Review: The Wonderful 101
Class is in Session…
And today’s lecturer is Hideki Kamiya. His credentials include directorial credits on the first Devil May Cry (DMC) and Viewtiful Joe (VJ) games while at Capcom, as well as the first Bayonetta game for his current residence at Platinum Games. Today’s presentation is how to create an over-the-top, stylized action game with unwavering creative energy from start to finish. The project, formerly known as P-100, is poised to be another first in a series and adds to Kamiya’s legendary status. A deceptively deep and intelligently crafted game, The Wonderful 101 (TW101) brings an old school learning curve mixed with Platinum Games swagger, moves like Mick Jagger, and the humor of Ron Burgundy. The result is ‘pedal to the metal’ intensity from the moment you power it on to the moment you ‘rage quit’ and suck on your thumb for comfort. Take your thumb out of your mouth and read on.
If there’s one game in Kamiya’s curriculum vitae that TW101 closely resembles, it’s the original Viewtiful Joe (VJ). The lead in TW101, Wonder Red, is a almost carbon-copy of VJ title character, Joe. The humanoid characters in TW101 also share the same proportionality of limbs and body design. Where TW101 separates itself from the VJ series is a more futuristic design of the characters and set pieces. There’s less emphasis on vegetation and more on asphalt and concrete to destroy in large scales. The graphics engine in the game allows for enemies that are smaller than our protagonists to enemies the size of skyscrapers and baseball stadiums. The ‘David and Goliath’ sense of scale is over-exaggerated, but allows for some of the best “the bigger they are, harder they fall” moments in gaming.
Go-Go Wonderful Taxonomy
Looking at the heroes’ character design – jackets, the tights, the masks, and the different colors of your seven basic hero types – it’s Team Wonderful’s version of the Power Rangers. The enemies, called Geathjerks, are consistent with the 90s live action TV show phenomenon. Throw in there the “Unite Morph” attacks in the game, and you’re really starting to feel a Saturday morning vibe – Robotech, Thundercats, Voltron, Transformers, and G.I. Joe. The designing and naming convention of characters are really well-planned to the point where you’ll notice their individuality.
Writing and Humor
TW101 purposely mocks the protagonist/antagonist monologuing in the previously mentioned kids’ TV shows of the 80s and 90s. Sans the vulgarity, TW101’s geek culture mockery parallels Team America’s mockery of world politics. It’s fresh, edgy, and just shy of inappropriate. References to women who are cougars, overcompensating with larger weapons, and calling the heroes “color-coordinated cosplayers” is just scratching the surface of the degree of humor in TW101. The humor is contained enough to allow individual character development to standout; however, it’s adult-oriented nature may be too much to share on Miiverse. The seven personalities of Wonder Red, Blue, Green, Pink, Yellow, White, and Black are comparable with the character study of the individual Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. For example, Leonardo and Wonder Red are both finding their way as leaders of the crew. Rafael and Wonder Blue are the “hotheads”. Each Wonder character stands out and the pace in which they’re introduced is excellent.
Wonderful Level Design and Cinematics
The levels are built for a top-down view to complement the gameplay mechanics of utilizing up to 100 heroes. The levels are littered with destructible environments and with well-placed hidden paths leading to more currency for power-ups. Interior locations make for a brilliant use of the split screen of the Wii U GamePad and the TV screen to solve puzzles. Vehicular levels are also mixed in the action that has you can control a flying ship using Unite Hand and a level that’s ripped right out of F-Zero’s Mute City.
The action context-sensitive sequences are enough to make action directors John Woo and Michael Bay jealous. The game is ridiculously-filled with 50/50 action moments that you’re either going to make it to the next sequence by successfully hitting a timely unite morph or find a humorously displayed epic fail going the other way. It’s a testament to just how much effort Kamiya and Team Wonderful were able to put into this game. These action sequences will transition levels from various locations within a given mission. For example, you’ll find yourself jumping between aircrafts in the middle of a dogfight and moving at insane speeds and with laser fire all around you.
Wondrous Sound Design
This game is chock full of voice dialogue. It can often be hard on the ears when the studios aren’t based in North America. The localized (dubbed in English) voice acting with Japanese-developed games usually come with awkwardly high-pitched voice performances that sound like actors have Turrets syndrome (e.g., Tales of Symphonia, Arc Rise Fantasia). TW101 thankfully employs great voice performances that are meant to sound like their recited by Ron Burgundy’s Anchorman crew mixed with Derek Zoolander’s model roommates prior to their demise in an innocent gasoline fight.
While the voice work has a lot of comedic elements, the sound effects are seriously top notch and pristine. Each enemy has their own series of sound effects and managing them can be a nightmare since the screen is filled with them. TW101 handles all of the sound admirably. Different cannons, based on what’s being fired, sound like effects that were produced at movie-industry sound house – Skywalker Sound. The musical score is also appropriately composed to fit the hero themes of classic TV shows. While there’s no individual standout track, the entire music library is excellently produced and orchestrated.
Know Your Role…
And shutdown your Nintendo gamer expectations that this game is going to play like the beloved Pikmin or Little King’s Story games. While the similarities are controlling a large number of heroes into battle, the comparison could not be more inaccurate. TW101 carves out its own unique style and plays more like a mix of Final Fight, Street Fighter II, and Viewtiful Joe, which is appropriate based on Kamiya’s Capcom roots. To be more specific, Final Fight was an evolution of graphics, gameplay, and sound that was established by Double Dragon. The enemies were more fluid and the special moves were much more pronounced. The Street Fighter II reference speaks to the time it takes to learn the controls. Not just in the previously mentioned art style, but the Viewtiful Joe comparison also reflects RPG elements of acquiring new special moves as you progress through the game.
The approach to this game once you get past the intro video is to take the time to learn: (1) controls and (2) interface. There is a steep learning curve to both and acquainting yourself immediately with both will save you a ton of headaches. In terms of controls, there is a team attack, a team dodge, an Olimar-esque whistle command to call back and condense the group into a close proximity circle, a Unite Guts defensive stance, and the Unite Morph special attacks featuring each of the different Wonder characters. Greater numbers of heroes in your group will yield a much powerful Unite Morph, but limit the movement. Learning to unite, disperse, dodge, and build your Unite Guts defense is going to be a key factor if you plan to best your previous scores.
Learning the interface is also important. There are three control types: (1) GamePad & TV combo; (2) TV only; (3) and the now-standard Wii U offering – Off-TV Mode. Cycling between each with the (-) can easily throw your game out of whack as you have to keep pressing the button to get to your most preferred gameplay style. The Unite Morphs are creating using shapes that you can draw using the control stick or the GamePad. The more heroes in your party, the larger the Unite Morph that can be drawn. In this case, drawing on the Input Panel on the GamePad is better; however, using the control stick can work as well, especially since the game goes into to slow motion when the Unite Morphs are created.
Just as crucial as getting comfortable with controlling TW101 is learning the game’s currency system. You can earn currency, called O-Parts, within an operation based on how much time it takes you to dispatch an enemy, the amount of damage inflicted, and points earned from stringing together combos. Additional currency is earned by destroying the objects in a level’s environment (e.g., containers, cars, solar windmills, etc.) With this currency, you can purchase more Unite Morphs, skills, custom blocks, and items. The offerings in in the Wonder Mart increase over time and become the difference between kicking some serious ass to having it handed to you royally. If you’re low on currency, TW101 has great replay value. You can revisit earlier operations and missions using acquired upgrades in the hopes to best previous scores and earn more currency.
Know Thy Enemies
While you can pick up and play TW101 by using the easily morphed Unite Hand and Unite Sword Valiantium blade, that approach will be short-lived and will earn you multiple continues and low currency to purchase additional skills. Enemies need to be learned through trial and error. The game will not throw you a bone, even when you collect Geathjerk files, to learn the secret into handily defeating enemies. For example, in my experience in beating a Hoedown (no pun intended), it took me until the 6th hour of gameplay to finally get this damage-inducing enemy’s cadence of attack studied, as well as the Unite Morph combinations that quickly dispatches it.
The Wonder Years
When Street Fighter II was released in the early 90’s, I had approximately $2 to spend on a daily basis at the local arcade. Naturally, given the budget and ease of control, I picked the fighter Guile over Ryu due to the ease of pulling off his special moves – the Sonic Kick and the Sonic Boom. As the game made its release onto the SNES, I had time to play with the game’s cover fighter – Ryu. It took a lot of practice, 1 week’s worth of binge gaming to be exact, but eventually I was able to pull off the awkwardly controlled ‘Shoryuken‘ dragon punch and the ‘Hadouken’ fireballs. Eventually, I was linking combos and ending them in special moves. The speeds of the fireballs and the dragon punches could also be adjusted in intensity and the corresponding damage they cause. Controlling Ryu, as a result, trumped any fighting enjoyment I had using Guile. That little story sums up the TW101. It’s a game that has to be learned and explored through trial and error in order for you to really max out your enjoyment.
The 8th Wonder
Hideki Kamiya and his band of wizards at Team Wonderful have unleashed a very polished gaming spell. The Platinum Games blueprint of brilliant action, dramatic action, and stylized action is stitched to every costume and mounted on every structure in this game. Warning: this game may be inappropriate for casual gamers who think this is a pick-up and play experience. However, if you want to break the mold and think you have what it takes to enter the Kamiya school of hardcore gaming, do it. You’ll earn gaming street credits if you have the guts to tackle his latest course called…The Wonderful 101.
Images Source: Miiverse for Island_Gamer (follow me!) and The Wonderful 101 Official Website
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