Video game success stories aren't always written at the beginning of their existence. Take the case of The Wonderful 101, for example. Platinum Games' original superhero actioner released exclusively on Nintendo Wii U back in 2013, and, rather unfairly, it went unnoticed by many. The reason? Well, it certainly wasn't anything to do with the quality of the game, which reflects the high standards the Japanese studio is known for - it was because of the platform, Nintendo's dual-screen console, which itself wasn't much of a success story. Despite The Wonderful 101 enduring a tough start to life, players - especially those paying attention to games that innovate in the game space - noted this colourful and original action-adventure developed by Hideki Kamiya and his team, regretting that they couldn't play it. And that was that.
... and then, quite unexpectedly, earlier this year Platinum launched a Kickstarter campaign for a remastered version of The Wonderful 101, with the game now coming to all current-gen platforms. This was enough to secure backing from all those players who hadn't had the opportunity to play it the first time around, to the point that it was funded in mere hours. And with good reason, as we will discover in this review, given that The Wonderful 101: Remastered is about to land on PC Steam, PS4, and Nintendo Switch on May 22. And, to maintain a sense continuity, we have had the opportunity to play and review the Nintendo Switch version of the game, as we looked to see what had changed in these past seven years.
Being a little-known game from 2013, it seems right to start with a brief introduction to the narrative, at least to give you some context about these over-the-top heroes. The Wonderful 1-Double-Oh - of which you are #101 - are a group of heroes, each with truly unique qualities and peculiarities, called into action after the Geathjerks, a mysterious alien race, arrived on the Earth. If you were expecting an in-depth plot, you'll be disappointed; in fact, the game plays with stereotypes from popular '70s anime TV series with robots (like Mazinger-Z or UFO Robot Grendizer) and silly '90s tokusatsu TV series (such as the Power Rangers), offering an exquisite video game parody that doesn't take itself too seriously. Even the solemn tone of the narrator is a clear mockery of the surreal events that unfold on screen, but everything fits perfectly with the lively rhythm of the action.
One thing that immediately impresses in The Wonderful 101, as it does in other Platinum titles, is how the player is immediately catapulted into the heart of a chaotic experience. There are no introductory preambles or cutscenes that contextualise what is happening - you are instantly in the thick of it, both in terms of narrative and gameplay. Although the first levels are a sort of tutorial wherein the very first mechanics are revealed, everything happens so quickly that you don't have time to understand what's going on. But this is Platinum's trademark and the idea is to get players up to speed immediately, as the game that awaits thereafter is anything but welcoming and accessible. To avoid discouraging newcomers, we're now able to select from three different difficulty levels (Very Easy, Easy and Normal), however, if you want to enjoy the true essence of the game, we strongly recommend you choose the third option.
The Wonderful 101: Remastered is the quintessence of chaos. Players have to control a disordered mass of heroes - to turn them into weapons through the Unite Morphs (we will get to them shortly) - and it's one of the crucial parts of the game. In fact, learning to manage it from the very beginning is the key to your success. Fortunately, the controls are really excellent, which is the first big difference when compared to the Wii U version. The old-gen console utilised a chunky GamePad, which it must be said wasn't universally loved, but this remaster uses a more comfortable and functional controller (in our case the Joy-Cons, although perhaps the Pro Controller is more advisable, especially for longer gaming sessions).
The right analog-stick becomes our most loyal ally, and using it we can draw signs that turn the heroes into weapons (or, if you are playing in portable mode, you can draw them directly on the Switch's touchscreen, just as we did on the Wii U). Although we were fond of the idea of being able to draw the stylised inputs with a finger, we got used to using the stick almost immediately as it's so much quicker. The beating heart of The Wonderful 101's gameplay is how we stack our heroes to create the different weapons that help us progress past enemies and through levels.
You can unlock seven different weapons (sword, fist, sniper rifle, whip, bomb, claws, and hammer) and all are essential. Indeed, the game encourages you to swap between them continuously, keeping the experience fresh. Like other Platinum games, The Wonderful 101 also grades the player's performance after every battle, awarding medals at the end of each clash, which are added up at the end of the chapter for a final score. Needless to say, getting the coveted Platinum medals will be really challenging. Unite Morphs are the most creative and interesting part of the game, and using them to solve the puzzles scattered around the various areas becomes a brilliant exercise for the mind.
Speaking more specifically about the quality of life improvements compared to the original, the Switch version is undoubtedly much more fluid and sharper than it was on Wii U. As with regards to the frame-rate, this remaster almost constantly maintains 60 FPS (with some occasional drops only during the most hectic moments), while the resolution is 1080p on the Switch's TV mode, dropping to 720p in handheld. Despite being less elegant and without the same level of detail, it's still pleasant to play on the small screen; keeping track of the shapeless mass of characters is still possible and we have never had a hard time overseeing all the heroes on-screen (although, in our opinion, playing on a TV remains the best way to enjoy the game). Another important improvement relates to the UI, which appears much cleaner and less cumbersome, giving the player better visibility, despite having to duplicate two screens on one when compared to the Wii U version (the second-screen functions are accessible via Switch's "+ " and "- " keys and they work perfectly). Other new features are the tutorials and hints that help less-experienced players become familiar with special moves, making the game more accessible despite it remaining a challenging experience.
Compared to the Wii U version, we found a drastic improvement in terms of loading times, which is great seeing as we will regularly see the 'continue' screen when knocked out by the enemies. Another is the change in pricing of some skills and new upgrades that can be purchased for your heroes using in-game points. Last but not least, there are also the orchestral versions of The Won-Stoppable Wonderful 100 and Tables Turn, which also embellish this remaster.
If you haven't played it already, the time has come to enjoy The Wonderful 101 via this remastered edition of the game. With captivating and brilliant gameplay and its own distinct and frenetic rhythm, it's a pity that this actioner has remained hidden for so long. We hope that it's ready to enjoy a second lease of life, although it helps that Platinum has applied all the necessary improvements for it to work well on current-gen consoles and PC. Therefore, we confirm the score we gave the original all the way back in 2013 when the Wonderful 1-Double-Oh first conquered our hearts. And with merit, we have to say.
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