Review: The Wonderful 101 (***** stars) (Part 2)

Part 1

And yet, that same strange love of making-stuff-up also translates directly into the inaccessible nature of The Wonderful 101’s game rules and systems. Frankly, this game isn’t for everyone, even if I wish it were so; The Wonderful 101 plays like a combination of Hideki Kamiya’s previous works, and as a culmination it naturally layers tons of nuanced complexities to the proceedings. At the same time, it refuses to explain any of this in much detail, leaving the player to learn through doing -the very embodiment of experiential learning. Unfortunately, I cannot imagine many players struggling through the various systems at play, given the near-vertical difficulty curve. Although the manual’s included on the disc (paper manuals seem to be fading out), it’s difficult to find and not intuitive at all to find; I’d recommend a gander at a PDF copy of the same.

Even for an stylish character-action veteran like myself, the adjustment period to a brand new system takes time, especially with controlling a hundred heroes at once! Unlike other such games, you need to manage a group of super heroes in addition to yourself; though you can only take damage by letting your main character take a hit, losing your other heroes (who can’t die) to enemy fire limits your options substantially due to the exquisite Wonder Liner system. Taking advantage of the Wii U’s GamePad (and copying more than a little from Okami, but you can plagiarize yourself Kamiya), the Wonder Liner allows you to literally “draw” weapons into existence with your stock of heroes, called “Unite Morphs”, and these remain the basic tools of offense. Draw a circle, and you’ll form Unite Hand, a heavy-damage close-range attacking morph; for a little extra range, draw a straight line to create Unite Sword. Draw them with more heroes, and you obtain a huge increase in attack power for a short time.The game keeps adding new morphs to your arsenal, and also introduces non-combat uses for nearly all of them (and those then turn into combat mechanics). Use them too much, though, and you’ll drain the Unite Meter they draw upon, so you need to manage your use of Unite Morphs throughout.

This seemingly convoluted system solves one of the primary problems with character action games – the inability to choose any weapon at any time. Even Bayonetta, though its roster of various weapons numbered in the double digits, forced you to swap between two weapon sets that required a menu screen to shift around. Ninja Theory’s DmC attempted the same thing, though with mixed results. That isn’t so in The Wonderful 101 – if you want to use something, draw it quickly and use it. At the same time, drawing Wonder Liner shapes quickly will test your skills and patience at first. Not only can you draw in any direction, but drawing a shape quickly in those directions will demand your concentration, especially in the heat of battle. Small combat spaces force you to learn how to draw well in any situation, as you can’t just Wonder Liner into an enemy (most shielded enemies towards the end knock your heroes out if you touch them, so it’s worthwhile to learn). Eventually, though, shifting between weapons and finding optimal ways to draw them becomes second nature. The nuances present a system that turns weapon switching into a game of spatial awareness and speed – quite an improvement! That works for combos too, and you can rapidly switch between morphs in combo sequences just via drawing.

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As the game increases in difficulty both in progression and in speed, you’ll want to draw as fast as possible. The system on Hard and below slows the entire game down, much like Bayonetta’s Witch Time, so that you can see what shape you’re drawing, but the 101% Hard mode (and the multiplayer, for obvious reasons) does not contain this feature. This mean, if you want to do well, you’ll need to draw accurately and fast – no easy feat. I often confused Unite Hammer (straight line and a circle), Whip (any line with a slight bend in it), and Claw (Zorro-shape) at first, but over time you will understand the game’s recognition features and how it reads each drawing. Explaining this in text makes little sense, but suffice to say a tactile approach works best (in other words, buy the game and figure it out!).

At the same time, I don’t really recommend using the GamePad at all for drawing. It does not provide the same nuances as a traditional control scheme. As a proper and excellent alternative, using the right analog stick actually works in the exact same manner, except that you can draw much faster this way than with the GamePad. I found taking my right hand off the buttons to become a chore after a while, and I simply learned how to rotate the analog sticks to perform the same functions. Furthermore, the ridges on the Wii Classic Controller produces a nice clicking sound and the tactile feedback necessary to draw the shapes fast and accurately. I imagine the Wii U Pro Controller performs nearly the same function. It’s a little unfortunate that the Wii U’s feature does not work that well for me in particular, but your results may vary. Several players on Youtube use the touchpad almost exclusively and perform much better than I; from what I can tell, the skill ceiling is much higher on touchpad, and the speed requirement much easier to hit.

Additionally, you’ll need that speed to deal with many of the game’s tougher foes. Hearkening back to Viewtiful Joe, wailing on most smaller foes takes zero effort, but each larger enemy requires a specific strategy to overcome. Most of them involved detecting their patterns, finding the proper counters, and implementing them with the right timing. Most enemies require Unite Guts (basically a giant parry) followed by the weapons of your choice, but the timing for all these strategies take some doing, and even a parry won’t expose their weak-point. You’ll also need to use the Team Attack, a seemingly useless attack button that functions as a dual stun-lock and lock-on function at the same time. The Team Attack lets members of your unit latch onto the enemy and attack them; if enough of them end up on the enemy, it will suddenly become stunned, indicated by a loud distinctive sound and visual affects. At this point, you need to go all out with your attacks, as most enemies only remain vulnerable for a short time; the importance of juggling with Unite Morphs becomes incredibly important, as you can kill an enemy in one stun if you’re proficient and paying attention to other dangers. The Team Attack’s lock-on function also lets you dash to any locked-on foe simply by pressing the attack button, a necessary feature for both speed and juggles. You don’t want to linger about in this game!

Part 3

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.