The Wonderful 101 is Nintendo’s wonderful September surprise

, | Games

There’s nothing quite like getting blindsided by a new release. The Wonderful 101 is the latest from Platinum Games, the folks who made Bayonetta, Vanquish, and that weird recent Metal Gear game where the albino cyborg slices up watermelons and whatnot. Wonderful 101, which comes out in North America on September 15, is exclusive to the Wii U for some very particular control reasons, including using the touchscreen for gesture controls, playing interior areas on the gamepad while you watch what’s happening outdoors on the big screen, and five-player coop where everyone else has to waggle a Wiimote. You do have a Wii U, right?

After the jump, the best reason since Lego City Undercover for a Wii U

The premise of Wonderful 101 is that there are 100 superheroes protecting the world from alien attacks (you, the player, are the eponymous 101st). A level starts with a handful of the superheroes assembled, including a few with unique powers. You’ll find and recruit more as you play the level. Most of the superheroes, and various helpful citizens recruited along the way, tag along like pikmin. You can send them out to brawl individually, like pikmin. But the best use of your posse is to unite them into various morph forms invoked by drawing gestures, either on the touchscreen or with the right analog stick. Remember Okami? It’s like that. Each morph form is associated with a different superhero. By the second level, Wonder Red can assemble everyone into a fist, Wonder Blue can assemble everyone into a sword, and Wonder Green can assemble everyone into a gun. The size and power of the weapon is based on how many superheroes you use. Furthermore, these forms can be upgraded and augmented over the course of the game by collecting resources. The forms are also crucial to getting around the levels, including finding certain secret areas, unlocking special moves, and changing the levels. Again, remember Okami? Wonderful 101 sure does.

But the foundation of the game is combat, working out the timing and positioning for each morph form, using your superheroes effectively, dodging, parrying, running away, finessing the controls. Sometimes the superheroes get knocked out and need rescuing, but this isn’t a babysitting game. They’ll eventually get up and rejoin you. You’re never losing superheroes the way you lose pikmin. Instead, you have a health bar that needs to last you for the entire level, which can consist of ten or so encounters and even some cinematic QTE sequences. Oh, quit groaning. There’s no harm in QTes that are done well. These are done well. There’s scoring at the end. You like scoring, right? I sure do. Well, I will when I get good enough to score anything other than the consolation prize.

To finish a level, you can either be good at the game, or you can drink noodle soup to heal up, or you can rely on these crazy giant bombs dropped by your helicarrier base, but for a penalty to your score. Sometimes you need artillery, right? You can craft noodle soup on the fly by gathering space eggplants, space peppers, and space carrots. Of course, if you’re using all your space vegetables on noodle soup, you can’t use them on the various other consumables and upgrades. Maybe you should farm an earlier level to build up your stock of vegetables. Go ahead, you need the practice. Plus, it can’t hurt to have more money to spend on upgrades. It’s a lot like the character progression and crafting in Bayonetta. In fact, the combat is a lot like Bayonetta. I barely scraped by what seemed like an impossible boss fight, hoping I’d never have to fight that guy again. Sure enough, along came two of that guy. It seemed like Wonderful 101 was going to come screeching to a halt. I could barely beat one of them! How was I going to beat two? By discovering a very specific weakness, at which point I was one-shotting what had previously been bosses. I didn’t do this by grinding. I did this by playing smart and figuring out something the game didn’t tell me. This is no kid’s game. Again, I’m reminded of Bayonetta, or even God Hand. It’s not reflexes, it’s not grinding. It’s mastering the system.

Wonderful 101 features the clean Tokyo lines, the polished candy color, the easy cheer, and the too big heads of Viewtiful Joe, shrunk down into a pikmin-sized tilt-shift world. The Viewtiful Joe similarities make sense, given director Hideki Kamiya and producer Atsushi Inaba made Wonderful 101 and Viewtiful Joe. The other similarities make sense since they made Okami and Bayonetta. The connections even go back to God Hand. This is the creative strand of precious DNA running from one corner of Capcom, to Clover Studios, and now to Platinum Games. Despite the visual similarity and tiny swarming characters of Pikmin, Wonderful 101 isn’t a game for Pikmin fans; it’s a game for fans of Bayonetta, Viewtiful Joe, and Okami. Mark September 15th on your calendars.