Viewtiful Joe was a game-changer for me. I’d fell in love with cel-shading after playing Jet Grind Radio on the Dreamcast. Still, I wasn’t ready for Viewtiful Joe’s super-stylized graphics, reverence for Japanese culture, and tough, sometimes frustratingly unforgiving combat. Clover Studio closed, but PlatinumGames stands in its wake, carrying the torch for what was left behind. They’ve maintained their reputation for sharply-composed, energetic action games. This includes a game previously exclusive to the Wii U: The Wonderful 101. But good reviews don’t always translate to good sales, and The Wonderful 101’s platform likely did it damage as well.
But now it’s 2020, and many older gamers look back on both Platinum and Clover’s catalogs with reverence. Enter a crowdfunding campaign that brought The Wonderful 101 Remastered to modern platforms. It’s a punishing game at times, but it’s definitely a welcome re-release with stellar action, great writing, and polished graphics.
Take the action of Viewtiful Joe, the drawing mechanics of Okami, the group gathering of Pikmin, and the over-the-top explosions of Vanquish, and you’ll have a taste of what The Wonderful 101 is all about. You’ll run your team around the stage, collecting bystanders and drafting them to help you fight the invading forces of GEATHJERK. Your key tool is the Wonder-Liner: a weapon that allows you to organize your team into special battle forms like a giant sword, whip, or fist. Each “Unite Morph” has special bonus abilities in the field, too. The hand can turn gears, the whip removes spikes from objects and enemies, the sword reflects lasers. Thus the game offers not just action, but also puzzles and mini-games, too. There’s also plenty of new challenges and gameplay modes at every turn.
Part of The Wonderful 101 Remastered’s charm is that it never takes itself TOO seriously. The Wonderful 100 (pronounced “one double oh”) are a team of secret heroes from the world over, led by Wonder-Red of Blossom City. Each of the game’s main characters have charm all their own amidst the stereotypes they dive into. Wonder-Blue is a Californian who’s not the sharpest tool in the shed. Wonder-Green is a young, large French boy with food on-hand and a knack for ribbing Blue. Wonder-Pink is an ice queen former cheerleader who doesn’t tolerate Green’s softly-phrased advances… and there’s plenty more characters and interactions from there. On top of that, there’s plenty of spaces where the game pokes fun at itself, or common anime tropes. It takes careful writing to step into comedy like this without punching down, and it succeeds for the most part.
As someone who focuses on narrative and characters in games, I strongly appreciate The Wonderful 101’s writing. Delivered by a stellar voice cast, the tone feels light enough for a Saturday morning cartoon, but engaging and sharp for adult audiences. It’s not a game with shocking, deep revelations, but it’s not meant to be. It’s a superhero story… a superhero story with a whole lot of cheesecake shots of its female characters… but I digress.
Those things said, you’d be forgiven if the bright colors made you think the game would be easy. It’s not. You’ll need to use all your mechanics to effectively clear out enemies, switching between Unite Morphs multiple times per fight. Though the remaster supposedly is better at helping you learn the game’s mechanics compared to the original, I still nearly wanted to quit after fighting one of the games earliest mini-bosses (I didn’t have the special upgrade that allows you to reflect projectiles at enemies). Don’t expect The Wonderful 101 to hold your hand: sometimes your friendly P-Star robot will clue you in to which form you’ll need for a puzzle, forgetting mechanics in combat will be your undoing.
Particularly in boss fights, there were multiple times I simply couldn’t figure how to keep the boss from doing massive damage to me or its objective. That meant I ended up using a continue (or four) just to progress through. I’m sure some of those moments will make sense if I go back to play the game again from the beginning, but I felt overwhelmed multiple times…maybe that’s the point. If I hadn’t been playing for review, I’d have likely restarted a million times trying for platinums. Still, using continues drops you back in the fight where you died with your health restored. There’s also an easy mode, which is apparently easier than the original version was. I’ll tell you though, getting the “consolation prize” instead of even the bronze or plastic trophy during one poor performance was pretty hilarious and taunting… and it makes platinum medals feel like achievements.
Overall, I’m glad the world has a chance to experience the world of The Wonderful 101 with this fresh coat of paint. With the spirit of a love letter to Clover Studio fused with a challenge for the future, The Wonderful 101 Remastered is a whole lot like the original: wonderful.