The Wonderful 101 is not something that everyone will like.
This is a game from excellent developer Platinum, responsible for Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
and Bayonetta [ベヨネッタ]
. It is helmed by Hideki Kamiya, mastermind of Platinum's design philosophies and of Devil May Cry [デビル メイ クライ]
. He's a legend and is one of the video game icons I respect most. I love Bayonetta, Dante, Metal Gear Rising and even Transformers: Devastation
. But I don't love this game.
Let's start with the good: mechanically speaking, this game is pretty excellent. There's no hand-holding here, so most players will not realize this early on. I spent most of the first few missions stumbling around clumsily and taking damage constantly. I'm assuming this will happen to most players. However, at some point, if you play like me, there will be a moment where it finally clicks, and it feels pretty amazing. Everything feels smoother, more stylish, like those classic Platinum/Kamiya games that I mentioned.
This game doesn't play all that much like those games though. You control a crowd; not one character, but a crowd, and you see them from a bird's eye view. It's weird and takes some serious getting used to, but it controls better than it should. You can use various members of the crowd to execute different types of attacks (fists, sword, whip, gun, etc) and can switch between them pretty seamlessly, even stylishly. With an added ability, these transformations can even do damage and up a combo; the crowd, and transforming it at will, becomes an important tool and stops being the annoyance it will likely appear to be at first. Input is very responsive, which is shocking when you're controlling this many people. Recruiting new people is rewarding and satisfying, and there's no feeling better than approaching a boss door with a crowd of hundreds. Again, mechanically, this game is pretty much fantastic, and is even one of the best Platinum games. If that sounds like enough for you, try it out. It's good in that department.
It's missing everything else.
If Bayonetta had all of its same mechanics, but was missing the style and flair of the cutscenes, characters and settings, it would, in my opinion, be a much worse game. It wouldn't be a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, but I don't think I would like it as much. The same goes for Devil May Cry; without the attitude, that game loses some of its charm. Thankfully, in those games, there is charm aplenty; personality overflows from those games, helping to make them as iconic as they are. The Wonderful 101 really doesn't have that. The characters are generic and forgettable at best, and annoying and obnoxious at worst. The cutscenes are long and pointless, and the plot is so forgettable that, after I turned off the game five minutes prior to writing this review, I've already forgotten what it was about. The dialogue is cheesy and annoying. The settings, partially due to the viewpoint, all feel like reskins of each other, so the sense of wonder and exploration of all of those games I keep hammering on about is lost. Some people talk about games having style over substance; I think both are almost mandatory to a great experience.
You don't have to agree with me. If all of that sounds like nitpicking at an excellent game, that's fine. The mechanics really are pretty fantastic. However, most of the missions feel pretty similar to each other; there aren't that many different types of enemies, so you'll master every encounter long before you see it for the last time. The bosses are largely unmemorable, with a few exceptions. I was starting to get bored of the game about halfway through, and there was little left to change my mind.
Also, the load times are horrific and inexcusable for a game like this. I don't know enough about the technical side of video games to really explain why they're so bad, but they take forever.
Lastly, there are so many
gimmick missions in this game. Like, an obscene amount. This seems to be something Platinum likes doing, but I don't. Some of them are inoffensive. Some of them are horrible. None of them are great.
All things considered, I think this is about halfway to being a masterpiece. They figured out the gameplay, but not everything else.