Imagine for a second that Pikmin wasn’t made by Shigeru Miyamoto. Imagine instead that it was a dream conceived by the man behind Devil May Cry, Viewtiful Joe, Ōkami and Bayonetta, and you’ll probably have some idea about what The Wonderful 101 is all about. Formerly known as Project P-100, this is a mad, “mass-hero action” game that’s as gnarly as that long list of games sounds. And yes, I did just use the word “gnarly”, because The Wonderful 101 is every bit inspired by ’90s superhero comics as it is by small little carrot dudes.
But let’s cut straight to the good stuff. Aliens have invaded Earth, and it’s up to our colourful team of superheroes to send them packing. As its name implies, there are quite a lot of them, too, and they’re all adorned in their own unique costumes together with a whole host of weird and wonderful contraptions on their heads (we saw some toilet-seats, bath-tubs, and giant hammers to name but a few). We’re not quite sure about the extent of these characters’ abilities yet, but one thing we do know is that they can all transform into one of five various shapes when duty calls.
If you draw a straight line on the GamePad (or using the right analogue stick), for instance, your tiny team of heroes will turn into a huge sword to slice and dice your enemies. An L shape, on the other hand, will turn them into a gun. There’s also a hang-glider and giant fist option (which can also be used to turn certain levers and switches in the larger environment), as well as a wobbly, gelatinous cake-thing that serves as your main form of defence. It’s absolutely mad, but by golly does it work!
These robots are even tougher than Pikmin’s bulborbs…
Using these special “team attacks”, however, costs battery power, so you’ll need to mix these more powerful attacks with standard attacks to recharge your power meter. It can get slightly hectic, especially when our demo had a timer and there’s so much to look at on screen, but it all adds to the overall tension and excitement of the game. The enemies themselves had a variety of attacks to watch out for, too, and their meaty life-bars (or should that be life-pies?) means they certainly won’t go down without a proper fight.
The full game won’t be timed, though, so fear not if you’re someone who likes to take their time to look around. But despite there not being actually that much to explore due to its rather linear level design, the amount of detail crammed into these streets is astonishing. Batteries lie in wait in garages and balconies, blossoming trees line the roads, and minuscule tables and chairs are decked out near the rather Pac-Man-inspired Munch ‘n’ Crunch Cakes parlour. In fact, there’s so much detail that it’s often easy to gloss over some of the finer aspects of the environment, particularly when there’s a quick succession of robot battles to sink your teeth into, but when there’s lots of citizens to recruit and power-ups to discover, you certainly won’t be at a loss for things to look at during these moments of down-time, that’s for sure.
Another nifty trick these heroes have up their collective sleeves is the ability to transform into make-shift ladders and chains to help ferry your band of vigilantes from one building to another. Much like the “team attacks”, all you need to do is draw a line and hey presto, climbing a skyscraper has never been easier– although you’ll have to keep a steady hand while using the analogue stick for these as one small wobble while you’re drawing it and the move won’t register.
Thankfully, the drawing mechanics were reasonably generous most of the time, but there’s another more fundamental wobble that comes when the action dives down into the GamePad. At one point in our demo, we had to enter an enclosed building and change a row of numbered dials to open the next door, but when our hero stepped inside, the camera reverted to an awkward over-the-shoulder position that was as difficult to manoeuvre as it was to see where we were going. We wasted quite a bit of time trying to tame it, but hopefully this will be ironed out by the time the game gets released.
The second part of the demo involved fighting this monstrosity…
One thing that didn’t disappoint, however, was the demo’s boss battle. When our eight minute count-down timed itself out, we were quickly dropped on that giant robot in the screenshot above with a mere two minutes to carry out our objective. Here we had to beat the living daylights out of three glowing orbs on its forearm, all the while dodging slam attacks with our impenetrable jelly defence (the “boing!” sound it makes whenever something bounces off it is really quite good…) and jumping over fiery death beams from its canon. It was even more frantic than the individual battles in the previous level, but if this is just a taste of what’s to come, then we really can’t wait to see the rest of it.
Camera niggles aside, then, The Wonderful 101 definitely looks like it’s going to be one of Wii U’s essential action titles. The “mass-hero” bit may be slightly new territory for Platinum Games, but with such a long history of making outstanding games in this genre, we have every confidence that this will be another fine addition to its collection of hits. In fact, it almost makes Pikmin 3 feel a little bland by comparison, but let’s save that discussion for next week…