It's hard to understand the experience of playing Platinum Games' The Wonderful 101 unless you've actually gotten your hands on it. Even after watching numerous videos and researching the game, it wasn’t until a GamePad was pressed into my hands at a Wii U demo event that I began to understand that Platinum has something really special on its hands.
The Wonderful 101 has all the aspects of a surprise hit game. Its superhero theme and over-the-top humor appeal to gamers of all ages. The colorful Gethjerk aliens provide much-needed enemy diversity in a game industry that's been inundated by zombies, zombies, enemy combatants in camouflage, and more zombies. Its main concept, of a huge squad of heroes that bands together to create oversized weapons and tools, is both novel and flexible. It allows players to use strategy against foes, traverse environmental obstacles, and solve puzzles.
Most importantly, though, the game is an absolute blast to play. Game writers are doing it a disservice by comparing it to Pikmin, which gives gamers the image of a laid-back strategic experience. In reality, the action in The Wonderful 101 is fast, fluid, and satisfying—and that's even before advanced mechanics like special attacks and combinations become available. The Wonderful 101 encourages players to race around its levels and defeat enemies as swiftly and elegantly as they can, offering the kind of rush that only a well-designed action game can provide.
We love games that pay attention to the details, and great care seems to have been taken in The Wonderful 101's design and presentation. It has levels that are carefully laid out to provide specific kinds of challenges and add entertainment value to the game. One early level has a giant water slide as a centerpiece, and it's amusing just to watch the squad of heroes pile on and slide down. The game's humor also comes across in the details, from its heroes that transform from ordinary people into flamboyant, costumed versions of themselves to its Redshirts (yes, they actually wear red shirts) whose clothes pop off when they're smacked around by the Gethjerk.
Having seen and played only a portion of what the full game has to offer, I already feel confident that The Wonderful 101 is a unique game that a large number of people would greatly enjoy. It deserves to be a system-seller for the Wii U. Unfortunately, the deck is stacked against this game, and through not fault of its own, I fear it won't reach the success it should have.
The launch of Pikmin 3 ended the Wii U's long post-launch dry spell. The Wonderful 101 follows Pikmin 3 and Rayman Legends as the third big game to hit the Wii U this late-summer season, and Nintendo's rusty marketing wheels are finally turning again. Unfortunately, Nintendo doesn't seem to understand just how much effort it needs to make in order to sell gamers not only these software titles, but the Wii U units needed to play them.
The Wondeful 101 easily sells itself once people are able to play it, but not enough people (particularly in North America) own Wii U units for that to happen organically. To rectify this, Nintendo needs to do everything it can to physically put GamePads into the hands of people who haven't already bought a Wii U. We need to see aggressive Wii U tours in malls and city centers. The Wonderful 101 should be a part of these tours, not because it makes particularly impressive use of the GamePad, but simply because it's a fun game that is easy to pick up and is only available on the system.
The Wonderful 101 suffers from the same problem faced by the Wii U itself. It's hard to see the full appeal of the game without personally playing it, just as it's difficult to understand what's special about the Wii U without spending some quality time with the GamePad and the Miiverse. With both game and hardware, it's all about the full experience, and we can only hope that more people will have a chance to experience both over the next couple of months.