattened like Daffy Duck under a steamroller. No blood, no broken bones, just the same level of consequence as the standard Saturday morning cartoon. At one point, I defeated a colossal war robot by tickling its underarm. “Why would a robot be ticklish?” I asked for a half-second before remembering that young me would have eaten it up. I moved on to the next preposterous scene.

The Wonderful 101

It only takes a moment for The Wonderful 101 to whisk away any expectation of being grounded in reality, and the game is better for it. It was built with a childlike imagination, its ethos being that absolutely anything can happen. At its worst, the game resembles Bayonetta For Kids, but Bayonetta was never half as joyous as this, with the stakes never feeling as high, or the threats as personal. It’s the way kids tell stories. Everything is important because there’s no concern for mature complications. When the game finally decided it was time to pack up its toys and go home, I couldn’t help but feel jealous of how cool and shiny its toys were. I wanted to call its mom for another playdate or circle its timeslot in the next week’s TV Guide. Instead, I think I’ll play it again, like a good comic book or well-worn VHS.

The Wonderful 101
Developer: Platinum Games
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Wii U
Price: $60
Rating: T

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  • Kyle O’Reilly

    Mmmm, I get hints of my old flame Viewtiful Joe from this game’s art style.  I’m glad Nintendo consoles can still attract interesting games like this even if they have more trouble attracting sales. 

    • Aurora Boreanaz

      The “league of crazy heroes” idea reminds me of a classic, The Superhero League of Hoboken.  It was an RPG with really ridiculous heroes engaging in absurd missions against goofy villains like a jack-in-the-box.

      http://www.mobygames.com/game/superhero-league-of-hoboken

      • duwease

        Ha, I remember that.. great game.  I still remember The Iron Stomach.. able to eat spicy foods without distress.   It was back before all of the self-aware superhero spoofs really came out, so it was especially original at the time. 

      • EmperorNortonI

         Yeah, that game was really fun.  The adventure game/RPG hybrid aspects were really cool, especially since it was so rare to have skill-point based puzzles in games back then.

    • DrFlimFlam

      It’s cool that Nintendo got it, and it’s certainly interesting to me, but it is not selling terribly well.

      • http://gameological.com/author/derricksanskrit/ Derrick Sanskrit

        …in Japan. We’ll see how it fares when the game releases in the West this weekend, and keep in mind that Viewtiful Joe sold far better in the West than in Japan.

        • PPPfive

          Interesting, I didn’t know that. I would have thought the Japanese would go for the design and art style more, but maybe these games are designed for fans of Japan as opposed to the Japanese

    • Enkidum

      Any chance this will be ported somewhere else? I’m just not getting a Wii U, but would definitely love to pick it up on another platform.

      Also, is there co-op?

      • http://gameological.com/author/derricksanskrit/ Derrick Sanskrit

        It’s published by Nintendo, so it would need Nintendo’s permission to go anywhere else. Unlikely, but you can never be 100% certain.
        There is a co-op mode for up to five players, provided you have Classic or Pro controllers. You can also play the single-player campaign with one of those controllers if the GamePad gimmicks are not your style, though I particularly enjoyed turning off the TV and playing whole areas exclusively on the GamePad with a nice pair of headphones plugged in.

        • Enkidum

          Thanks! Already got an 360 and a PS3 and several computers… don’t think I can justify getting yet another expensive toy just yet. :(

    • The_Helmaroc_King

      Those screenshots… those trailers… Viewtiful!

      I love how all the heroes have masks that drop down over their mouths, but only sometimes. That’s how you know things are serious: if the heroes are worried they might mess up their beautiful chins. Their hair is, presumably, indestructible.

      Also, one of the extra “Wonders” has a toilet on their head. What the heck?

      • http://gameological.com/author/derricksanskrit/ Derrick Sanskrit

        The other 93 Wonderful Ones are all pretty hilarious. There’s Wonder-Cheerleader, Wonder-Pirate, Wonder-Yeti, et cetera.

        The mouthguards are for boss battles, because nobody wants flies in their teeth, I guess.

    • jaen

      like Billy replied I am inspired that a person can get paid $4679 in four weeks on the computer. my explanation

      w­w­w.Y­A­D­7.c­o­m

  • indy2003

    Between this, Rayman: Legends, Pikmin 3, Wind Waker HD, New Super Mario World, Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze, Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart all being released over the course of a few months, I’m starting to feel a lot better about owning a Wii U. Looking forward to checking this one out sometime soon-ish.

    • boardgameguy

      Although I don’t own a Wii U, they are finally putting together a slate of games that at least makes me consider buying one. But really I just want to play this and the new Wario Ware.

    • dreadguacamole

       I’d have never thought I’d get the Wii U, after the disappointment of the Wii and not generally being a nintendo fan. I ended up getting one when it became clear that the other new consoles wouldn’t replace my PC for a long while.

       No regrets at all. Lego City and Rayman Legends (and this and pikimin 3 in the near future)…
       Ask me again in another year or two, once MS and Sony have ramped up their exclusives. Until then, I’m pretty happy with my choice.

      • indy2003

        Lego City was indeed a blast – my favorite of the Lego titles to date.

        • dreadguacamole

           If it had Co-op, I’d agree with you in a hearbeat. It’s certainly their funniest.

      • DrZaloski

        That’s more or less how I feel. The other consoles just seem to be competing with a PC, which is just no contest at all, I think the fact Nintendo refuses to join the “console war” is a great move.

        I’m going to have to get this game soon, but the plethora of $60 games coming out, especially in this coming October and November, is making me want to wait for a small price drop or sale. I’ll have to treat myself around the holidays, if it comes to that.

  • boardgameguy

    Unrelated, but new humble indie bundle! My patience has been rewarded with two games I’ve been wanting to play for ages: FTL and Fez. It’s just a bonus that Brutal Legend and Trine 2 are in there. Did anybody else bite?

    • Aurora Boreanaz

      I did, the second I got the notification.  I’ve been wanting to check out Brutal Legend, Fez and FTL for a while now, and always love stealth games like Mark of the Ninja.  (Mark is the only one I played so far last night, and it was pretty neat.)

      • dreadguacamole

        Mark of the Ninja is amaaaaaaazing. I really need to play more of it.

        • Aurora Boreanaz

          I am amused that, with only two directions to choose from for the silent kills, I got about half of them wrong on my first playthrough.

        • boardgameguy

          I failed to realize that mark of the ninja is the stealth game whose creator they interviewed here. now i’m double excited for this purchase.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia

      I sure did.
         I’ve been conflicted about getting Brutal Legend, since I know I have no interest in the RTS elements.  But I also want to have as much of the Double Fine catalog as a can.  Especially the entries in their catalog that include Lemmy from Motorhead as a character named Kill Master. 

      • Enkidum

        It’s a weird kind of RTS where you almost don’t realize it is one until about 2/3 of the way through the story, and… well… it’s just not your usual RTS. (It’s one that can be easily played on a console, which pretty much makes it a totally different game.)

        It’s a GTA/RPG/RTS mix with lotsa metal. That really actually kind of works. You can’t go wrong.

      • dreadguacamole

         I’m not a huge fan of RTS games that aren’t called Kohan, but the stage battles in Brutal Legend are very action-y and fun. Not as much fun as the rest of the game, but still good; I think most people’s outrage was directed at their being completely unexpected than at their quality.
         Well, except for those who complained that they weren’t hardcore enough. Which is fair enough, I guess.

        • Bakken Hood

          Eh, my beef with the stage battles definitely had to do with their quality.  The controls, at least on the 360 controller, were horribly imprecise and made simple commands into finger-cramping nightmares.  They might have improved things for the PC version (there’s no excuse if they didn’t), but I couldn’t muster any tactics any deeper than a Zerg rush.  I remember the game fondly, but mostly for the art style and dialogue and setting and Rob Halford’s unexpected comedo-dramatic acting chops.  All that stuff was good enough I’m happy to forgive its many flaws.

        • dreadguacamole

          @Bakken_Hood:disqus : Fair enough! I decided I wouldn’t try anything much deeper than a zerg rush once I saw what the controls were like, but flying around and dropping into battle was very enjoyable.

           Man, I own most of the games in this bundle, but I’m tempted now to pick it up just to replay brutal legend.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia

        @Enkidum:disqus @dreadguacamole:disqus  Thanks fellas! Now I’m excited all over again.

    • HobbesMkii

      I did, although it was more for Mark of the Ninja and Fez. By the by, if anyone would like a free FTL, hit me up on Steam this evening.

      • The_Misanthrope

         Are you Hobbes on Steam as well?  If I was to buy this, FTL would probably be the reason I bought it, with the rest just taking up space, so getting a free copy would solve that dilemma.

        • HobbesMkii

          Yep, my username is also HobbesMkii, my display name is just Hobbes.

    • Passe_Partout

       I did so I could finally give Brutal Legend a try. I also wanted those sweet, sweet FTL and Fez soundtracks. I’m hoping The Cave or Psychonauts will be one of the added games, mostly because I bought a gift code for one of my friends and I’m pretty sure she would love Double Fine’s brand of twisted humor and whimsy.

    • DrFlimFlam

      I already have the ones I want most in Mark and FTL, but it’s a good bundle if you don’t.

    • Enkidum

      Yup, made sure I paid above the average because I’ve always wanted Fez, and I’m sure whatever is added next week will be awesomesauce.

      • boardgameguy

        Yeah, I’m so excited to dig into Fez with scratch paper in hand

    • Citric

      Totes bit yesterday. A friend has been bugging me to get FTL for ages, now I finally have it!

    • http://tmaiblog.wordpress.com/ Chalkdust

      I already own all of those games, aside from that beta (many of them from previous Humble Bundles) but, depending on which of those soundtracks I’m missing, I’ll still probably toss $6 their way to beat the average.

    • Aurora Boreanaz

      HUMBLE WEEKLY SALE ALERT!

      The Weekly Sale includes:

      Serious Sam 1 and 2 HD
      Shadow Warrior Classic Redux
      Duke Nukem 3D Megaton Edition

      and for paying more than $6,

      Hard Reset Extended and SYSTEM SHOCK 2!!!!!

    • DrZaloski

      I was really excited to play the new Mac ports of Fez and Mark of the Ninja, only to find both of them were obviously rushed and have some game-breaking glitches. Bit of a disappointment. I’ve managed to play the first 3 levels of Mark of the Ninja (before the game started crashing uncontrollably), and they were fantastic.

      On a less depressing note, what upcoming game is everyone hoping for? I’m personally hoping to see Papers, Please. Hammerwatch or Electronic Super Joy would also be nice too. Oh, Shadow Run Returns or Kentucky Route Zero would be awesome, but that’s probably too optimistic

      • boardgameguy

        I’m hoping for The Binding of Isaac, Kentucky Route Zero, Rogue Legacy, or The Walking Dead. My optimism is extreme.

  • rvb1023

    Platinum, stop making me want to get the Wii U. Now I can’t say there aren’t any games I want for it. Most importantly, I can’t say it isn’t the home to any new IPs I care about.

    Ah, sometime next year. I’ll get this, Bayonetta 2, and X and maybe I’ll feel better afterwards.

    • Passe_Partout

       I feel exactly the same way. The moment they announce a release date for Bayonetta 2, I will finally cave. The $50 price drop coming this month just makes my resistance even weaker.

    • duwease

      I’m really trying to resist.  Really.  The Wii was such a disappointing purchase that it’s soured me.  But I *love* Platinum, and this sounds great, and Bayonetta, and Smash Brothers..

  • Jackbert

    This should come to 3DS. It sounds absolutely awesome and I want it, but not enough to get a Wii U.

    • DrFlimFlam

      The WiiU will end up being Worth It for me, but not just yet. $200 is my price point.

    • http://gameological.com/author/derricksanskrit/ Derrick Sanskrit

      I can’t imagine this on a portable. There’s just way too much going on and everything is so incredibly shiny. Maybe a spin-off, like Viewtiful Joe: Double Trouble, but this game is far, far too massive as it currently stands. The Wonderful 101 has the largest file size of any downloadable title on the Wii U so far, at a whopping 10GB.

      • PugsMalone

        “It’s so dense… every image has so many things going on.”

      • Jackbert

        Darn.

  • Citric

    The WiiU is getting progressively more tempting, partially because I really want that HD Wind Waker and partially because of all the Platinum, but I still can’t quite justify it, I could be spending that money on so many other things I’ll regret later.

  • Carniverous Ruminant

    My version of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle that I read a thousand times growing up ended with Robin Hood dying. As soon as I got to this passage, my heart grew heavy, but I forced myself to read until the end:”And now, dear friend, you who have journeyed with me in all these merry
    doings, I will not bid you follow me further, but will drop your hand
    here with a “good den,” if you wish it; for that which cometh hereafter
    speaks of the breaking up of things, and shows how joys and pleasures
    that are dead and gone can never be set upon their feet to walk again.
    I will not dwell upon the matter overlong, but will tell as speedily as
    may be of how that stout fellow, Robin Hood, died as he had lived, not
    at court as Earl of Huntingdon, but with bow in hand, his heart in the
    greenwood, and he himself a right yeoman.”

    Available for free at:http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/964

  • DrZaloski

    Man, getting Platinum in their pocket was Nintendo’s best idea since the analog stick.