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The Wonderful 101 Review - One Hundred Tiny Annoyances

Jonathan Bolding | 10 Sep 2013 17:14
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The Wonderful 101 is an action game from the developers of Bayonetta where you play as a hundred individual superheroes who can combine into giant weapons to fight alien invaders. On paper, it sounds great, but in execution you have an ultimately flawed product that, though it reaches for the stars, falls short in some key ways. Drawing from Japanese tokusatsu series like Super Sentai (that's The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers to westerners), The Wonderful 101 has a rich body of interesting visuals and a wacky story - and that's a promise it really delivers on. There's all kinds of signature weirdness here, and from the gameplay to the story, it's a unique experience, even if it's not perfect.

You'll be in control of a bunch of heroes that "unite morph" into the big weapons you fight with, like fists, swords, whips, and guns. You draw specific shapes on the gamepad to switch weapons, you mash buttons to execute combos, and you defeat enemies. Your swarm of superheroes starts out small, but over the course of each level you encircle civilians to temporarily deputize them with Wonder-Masks and powers. As your swarm grows, you're able to execute larger unite morphs and attacks. Occasionally, you'll come across members (like, say, Wonder Toilet or Wonder Witch) of the Wonderful 100 scattered or hidden in levels, and when you pick them up, they're permanently added to the team, travelling with you from level to level. You also pick up battery powerups to refill the gauge that dictates how frequently you can unite morph, as well as how large a morph you can form. There are other collectables, too, like coins that let you buy new morphs and skills, but few of them drastically change how the game is played.

Executing combos and smashing enemies away is basically what you'd expect - a mixture of button mashing and knowing when to switch up moves. The reaction to smashing enemies with, say, a giant hammer, or ripping off their armor with a spiked whip, is really visceral. Likewise, doing make-your-own-combos by switching from morph to morph mid-combat is great dynamic gameplay. You can execute a move, and then draw out the shape for your next move and slam out the right buttons for one of that weapon's combos, moving you smoothly into that attack as you form the new weapon. It's a really unique style of gameplay, and tearing through mooks rarely feels better. There are occasional strange inconsistencies, for example, Unite Spring dodges nearly any attack - except for specific, and almost arbitrary, ones done by certain bosses or enemies. This gets more common as the game nears its conclusion, and feels like a cheap substitute for difficulty by the end of the game, when there's a boss whose attacks are completely undodgeable and unblockable - leaving you with no choice but to get lucky with where you're standing.

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