The Wonderful 101 is constantly breaking the 4th wall. Characters speak directly to the player, comment on the immense cheese that is the dialogue, openly ponder their mortality – it’s very reminiscent of Looney Toons.
But the highest level of packed in metafiction has to do with Nintendo itself: 101 is exactly the hero the Wii U needed to swoop in and save the day. In the face of disappointing console sales and limited software selection, a new exclusive IP was precisely what Nintendo needed to keep its console on life support.
More importantly, the game itself naturally fits into the Nintendo crowd. It’s full of kooky nonsense, makes fantastic use of the Wii U pad, and has a bright comic book aesthetic. Hell, Nintendo even gets a pre-packaged Super Smash Bros Character out of it.
Wonderful 101 is challenging in exactly the same vein of Bayonetta and Viewtiful Joe. There’s a constant barrage of colorful attacks being thrown at the player, plus a lot of stuff flying around the screen between alien enemies and citizen allies.
Platinum also challenges the player to navigate the learning curve themselves. There’s an internal logic to the attack/counter system: spray attacks are blocked by the wide hand, beam type attacks are reflected with the sword, the springy fruitcake bounces physical attacks, etc. The game routinely hurls different flavors of these damage types at the Ones and expects them to defend accordingly.
But 101 adds another layer of challenge by expanding the character’s hitbox with his human allies. Health is only lost when Wonder-[Color] gets hit, and the citizen army can never be killed. They are stunned upon attack though, which is often impossible to avoid when the screen is littered with foes. The spandex commander can wait for the timed stun to expire or streak past them to revive his comrades, ala Pikmin.
There’s an added test unique for this genre – operate as one holistic mass or risk lacking the necessary citizens to make giant swords or hold block as long. It’s an inversion of the usual risk = reward formula that fuels games like Bayonetta and Devil May Cry, since there’s no inherent advantage to dodging at the last second as with Witch Time or Parrying.
You the player are the ineluctable One to top off the one, double-oh. It’s one of many clever nods to the game-ness of Platinum’s title, the indifference paid to the current trend of cinematic immersion outside of the video game world.
It proves that Hideki and Nintendo were made for each other: both believe that core gaming concepts can carry a title’s playability and enhance its charm without resorting to ‘ancillary’ features like social media or cross platform tie-ins.
Except that 101 is not selling well, partially because the Wii U has not sold well. Their last cross platform game, Anarchy Reigns, didn’t do so hot either. Beyond the Wii U exclusive Bayonetta 2, they haven’t announced any other game to be currently in development.
As glorious as the Wonderful 101 is, shacking up with the Wii U is a dangerous path to follow for the small studio.