The titular Wonderful 101 is a gang of tiny superheroes that are inspired by Japanese pop culture icons like the Power Rangers, put through a tongue-in-cheek prism with a laudably silly sense of humour.
It’s part side-scrolling brawler and part strategy title, and despite the action being slightly too chaotic to fully enjoy, The Wonderful 101 is one of the most visually and conceptually interesting takes on superheroes that videogames have seen to date.
This superpowered team’s defining ability is to link up and form giant shapes – what that equates to in gameplay is drawing on the Wii U tablet to form objects like a giant sword, by swiping a straight line across the screen. This can then be used in combat, with increasingly useful new powers of a varied nature emerging as you progress through the game.
You can pick which of the many characters you’d rather have as the leader, but you’re really playing as all of them at once – the more heroes you can recruit within the levels, the bigger shapes you can draw. Yet many of the Wonderful 101’s collective uses are non-combative, too, like forming your gang into the shape of a ladder or a paper airplane to perform their respective functions.
It’s an imaginative idea, helped along enormously by the standout visualisation of this team, who look like they could be PG versions of the Fraternity in Mark Millar’s Wanted. Some members of the Wonderful 101 are themed around ideas like kabuki or baked goods, for example – collecting them all is therefore a compelling incentive to keep going.
The cutscenes are exhaustingly ludicrous, like a Saturday morning kid’s TV show spitting Skittles at your face and piping smash cut-laden action figure commercials into your brain.
It’s actually tiring to play if you’re over the age of, say, 25, and to effectively alternate between drawing shapes on the tablet and inputting combos, it really requires a young person’s energy. Plus, when the screen gets too busy, it’s tough to tell the difference between the heroes and enemies, while there are more than a few occasions where you’ll throw strategy out the window and bash buttons until the villains simply clear out.
The superpowered combat in The Wonderful 101 is not quite nourishing enough, even if the toybox world the game exists within is extraordinarily inviting.