Monday, August 31, 2020

The Wonderful 101 Remastered (NSW, PS4, PC) Review

Concluding the month with a new review, The Wonderful Ones arrive once more on SuperPhillip Central as part of The Wonderful 101 Remastered, available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PC. Check out SPC's review of the original Wii U version right here, and then get ready to see how this remaster holds up by comparison.

Diplomacy has failed, but fortunately, this remaster has not.

The original Wonderful 101 came and went on the Wii U with small fanfare and even smaller commercial success. Now, a console generation later, and thanks to Nintendo relinquishing the publishing rights and the original developer Platinum Games taking on the self-publishing duties themselves thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, The Wonderful 101 arrives on new platforms. These platforms include Nintendo's current Switch, but also the PlayStation 4 and PC this time around. With new features and the same old gameplay that the 100 people who played and enjoyed the original Wii U version loved, The Wonderful 101 returns with a vengeance.

When times are at their toughest and Earth is on the brink from some kind of crisis, 100 fabled warriors will unite to take it on together. They are the Wonderful 100, and the story begins with an alien army named GEATHJERK starting to lay siege to Blossom City, home to Mr. Wedgewood--nay, Wonder Red, protector of justice and leader of the Wonderful 100! Amidst the chaos of the alien invasion, Mr. Wedgewood transforms into Wonder Red, and thus the stage is set for Earth's mighty stand against GEATHJERK.

The Won-stoppable Wonderful 100 are here to save the day.
The Wonderful 101 takes players on a high octane thrill ride from beginning to end, with some turbulence along the way when it comes to certain sections. The stakes keep growing and get bigger and bigger with each of the operations, or missions, in the game. Considering that the end of the first or second operation would make for a fantastic final foray and fight for any other game, the fact that Platinum Games kept outdoing itself with these amazing to play and astounding to behold scenarios is something else. But, I'm getting ahead of myself in my excitement, as I am wont to do. While The Wonderful 101 is successful at raising the stakes, raising the action, and making for an impressive sight each and every time, the game doesn't always hit the mark from moment to moment gameplay.

The majority of The Wonderful 101's gameplay takes place with an isometric view of the action with a camera that follows along automatically, separate from the player's control. The only control that you can assume over the camera is zooming in and out, performed by holding down the shoulder buttons. Sometimes it's difficult to see threats this way, which can result and has resulted in cheap hits from faraway enemies in the larger battle areas of the game.

In the game you're controlling the leader with the rest of The Wonderful 100 following closely behind. Using the right analog stick allows you to utilize a mechanic called the Wonder Liner, used not just to interact with the environment, but also to draw symbols that transform your team into one of many forms. Wonder Red's Unite Hand can not only grab handles and other objects in order to interact with them, but inside battle, he can punch foes into oblivion. Meanwhile, Wonder Blue's Unite Sword brings out his trusty Valientum Blade, which can slice and dice foes of all shapes and sizes, as well as serve as a key to unlock specific doors and crates. Each of the main cast members of The Wonderful 100 are able to perform their own Unite Form, allowing players to solve puzzles and take out enemies, many of whom have different weaknesses to different forms. Not all Wonderful Ones arrive on time to the alien invasion (SO unprofessional, by the way), so new Unite Forms unlock as you progress through the game. Thus, you're not overwhelmed with an immense number of Unite Forms to remember all at once that are thrown at you.

The Wonderful Ones unite up to form many weapons, such as this Unite Punch under Wonder Red's leadership.
Though, this leads to my first issue that is specific to this remaster of the game. Drawing shapes with the right analog stick isn't anywhere near as precise as the Wii U version's ability to use that system's touch screen to draw them. There are certain points that occur quite often in missions where you need to draw a shape quickly to become a specific Unite Form in time or risk taking damage and having to retry the short sequence. For things like Unite Hand, which is just drawing a circle, or Unite Sword, which is just a straight line, it's easy enough, but when you get to more complicated shapes like the club-like Unite Hammer and Unite Bomb, it can be mighty frustrating. This is especially so if you're aiming to get the best rank in missions.

Speaking of which, playing like a typical Platinum Games title, players are thrust between missions in levels that are graded based on their performance. In The Wonderful 101, it's based on three criteria: time--how quickly you complete the mission, combo--how high your combo meter gets in a given mission, and damage--how much or (preferably) how little damage you take in a mission. The highest rank is a Pure Platinum, and no doubt you can imagine that going for all Pure Platinums in a level is an imposing challenge. Try doing that on all levels on all five difficulties, and you'll definitely see a lot of longevity and replay value, but you'll also see the cracks in The Wonderful 101's superhero armor.

Each operation ends with a super-climactic boss battle,
and somehow the showdowns and stakes only get crazier and crazier.
Generally, The Wonderful 101 plays well as an action game. Battles are intense, require quick thinking and reflexes, and you can't just button mash your way to victory--at least without feeling a lot of pain. However, when the game tries to do too much and overextend itself outside of the tried and true signature style gameplay it creates, things get messy. Genre shifts are no stranger to Hideki Kamiya-directed games, but in The Wonderful 101, they're just obnoxious. Between on-rails shoot-em-ups, isometric shooters, Punch Out!!-inspired boss battles, among other sequences that don't adhere to what the game is good at doing, it's a shock to the system, and an unwelcome one at that. I get the need to add some variety to the game, but these moments are so out of place and some just outwear any welcome they might have had, that I can't help but hate most of them. A certain underwater shooting section really tested my patience, and if I was one to go for Pure Platinums, it would have made me call an end to that idea right away.

Variety may be the spice of life, but it is more the spice of frustration in The Wonderful 101 Remastered.
When you're in between missions in The Wonderful 101, you're doing a lot of puzzle solving as well as exploration. For the latter, there's plenty to discover, such as extra Wonderful Ones to lasso up with a Wonder Liner to have them join your team, hidden collectibles like figurines, and Wonderful 100 and GEATHJERK files respectively. The puzzles in The Wonderful 101 also add some variety to the game, and these are more welcome than the countless shoot-em-ups and whatnot that would drive prospective Pure Platinum run-goers mad.

The Wii U version of The Wonderful 101 had sections in the game which demanded the use of both the TV screen and the controller screen of the Wii U GamePad. It was one of the more novel uses of the Wii U GamePad, a device that even Nintendo had trouble finding a worthwhile reason for it to exist. Regardless, in The Wonderful 101 Remastered, since there's obviously no way to play on two separate tangible screens at the same time, the developers opted to put both screens on the TV at once. Pressing the Minus button the Nintendo Switch version brings up the second screen (or the old Wii U GamePad version of the screen) at any time in the game, and it places it on the bottom right quadrant of the screen. There, puzzles and sections of the game which required both to be used can be done without too much issue. For instance, there is a poison-filled maze in one mission where you must use the second screen to get a grounds-view of the maze while the TV screen shows it in a less-than-helpful isometric overhead view.

I'm pretty sure bringing out a giant sword is against rugby rules,
but it's 2020 so who the **** knows what's legal anymore.
This time around through The Wonderful 101 with this remastered version, I more carefully inched through levels, looking for hidden goodies throughout levels, and I found myself coming to two conclusions: 1) A lot of the secrets in the game are hidden really well, and 2) This makes the already lengthy levels even longer and more agonizing to play through, especially with no ability to save when you're already in a level. No, once you start a level, you better commit yourself fully to it, no matter how long it takes--and sometimes, it can take quite a while!

The Wonderful 101 Remastered hardly seems like an upgrade from the original Wii U version, at least on the Nintendo Switch version of the game. Then again, I guess calling the game "The Wonderful 101 Ported" wouldn't have the same level of gravitas to it, despite being more accurate. Still, the game looks and run as well as it did on the Wii U, popping with color, impressive effects, maintaining a mostly steady frame-rate despite all of the characters and action on screen at once, and other dazzling displays that take place throughout the 15-hour campaign.

Battles have all the spectacle you've come to expect from the action game masters at Platinum Games.
More than anything else, The Wonderful 101 Remastered is a second chance for Platinum Games' oft overlooked "mass hero" action game to gain an audience. Whether it deserves one is in the eye of the beholder, but for me, even with all of the obnoxious and borderline rage quit-inducing moments that the game supplied me with, a replay on my Nintendo Switch version saw me happy to revisit The Wonderful 100 and save the universe from GEATHJERK once more. It's certainly nowhere near the most accessible and beginner-friendly game out there, but give the game a chance (and a FAQ a look) and you might discover a game that surpasses your expectations. Just don't be surprised if your frustration becomes as big as many of the spectacles, scenarios and showdowns The Wonderful 101 Remastered has to offer!

[SPC Says: B-]

No comments: