I hadn’t heard of The Wonderful 101 until not too long ago. The characters in the gameplay video reminded me of Viewtiful Joe when I watched it, and I thought the idea of having a huge group of super heroes was neat. Being able to recruit all of these super heroes and use them against giant robots sounded awesome, but how was it going to control? Relatively simply, as I found out while playing the demo at PAX East.
You would think that controlling 101 characters would be hard, but you’re in control of the entire mass of them as a group. It gets stronger as you recruit more members to it, but you have lots of options to pull that mass of superheroes into a cohesive group. For starters, pushing the directional button moves the group as a whole. This works well outside of combat, but as the group gets larger they fan out and take up a bigger area, something that brings trouble whenever you’re fighting one of the larger creatures. When this happens you can hit one of the shoulder buttons to either pull yourselves together into a defensive shield or to do this wave move that shoots your group a short distance in the direction you’re pressing. Both of these have very specific applications in combat as only one of those two defensive moves will get you to safety depending on what you’re getting hit with.
How do you get more members to join your ragtag band of heroes? As you go through the city you’ll find people that are in danger from the enemies or something in the landscape. Once you’ve dealt with the problem, you can then circle your crew of heroes around the rescued people and turn them into new heroes. This was a little awkward to do as you have to create a complete circle by using both control sticks, and I had a hard time getting the hang of it. The game is extremely generous in what it will quantify as circling around the rescued people, though, so you don’t have to worry if you really can’t do this. Seriously, my circle looked more like a V that was shaking and I still converted people into heroes. Just the same, it’s totally worth it to get these people joined up so your attacks do more damage.
There are three different attack methods you can select from, as all of the major heroes (the ones that aren’t converted civilians) fall into one of three types. You have a short distance punch that does heavy damage, a sword you can use to hit over a wider arc around you, and a shot. I never got to try out the shot given my propensity to get carried away hitting things with my fists, as the impacts were just so satisfying I couldn’t stop it. Also, seeing groups of little guys forming together into that fist, including a hero with a toilet bowl on his head, was so funny I just couldn’t stop to change my attack type.
The game isn’t just hitting things, though. You can actually take your group of heroes and form them into things like bridges and ladders if you need one. You just go to set points on the map and then you can move your party in a single mass using the right stick. This also came up some times in combat, like during one sequence where I had to form a huge sword. I found the controls were pretty touchy at this point, and I had to be very careful that I pushed the stick straight up or else my sword would come out crooked and I’d fail the event. This also happened when I was trying to build a bridge across a boss’s hands, but it was far less troublesome there.
The game will also have you go inside of the screen on the Wii U’s remote so you can solve some puzzles in there. The one I saw was simple, just giving me clues on what the combination was on a giant lock on the main screen, but it was something new. I found the view was far too close to the character on the controller’s screen, though, so it was a little harder to get around than it probably should be. I’m not exactly in love with this mechanic, but I guess it’ll break up the gameplay.
The final boss of the demo was so big that I was fighting him from on top of one of his hands, and it really added an exciting finish to the demo. The moves I expected to do weren’t any more complicated than they’d been before, but seeing combat presented in this way just made the fight more stressful. Most of what I learned went out the window as I scrambled to hit the monster with my most powerful attacks, chewing through my power meter while I did so. You can fill it up again in a hurry with basic attacks so you’re encouraged to slam away as fast as you can, squeezing in as many hits as you can manage before having to block or dodge. It was an excellent fight, but I was only just starting to run over to the other hand when the demo ended. Still, a good high note to close off on.
The Wonderful 101 looks like it’s presenting some standard brawler mechanics in a new way, giving the player some exciting set piece battles and tying your power into a group instead of a single individual. I’d like to know what other tricks they’ll have in store to make this game more interesting, but I’ll just have to wait until its release like everyone else. So far, though, it looks and plays well.