Today sees the not-exactly-long-awaited release of The Wonderful 101 Remastered, following a Kickstarter campaign that concluded less than three months ago. The game is already good to go across the Nintendo Switch, PC, and PS4, suggesting that the crowdfunding effort may not have been strictly necessary. But no matter: the release of a lost cult classic to a wider audience is cause for celebration. Right?
In many ways, yeah. I do like this game a lot. But I can’t help feeling that The Wonderful 101 Remastered doesn’t quite do all it could to get more people on board. This game wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea even among Wii U owners who played it, and it remains uncompromising in remastered form.
The Wonderful 101 is the work of PlatinumGames, the studio behind games like Bayonetta, Metal Gear Rising, and Astral Chain, and it has a typically intricate combat system. Stylistically, it also harkens back to director Hideki Kamiya and producer Atsushi Inaba’s work on Viewtiful Joe back in the GameCube days, with colorful visuals and superdeformed superheroes. All of this sounds like the perfect formula for a classic Platinum character action game.
That’s not really how The Wonderful 101 plays out. Most of the game happens from a zoomed-out perspective, with your character leading an army of dozens of heroes. With touchscreen gestures or right-stick actions, you can command these allies to come together for powerful “unite morph” abilities. The game looks more like Pikmin than Bayonetta at a distance. But make no mistake: The Wonderful 101 is as deep an action game as any Platinum has ever released. This is a game that constantly keeps you on your toes and makes you think about the best strategy to defeat each enemy.
“The Wonderful 101 is a game that unfortunately didn’t reach the audience we hoped, so it’s always been a title that we wanted to revisit at some point in time,” Inaba told me last year. “Compared to other Platinum games I feel that The Wonderful 101 is one of the more unique titles that we have in our library,” Kamiya added. “It’s a little harder to identify than say, Bayonetta as a character action game. So I’m very interested in saying to people ‘hey, please try out this unique game that we love as a company that we have confidence in.’”
The remaster is clearly a passion project for Platinum, which, understandably, wants to give the game another shot at success. The Wonderful 101 is the studio’s most unusual release, however, and it still doesn’t do a great job of explaining its countless oddball mechanics. Being on the Wii U can’t have helped, but I’m not sure The Wonderful 101 is that much easier a sell on other platforms today.
Part of the issue with The Wonderful 101 Remastered is that the original game was one of the few games tailored specifically for the Wii U, Nintendo’s failed Switch predecessor. Most developers made use of the Wii U’s tablet-style GamePad controller simply by letting you play through games entirely on the touchscreen, but Platinum used it for attack inputs, radar information, and occasional sequences with different camera angles. In Remastered, this is all handled with a picture-in-picture option, and you can also display both virtual screens side by side. It works well enough, and the controls were arguably better with analog stick input in the first place, but the solution does give you the sense that you’re playing a slightly compromised product.
Compounding the issue for me, at least, is the fact that I’ve been playing The Wonderful 101 Remastered on a Switch Lite, which is very much a double-edged sword. On one hand, it’s probably the closest you’ll get to the Wii U version because you can still use the touchscreen, and the picture-in-picture feature even works with pinch-to-zoom gestures. It also looks good; it appears to be a straight port in terms of assets, but it runs at a native 720p and mostly sticks to 60fps. But the zoomed-out camera doesn’t work well on a 5.5-inch screen. The Wonderful 101 is a chaotic game that can be hard to read even on a TV screen, and it does not scale down elegantly to something the size of a phone. Conversely, the Wii U-era visuals probably don’t hold up as well on a 4K TV.
I really like The Wonderful 101 as a game, so I’m glad it won’t be trapped on the Wii U forever. It’s one of Platinum’s most inventive works, and I bet there are a ton of people who like the studio’s games but were never able to play this one. I just wonder if there was more that could’ve been done to tighten up the experience and make it more accessible. The deeper mechanics remain opaque, and the interface hasn’t been tweaked enough to make the game feel like a natural fit for hardware less weird than the Wii U.
If you’re into other Platinum games or character action games, in general, it’s definitely worth checking out The Wonderful 101. There’s really nothing like it. It’s a truly unique game with a strong sense of style and confidence. I would heartily recommend it to anyone who dug Astral Chain. But just know that it’s very much an acquired taste, and you shouldn’t expect the remaster polish to change much in that regard.
The Wonderful 101 Remastered is out today on the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Steam.