The creators of Bayonetta and Vanquish bring their little seen Wii U exclusive to Switch, PS4, and PC but is it another Platinum classic?
Being able to publish their own games is obviously very important to PlatinumGames. The developer has been around for over a decade now, despite only recently enjoying any major hits, and despite rumours that everyone from Nintendo to Microsoft was interested in buying them they’ve survived long enough to start self-publishing. And their very first game is a remaster of The Wonderful 101, a game that, in Platinum’s opinion at least, was unfairly overlooked the first time around.
Originally released in 2013, The Wonderful 101 was basically sent out to die. Despite the Wii U’s games line-up being so threadbare Nintendo made zero effort to promote the game and given it wasn’t a sequel or a licensed title it got completely ignored by everyone. It didn’t help that the game had a more mixed critical reception than most of Platinum’s other games, with the primary complaint being awkward controls that relied on the GamePad touchscreen even though it would clearly have been better to use normal buttons.
That wasn’t the only issue, but despite the game’s reputation (or lack of it) Platinum had no problem funding a Kickstarter to make this remaster a reality. But as successful as that was, we have a feeling this new version isn’t going to have any more luck engaging with mainstream audiences than the original did.
Directed by Devil May Cry and Bayonetta creator Hideki Kamiya, The Wonderful 101 is his take on sentai (meaning ‘fighting squadron’) shows like Power Rangers and will eventually form a Japanese superhero trilogy with Viewtiful Joe and the upcoming Project G.G. Despite what you might imagine from the screenshots though, the combat still has a lot in common with the likes of Bayonetta, as you dodge gigantic enemies and make use of perfectly timed counters, although the general tone is more comedic and, apart from a few off-colour jokes, more family friendly.
Although you fight as a large group of superheroes, that dart about the screen like a school of fish, you control them as if they were a single character. There’s a small range of basic attacks but unlike Bayonetta little in the way of combos or special moves. Instead the main gimmick of the combat is that all the heroes are able to morph together to form different objects, such as a giant fist, sword, and gun.
It’s a neat idea but the problem with the original, apart from some horribly unclear tutorials – which are still terrible here, was that to change weapons you had to trace out a specific shape on the touchscreen. This was not only fiddly and time-consuming when you were in a hurry but often the GamePad failed to recognise the shapes properly. You could use the right analogue stick as well but that was even less precise, even though Kaimya claims it’s his preferred method.
You’re no doubt expecting us to explain that the system has been changed for the remaster and you can now do the sensible thing and switch weapons simply by pressing a button. But you can’t. You can still use the touchscreen in portable mode, but if you’re playing while docked then it’s the analogue stick or nothing. Which, quite frankly, is madness. On the PlayStation 4 you can use the touchpad, which at least is always available, but we assume the lack of any touch controls is why the remaster isn’t on Xbox One.
This is all hugely frustrating because when The Wonderful 101 clicks it’s as good as anything Platinum has ever done. The combat may not be as technical as Kaimya’s previous titles but it demands just as much concentration and skill, as you watch for enemy tells and weak points, and take on alien monsters and robots many times your size.
The game is filled with imaginative set pieces, from a pastiche of Punch-Out! and an isometric shoot ‘em-up section, to a number of puzzles that make clever use of the morphing powers, as the fist is used to turn dials or the whip to swing across gaps. Except for some reason most of the puzzle sections are timed and it’s often unclear what you’re supposed to do or how you’re meant to do it, the time limit turning what should be fun experimentation into an unwanted race against time.
Despite its relative simplicity The Wonderful 101 is terrible at explaining itself and far too often you’re left wondering what you’re supposed to do or whether you failed because you were doing the wrong thing or because the controls weren’t responding the way you thought they should. The camera is also frequently unhelpful, leering in far too close for some frustrating platforming sections and pulling out too far in many of the boss fights.
We assumed that the whole point of the remaster was to revamp the controls to be more accessible and reliable but that’s not the case at all. In the end this is a disappointingly straightforward port that is, if anything, inferior to the original. Especially as there’s something janky going on with the collision detection, which often seems as unreliable as the controls.
There is a great game somewhere inside The Wonderful 101 but rather than exposing it for a wider audience this just buries it deeper, amidst purposefully obtuse controls, puzzles, and gameplay mechanics. The Wonderful 101 has squandered its second chance and on the basis of this remaster it doesn’t really deserve another.
The Wonderful 101: Remastered review summary
In Short: Still one of PlatinumGames’ most imaginative and exuberant action games but the refusal to improve the controls or accessibility doom the remaster to further obscurity.
Pros: Some fantastic set pieces and boss encounters and the central morphing gimmick is a great idea, despite the awful controls. Great attention to detail, with lots of fun humour and mini-games.
Cons: No attempt to improve the controls or the tutorials, which were both unforced errors the first time round. Unhelpful camera, terrible tutorials, irritating timed puzzles, and unwelcome new glitches.
Formats: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PlayStation 4, and PC
Release Date: 22nd May 2020
Age Rating: 12
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