Saturday, September 21, 2013

Impressions of The Wonderful 101 demo

Less than a half-hour ago, I finished playing the demo for The Wonderful 101, Platinum Game’s first big exclusive title for the Wii U. While I’ve been really excited at the prospect of Platinum Games developing exclusive titles for Nintendo’s new system, The Wonderful 101 was a title I was very much on the fence about purchasing. It certainly looked interesting, but as a sort of odd combination of Pikmin-style squad command and top-down arcade play, I was concerned as to how the gameplay mechanics would ultimately be implemented. Now that I’ve finished the demo, I can honestly say that I’m no closer to making a decision on whether or not to purchase the full retail release.

To begin with the positive elements of The Wonderful 101, the game looks gorgeous. There’s a ton of detail put into school signs, billboards, business names, while houses and cars see a decent degree of variation. The chrome on your team’s friendly robot companion shines brilliantly, and the colors of the various hero characters as well as their weaponry pop against the backdrop of the city. The soundtrack is very much a throwback to action-packed Saturday morning cartoons and old anime works – equal parts cheesy and endearing.

The story portion of the demo only grants you full access to three main characters, though you can round up more temporary members like citizens and police officers to increase your team’s offensive and defensive strength. Wonderize Red is the character the demo will push you to use most frequently, as his giant fist is effectively the ‘vanilla’ basic weapon that doubles as a means to open doors and boxes. Wonderize Green is best used against slow enemies, as his firearms can deal a decent rate of damage from a safe distance. Wonderize Blue is the character I had the most fun with, as his wide and fast swings of his sword are most befitting an action game and prove very useful in taking out large groups of small foes that seek to surround your team.

Where the demo really fumbles is in its block mechanic. Holding the left trigger button collects your team together in the shape of a giant dessert gelatin, which can be used to deflect cannon fire and stun foes who might attempt to rush you with a heavy punch. The problem is that the block move only holds for about two seconds, meaning that putting it up too late will result in an enemy stomping through your ranks and scattering your teammates, and putting the gelatin shield up too late will result in the same outcome. While the other weapons rely on the power of batteries collected throughout each mission, the gelatin does not, and there is seemingly no way to extend the span of time it will hold for (at least in the demo – I would hope that the full game would allow for upgrades to abilities).

The enemy designs all seem to follow a similar school of design, which is good in the sense that they appear to have the same alien and robotic origins, but a bit of a downside in the sense that they all bear white, grey, and black bodies, with varying degrees of colored patterns or tubing. There are a few puzzle elements worked in, though nothing to the complexity of a Zelda title. Turning a series of wheels the right number of rotations so that the numbers their respective meters display is a brief but simple distraction, befitting of a game that is meant to appeal to both younger gamers and older veterans of the action genre.

And when it boils down to it, everything presented in the demo, from the story portion to the challenge mode, feels like an action game in the purest sense. Sure, you have many small characters under your command, but keeping track of all of them is a cinch. In the event that your team is scattered by attacking enemies, small yellow stars will appear over their heads to indicate that they are dizzy. When at full strength, the lead character will always be the one the camera follows, a glowing circle designating them as the current squad commander. Losing health is not much of a concern unless your team becomes scattered, and while I never came close to encountering a ‘game over’ screen during my playthrough of the demo’s two modes, I did find some of the more powerful enemies had a tendency to pile on one attack after another, leading my team to become scattered not seconds after I had regrouped them. It was incredibly frustrating at times, considering I was trying to follow the demo’s instructions and defend myself, but often there simply wasn’t enough time between one attack to the next for me regroup, shift my attention to the enemies, and time my block.

I really want the Wii U to succeed as a console, and as it currently stands, it certainly has a leg-up on the competition. Based on what I’ve seen of the PS4 and Xbox One promos, I still feel like the Wii U is the best console option for me (hence the reason that I purchased it and have zero intention of buying either of the other two eighth-generation home consoles). I also think Platinum has a lot of potential to be to the Wii U what Rare was to the N64, and I’d love to support more exclusive titles for the console (ZombiU was a grand slam, I felt). But I think that I really need to experience more of The Wonderful 101 hands-on, because the demo was actually a bit different than what I expected. That said, I do recognize that the demo presents but a snippet of what the full game has to offer, and for that reason I’d like to do some more digging into this before I make a final call on whether or not I want to add The Wonderful 101 to my video game library.

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