Review: The Wonderful 101 (***** stars) (Part 4)

Part 3

So after all this, you must expect that I enjoyed the game straight from the beginning, enjoyed myself, and certainly loved it at first glance? Nope, not at all. The first five or so hours represented the greatest struggle I’ve yet had with a video game. The first stage eases you into the game, but even then it doesn’t make sense from first glance. The visuals will make you assume that you’re playing a Pikmin-esque game, which definitely isn’t the case. The tutorials, which try to teach you by popping up messages on the left hand side of the screen, give zero context as to what New Ability X actually does. The objectives presently vary from cryptic to completely uninformative, with such helpful tips as “Defeat all enemies!” plastered on screen while I wandered around the stage – not exactly fun times.

My frustration with the game was readily apparent to any and all watching me play the game, as I yelled at the game for being so weird and strange. I just didn’t get it. Operation 3 in particular threw me for a loop, with its absolutely bone-headed decision to place a rotating cylinder plus platforming section within an isometric camera system. Drawing the Wonder Liner in that environment’s simply a mess, and then figuring out how to put out fires also made no sense until I tried random stuff. These did not make me feel good at all; they made me feel like I was just along for the ride.

I honestly could not understand why the game played the way it did, why I kept dying, and why it felt so difficult and completely lacking intuitive design. I bought the dodge and parry moves right from the onset, of course, but the timing for both seemed slightly off. I kept playing The Wonderful 101 as if I were playing Bayonetta, and that did not work at all. Bayonetta operates on a premise of complete combat freedom; you hold the weapons, and you determine how to use their vast array of moves to fulfill the time and combo requirements for high rank; abusing Witch Time (or just dodging well, as in Non-Stop Infinite Climax Mode) buttresses the rest.

The Wonderful 101, instead, constrains you into particular molds of play. You literally earn your right to mess around with combos only after you stun enemies, and even then other foes will knock you out of aerial combos. You need to time parries and dodges correctly, making sure to adjust to the seemingly slow pace of the combat; I often anticipated far before an attack would come, and ended up punished as a result. If you pay attention and attack accordingly, you’ll win; otherwise, every engagement will appear an exercise in attrition and frustration.


And those Vorkhen fights are just completely impossible unless you learn how to play!

I suppose a lot of my problems came down to expectations and what I wanted out of the game, rather than what the game presented to me. I wanted to play it like other games in the genre, and it simply didn’t allow for it. Once I finally surrendered to its unique brand of quick thinking and strategizing, everything finally fell into place. The impositions and assumptions I placed on the game made it more difficult; when I simply let go of my own plans and ideas, letting the game be as it was, I found infinitely more enjoyment and fun than I would have otherwise. Once I submitted to its whims and intricacies, everything fell into place and I had more fun with The Wonderful 101 than any game in recent memory.

That’s the primary component: submission. Try to wrest control from the game, and you’ll just end up dead again and again. In Christianity, the same proves true: resist God’s will and discipline, and things will just not go well for you. I have found, over time, that the best way to live life is to accept things as they are and to take things as they come. As they say, the best way to make God laugh is to tell Him your plans, and that’s been true enough of me. Whenever I tell Him what I’ll do for Him, He ends up telling me something completely different, whether by circumstance or otherwise. The proud are humbled, and the weak are made strong; when I think I know it all, I simply don’t. When I am not content with my position and state in life, I do not draw nearer to God (1 Timothy 6:6-11). When I accept what God lies before me, regardless of what it is, everything progresses exactly as He wills. That’s my lot and portion; what else can I say to the Creator than that? God does it for my good, and so I accept it as good.

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Hebrews 12

I tend to think of video games in that same way precisely because it rings so true in my life. Those games which constrain, which bear down on you, and force you to excel in a focused, complex way represent that walk better than any other media I’ve experienced. When I finally get a handle on a challenging game, there’s few better feelings in the world than knowing you finally understand something the designers obviously wanted you to know. All it takes, really, is a submission to the unique qualities of any particular game to reach that mountain peak; butting heads against its quirks and refusing to learn them will end up in repeated failure after failure. The rewards on the other side, however, will always win the day.

Instead of saying “this is too childlike for me” or “this is too difficult” or “games need to mean more”, I simply let the game teach me, rather than trying to tell it what it should or should not be. And that’s exactly why I like The Wonderful 101! It forces me to accept it, and in the process love it!

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.