It’s hard to understand, impossible to sell and still … crazy fun to play
Often described as something like Pikmin with more action, most attempts of describing this game failed miserably. And that is quite a sad thing, as it’s a very huge and potent package that, if you give it a chance, is really able to tear you into the game and won‘t let you go until your collection of 100 little heroes is complete.
The sad part here is, that even if it may have just been released across most countries, it‘s already clear that it won‘t be selling too good due to the difficulty to explain why anyone should throw out 50 bucks for this game. And Nintendo actually gave it more than just one try. They are promoting this like they would promote a new Super Mario title with interviews with Hideki Kamiya, the game‘s mastermind and creator of games like Okami, Viewtiful Joe and Bayonetta. An own Nintendo direct, just to promote the game, in Europe, Pikmin 3 buyers are getting a -30% discount on W101, there‘s a demo in the e-shop and so on. And still, it‘s clear that even if the WiiU‘s base would be bigger, this game would still catch dust in the store‘s shelves. And the reason is just, that even after the 5. attempt to explain to a friend how it works, he still doesn‘t get it as good as it should. Even when playing it, it still takes some time to understand at least the basics. And as not everyone is aware that you can just trust in Kamiya-san‘s arcade-madness-driven-brainz and just keep playing until you realise how wonderful it really is, many may lose interest too soon.
The Wonderful Game
So, how would I describe it? I‘d just say, if you liked Viewtiful Joe, you‘ll like W101. It‘s a kinda different recipe with a similar taste. And as we all know, Viewtiful Joe is one of the best video games to see the light after 2000, so can there be anything wrong with it? At this point, I gotta say, yeeeah well… it can. Because W101 isn‘t as super polished as Viewtiful Joe used to be back in the days and the critique it received for it‘s controls and bad introduction are anything but lies. But then again, it‘s not as bad as some reviews tend to describe it ( like 6/10 at EDGE which is just ridiculous, no matter how strict a reviewer may be ) And actually, most aspects are just things you can get used to. So what is this game all about?
The idea is, that there are 100 Heroes in the world of this game, you start with Wonder Red, looking for all heroes to complete your squad and fight evil. So until you have found the real Wonder-Whatever-Heroes (be prepared for everything from Wonder-Toilet to Wonder-Samurai) you collect just any pedestrians, giving them a temporary hero-status and enabling them to be part of your special powers. Those special powers work like this, if you‘re Wonder Red, you can use your hero-squad to take the shape of a huge fist to fight huge creatures and then punch them with special one-button-combos. At this point, the platinum games origin really shines through as it turns out to be one hell of an arcade action fighting game. And still, you can‘t have any idea of what A W101 are actually capable of, it‘s really just a scratch on it‘s surface. As you progress through the game, you‘ll soon come across another main hero, Wonder Blue who doesn‘t use a fist, but a sword to fight enemies. So, depending on the situation, you may choose between using the more powerful fist or the sword for wide-spread attacks. And the bigger your squad becomes, the bigger the fist or the sword can become and the more devastating the attacks. Additionally while fighting with the fist, you can tell the rest of your squad to fight as an AI-controlled sword to create super wicked combo madness that‘s gonna push your visual abilities to it‘s limits as everything‘s gonna blink and explode.
So, are you collecting 100 heroes to unleash 100 different powers? No. You are collecting a bunch of main heroes like you find different Pikmin-colors in Pikmin and in between you come across … let‘s just call it sub-heroes who are just like collectibles. The advantage of collecting those sub-heroes is, that if you have none, you always need to collect pedestrians to get your squad together, when starting a level, while if you already collected for example 50 sub heroes, then your squad will always be starting at 50 heroes enabling to always start a level with a very good base. Apart from that, you can also control every sub-hero, but … I didn‘t really use that yet, as it doesn‘t really change too much.
Well, to create this fist, I was talking of earlier, which is called a ,Unite morph‘ you have to draw it on your gamepad or with the right analog stick. Both techniques just aren‘t always working as good as they should in an arcade action game like this, but still, it‘s something you can get used to and although you may get frustrated at one fight or another, it still adds something fresh and innovative to the game, as it introduces a very complex mechanic in a somehow intuitive way. Like the size of the circle, you‘re drawing for the fist will determine whether you‘ll create a small Unite Morph that won‘t be using too much energy, leaving some spare energy for an additional Unite Morph for combo-purposes or a huge fist to punish all sinners, hammering em into oblivion. So there‘s quite a lot of strategy hidden behind this concept that may not been able to be carried out, when relying on a classic display of all this data.
Even at this point, I haven‘t really been able to explain the whole game, expect triggering special moves, combining them with abilities you bought in the game‘s Upgrade-store ending up in destroying every evil thinking pixel on the screen. Everyone who knows Platinum Games and especially Kamiya‘s work may have an idea what to expect and behind this whole Unite-Morph-Madness-Mechanic, it really becomes very similar to that Viewtiful-experience at this point, as it‘s all about mastering the game‘s combo system and trying out combining your powers under special circumstances against certain types of enemies which will in 90% of the time, end up in eating bangs and bullets, but it‘s the 10% of success that will keep you going and coming back for more and more, until they are growing to 15, 20, 30% and so on. It‘s really one of those games, you can just play to try improving your skills until it doesn‘t even matter which level you‘re playing, as most of them are just plain fun, very challenging and may even reward you with a ton of bonus stuff, hidden behind every corner of the game.
The game itself is, as mentioned, an arcade fighting game at its core that‘s not just very well designed but also jazzed up with plenty of fun mini games like a box fight simulator, some side scrolling retroawesomeness or some points in the game, where your team enters a building, letting you continue the game on your gamepad, controlling the camera with the pad‘s motion controls. Plus there are plenty of little quests and riddles to be solved with the help of your special powers.
The Boss fights also earned a special mention here, as they are just like multiplying madness with insanity. Expect a Boss throwing a skyscraper (!) towards you, leaving you no choice but to ram your Unite-Fist through it until you worked your way through to let you punch the hell out of him. Sooo… no, this game never takes itself too seriously.
Compared to common arcade games, the W101 come with an epic length of over 15 hours of gameplay which may even sound quite too much, considering that you usually tend to play every level and boss fight a dozen of times to earn better medals everywhere and unlock new stuff, but it just isn‘t. I don‘t know how this works, but it just doesn‘t stop being fun and motivating.
Additionally, to spice everything a bit up, you can cook items by collecting ingredients, there‘s a light perk-system and your heroes can level up, so your army will grow stronger and better over time.
And even if it should get boring at some point ….
There‘s a coop-multiplayer too, and indeed, it‘s quite fun. As usually it‘s not the main game (which, also as usually, is quite a shame) but at least you‘re playing challenge levels that are taken out of the main game, so it‘s a similar experience. The huge advantage AND disadvantage here is, you can play it with additional 4 friends which is just an epileptic nightmare. even if you‘re playing with just one friend, it‘s often hardly possible to really see and understand what‘s happening on the screen as it‘s just [too][much]. But yeah, it is still a fun addition and damn challenging.
The Wonderful Presentation
I read a comment once, describing the game as ,the favourite child‘s TV show never shown‘. It may not take itself as seriously, but it comes with very fun dialogues, power-ranger-like hero transform sequences, super epic bosscreaturedesigns and an iconic isometric view over the games scenery, putting everything into a tilt-shift angle creating an even more funny appealing effect, as all heroes are running and moving like you know it from some timelapse-tilt-shift videos on youtube. This combined with overexposed storytelling, a ton of super stupid hero quotes and fights that let everything around you getting destroyed - and I am talking about real destruction here, like whole parts of cities are …. earthquaking all around you and your squad like you may remember it from the movie Akira - are resulting a very fun package of super stupid entertainment that never really manages to get serious, which is a good and charming thing as there are already too many hyperrealistic cinematic epic operas out there on the video game market.
Its visuals are quite great, especially for a 1st gen WiiU title, running at 60fps the whole dynamic of crashing through masses of enemies feels great. Sure, if you just see one hero up close, it may not look too impressive, but considering how much there‘s going on onscreen with your 100 heroes plus an army of enemies plus all the details in the environment, particles aaaaand so on will really boil your brains out.
It‘s focused on pure fun and it delivers.
In terms of its soundscape I just can say, everything fits together. Orchestrated super heroic music scores and perfectly casted voice actors. No need to dig deeper here, its just awesome.
What‘s not really well done here are the menus. Just loading your save game will take you dozens of times hitting dialogues like ,play‘ ,load‘ ,start‘ ,…whatever‘ and every time you‘re in between two missions visiting the Wonderful Mart to upgrade your stuff you‘ll easily get lost there as its whole usability just sucks. Nothing worth downgrading the game, but annoying.
The Wonderful Verdict
It‘s true that the first hour with the game can be confusing and frustrating as you feel like thrown into something that wants to be a complex arcade game but you don‘t really feel too comfortable and have to rely on your trust in the developer, that everything is gonna turn out to be quite cool. If you‘re able to come up with that trust, your reward will be one of the most original, creative, challenging and rewarding action games if the past years. Yes, controls can be frustrating too, but not exactly in a way that makes you blame the game but yourself when you draw something wrong. This may be even worse to some, but it‘s something you can actually get better at by working on your technique and your focus, so I personally wouldn‘t really see it as a disadvantage of the game but a question of taste. If you can live with it, you‘ll get hours of very fun entertainment, goofy jokes, kinda super epic boss battles and tons of things to explore and collect.
So if you own a WiiU and are open for some japanese arcade-battle-comic-madness or liked Viewtiful Joe then please, just stop thinking and get this game. If you‘re not too sure, then check out the demo, but be warned, I don‘t really believe this game‘s demo is really good as if drops you straight into the game without introducing and explaining too much, so you may end up being quite scared off. Don‘t just judge the game by the demo, it gives a brief overview of how the game behaves, but as long as you aren‘t playing through it over and over again, you may not really be able to get what makes this game so special.
And special it is. Special enough to be called Wonderful.
+ Deep gameplay mechanics that will take you hours to be learned but due to the length of the game there‘s enough time for them to really unfold and reward you with plenty of opportunities to try everything out.
+ Still once you cracked the nut, it‘s somehow quite intuitive and easy to get
+ The amount of detail and content is impressive.
+ Epic boss battles have reached a new level and makes me go yummy for Kamiya‘s next WiiU title Bayonetta 2
- It only feels 95% polished. In a few cases you may come over some glitches, freezes and stuff that could have been prevented.
- The short introduction and lacking tutorial-space makes the W101 appeal more complicated than it actually is which is just sad as this will be one of the main factors that are reducing its success