Aug 12, 2013

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Demo Impressions: The Wonderful 101

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The Wonderful 101, previously known as Project P-101, was one of those games that those interested in the Wii U have kept an eye on for a while, ever since its announcement last year. This is because it keeps viewers interested with its artstyle, motif and gameplay surrounding numerous superheroes battling aliens at once in a massive crowd.  However, while it was clear that some style of combat was going on, we couldn’t really tell what was happening with the gameplay – until the most recent Nintendo Direct, which focused on explaining the gameplay of The Wonderful 101, showing a seven-minute trailer explaining more plot elements and introducing more characters.

The biggest surprise, however, is that not only do Wii U owners get to see more of the game, they actually get to play it; shortly after the Nintendo Direct, a demo of the game was released onto the eShop platform. As someone who owns the console, I had the opportunity to download and play it – and I enjoyed it a lot.

The Wonderful 101 stars a team of 100 superheroes who battle an alien threat called the Geathjerk, whom, as you’ve probably guessed, are invading. (I know more plot details were revealed in the trailer, but I’ll only discuss what I saw in the demo.) To combat the invaders, the superheroes must battle as one group, combining their powers to get the strength necessary for defeating them. This is done by forming different items, such as a hand, a sword, and a whip. You can select what superhero you lead the group as, although it doesn’t seem to affect what powers you use.

The game features two different gameplay modes – a story mission, which is simply a mission taken out of the main campaign, and a Wonderful Mission, which for this demo is a series of battles taking place.

You control all the heroes at once using the left analog stick, and make them all jump by pressing the B button. Your team starts off small but can get bigger by picking up new heroes, such as existing members of the Wonderful 100 and citizens turned into temporary heroes, by drawing a rainbow-colored shape called the “Wonder-Circle” around them. (Drawing a Wonder-Circle is used to find the two secret superheroes in the Wonderful Missions menu!)

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The gameplay is very akin to a top-down-brawler, in a way. Pressing the X button launches the team forward as a sort of a “lunge” attack, and repeatedly pressing the button while fighting bigger enemies allows the team to climb up enemies, similar to Pikmin. This attack is decent enough, until you learn of the Unite forms and Unite attacks, which make up the meat of the gameplay.

To use these special powers, players must form shapes with the group. This is done using either the stylus or the right analog stick, then tapping the A button to activate it. While I did like this mechanic, it did feel a bit flawed – while drawing  felt quick, transitioning from drawing to activating with the A button felt a little awkward. On the other hand, while it is quicker to transition from the right stick to the A button, drawing successful shapes felt a little harder to do. However, the shapes required to produce the Unite forms are simplistic, ranging from a straight line, a squiggly line, and a circle. They’re easy enough to draw using the stylus. and it’s good that they are, as drawing bigger shapes is required for producing bigger and stronger forms. These powers drain what is called the Unite Gauge, which is increased by collecting more civilians.

The demo contains six Unite forms, two of them hidden away in the  Wonderful Mission select screen. The ones that are readily available in the Story Mission and Wonderful Mission are the Hand, the Gun, the Sword and the Chain. What’s disappointing about the demo is that while you get plenty of opportunities to use the Unite Hand and the Unite Sword, such as cutting chains or turning switches, the gun feels kind of useless – as the Nintendo Direct states, it’s useful against airborne enemies, which I did not come across, and ranged attacks felt pointless, given the fact that a long Unite Sword was much more effective. Overall, I found myself pretty much ditching the X button Team Attack and using Unite attacks – they just seemed much more powerful, and more importantly, much more fun to use. The other non-hidden Unite Form, the Chain, is not a weapon – it’s used to traverse buildings by drawing a straight line over them. Being a straight line, I found that sometimes it would register as the Unite Sword instead. The two secret weapons, the Unite Whip and the Unite Hammer, felt kind of useless in the demo, probably due to the demo not having any sort of function for them other than for attacking.

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What really makes the gameplay, however, is the combination of offense and defense. Holding ZL activates Wonder Guts, the Wonderful 100′s method of blocking – and activating at precisely the right time can counter an enemy’s attack – whether it be projectile or physical, you’ll be able to either stun or deal great damage to your opponents. Once I got using the Wonder Guts down, the gameplay really changed for me – instead of just running out of the way of attacks, I found myself using the move to dispatch enemies, and doing so much quicker than I had before.

The group can pick up objects such as cars by using the wonder-circle and weapons from defeated enemies with the A button; while the weapons are easy to use, using the wonder-circle to pick up cars and such slows the action down a bit. You do have items that you can pick up, such as items that heal you and recover the energy required to use the Unite forms. These are put into an inventory, and can be used holding the “down” button on the d-pad. Using these items feels pretty natural. You also have special items such as air-rockets, but these aren’t really worth being used, or at least I didn’t see the use, as they will lower your overall score. There are some secret items like secret files and “platinum coins,” although they didn’t seem to do much in the demo.

The game, like Platinum’s previous beat-em-ups, features a scoring system. Depending on how efficient you play, you can get medals ranging from bronze to pure platinum, and depending on how well you do in the stage, you can receive an overall rank at the end. It was fun replaying the story mission to try and get a better score.

There isn’t much to say about the story mission – in fact, there’s no story, except for the Geathjerk attacking the city. The stage features small combat arenas, with hidden objects scattered around, and some areas where you get the opportunity to not only save civilians but collect new heroes. In this mission I found “Wonder Beer” and “Wonder Kung Fu.” At a couple points, the game moved into a series of quick time events – one being a set of jumps, done by pressing the B button, and anther requiring me to draw the Unite Hand quickly to grab an object out of the air. These QTEs seemed to be better than most, as it seems to reward players for pulling them off well – for example, pressing B at the right time during the jumping QTE seemed to reward more points than it would otherwise.

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There’s not much to say about the graphics and the sound; while the graphics are colorful and appealing, they aren’t the greatest, with models such as the citizens being noticeably low-poly. The sound is not bad, but then again, it doesn’t really stand out as something special – except for the song that plays at the end of the demo, which is delightful.

Overall, I’m very excited for The Wonderful 101 – it seems that Hideki Kamiya and his team has put together a great game so far, and I’m very excited to see more of it.

The Wonderful 101 is developed by Platinum games and published by Nintendo. The game is coming to Europe on August 23rd, Japan and Australia on August 24th and America on September 15th.

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About J Plackett