[This is the second feature article by the forum's head moderator, Matt Costello. If you missed the first one, check why Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft Have You in the Palms of their Hands.]
You Blink, You Miss It
Why is the The Wonderful 101 so underrated? The Wonderful 101 is one of those games that only comes along once in a blue moon, and if you blink you miss it. Other big-budget games will come around and steal away the focus, before you ever had the privilege of coming into contact with the latest Hideki Kamiya masterpiece. I see a lot of Wii U owners out there blinking right now. What caused them to react like this to a game that was pretty well known to the Nintendo community and had been hyped for over a year?
There are a slew of factors around this game that all morphed into an un-Wonderful 101 debut. The demo, poor review scores, word of mouth across forums about a steep learning curve, lack of marketing, and most of all: People who have played the game have a hard time articulating exactly what it is and what makes the game so incredible. All these things combined put The Wonderful 101 behind the 8-ball, so to speak, and could end up up burying one of the greatest games you never took the chance to play. You’re a real gamer, though, with an appreciation for underrated gems, right? Let’s give it a shot and see.
Avoid the Demo!
Initially, I decided not to take the plunge on the demo after word got around about it feeling awkward — I thought it might be a bad representation of the complete product. I had a warning intuition that trying it in its demo form would turn me off and I’d never get to experience how it was really meant to be played. The exact same thing happened to Monster Hunter 3 U, which I came into raw, as a newbie to the series, but learned the ropes and transformed into a Monster Hunter lover. Many of the guys I game with urged me not to try the Monster Hunter 3 U demo as they deemed it “just for vets of the game to get hyped for this one”. It was not for starters so I held off. Determined to put my money were my mouth was, I bought Monster Hunter 3 U on day one of its release and made myself learn it from scratch together with my novice friends online. It was the right move.
Broken Controls vs Challenging Controls
The exact same thing happened again to me with the demo of TW101. I was not going to be turned off by a demo so I bought the game blindly and forced myself learn the game from scratch. On both purchases I’m glad that I bit the bullet. Being from the old school, NES-difficulty era of gaming I know that broken controls are not the same thing as a really tough challenge. Broken controls can ruin a game. A truly hard game is different. All you need is patience, and if the controls are spot on, you can master it. This is the case for The Wonderful 101. The controls aren’t broken at all. They’re just difficult to master. But if you’re up for a challenge, this is a game you’ll be wild about.
Can younger gamers appreciate such a game anymore?
The word of mouth about the learning curve spread like wildfire across Nintendo forums far and wide. To quote a forum member here at TNE, LightSaberBlues wrote: “The whole idea of a learning curve is completely lost on gamers these days simply because this industry has been holding their hand for so many years that they only know that as normal.To them, TW101 is about as abnormal as it gets.” The Wonderful 101 is so old school that in a certain sense no new game of recent times has tried to create a game quite like it. Its learning curve isn’t “steep” per say because it doesn’t get ridiculously complex. However, it does take some time to work with and master the basic mechanics that make the game so fun. I knew the game was different from the minute I booted it up. So what I did was put the difficulty down to normal (which is quite unusual for me) and played the first level over and over 5 times until I felt like I had a good enough grasp on the controls to get me by for a bit. Although that investment into mastering controls comes very naturally to me, having lived in an era where you had to play a game for a few hours to piece together how to get by, I’m saddened that there are fewer and fewer younger “gamers” out there willing to do such a thing these days. I have played many games where you are pretty powerful from the get-go and the game doesn’t offer you very much as you progress your way through. In The Wonderful 101 you continue to learn new moves and combos all the way up to the very last level. It’s truly fantastic to feel that type of progression again. Almost as if you are moving towards becoming worthy of fighting the final boss, rather than being ready to fight the final boss from the outset.
An honest review, anyone?
And then we come to the poor review scores. I have very harsh opinions on many of the reviewers out there reviewing TW101, to be honest. It makes me question how they got the position they are at in the first place. For this job, don’t you have to be a gamer first, journalist second? The reason I had this question is due to the game being so unreal, I don’t see how anyone who calls themselves a “gamer” and “reviewer” is worth their salt if they don’t find the quality hidden behind a mastery of the controls. It baffles me. There was only one review I trusted on the web, and yes it was written on this site by my good friend and forum member, Michael Nelson. [Check out his superb The Wonderful 101 Review.] Weeks before the review came out, every time I went onto my Wii U it showed he was playing The Wonderful 101. He poured 100+ hours into the game. I know because I saw it. And I talked to him about it all the time. It’s disheartening to see – there are reviewers on a few other sites where their reviews read as if they didn’t even play the game but didn’t hesitate to slap on a low number to the review score and go about their day. It was one of the biggest discrepancies in points I have ever seen in game reviews. The lowest that I came across was 2/10 and the highest I witnessed was 9.5/10… yeah, that’s how I reacted as well. As the awful scores poured in, more and more people were swayed away from the game, and many honest gamers even challenged reviewers– only to be met with silence.
An Eclectic Combination of Gameplay Genres and Styles
My last factor falls on me too as a responsibility, as I still have not been able to properly describe The Wonderful 101 in any way, shape, or form to anyone. It’s one of those games where you have to play it to get it. It is a “failure to define”. When a fellow gamer asks you “What kinda game is W101?”, what do you say? Is it a brawler? Well, yeah… but it’s also part Viewtiful Joe, part Bayonetta, part Okami, part Star Fox, part Punch-Out, part Final Fight, part Pikmin, part Resident Evil 4 (QTE), and part Tekken. You blend all that together and you have The Wonderful 101. How did it come together so seamlessly with so much being brought over from so many other games? I don’t have a clue. There is not a word grand enough or all encompassing enough to contain that which is The Wonderful 101. Even more-so, it isn’t limited or constrained by any single genre. Which is why we can’t describe it. It doesn’t fall into a traditional mold or category. It does everything so different. If you haven’t played it try it! Then come back and tell me you have a word that describes is (besides Wonderful, which it is, also).
Sheer Heart Attack
I will challenge you right here, right now. Here’s what we’ll do: If you haven’t played The Wonderful 101, go out and get it now (its been slashed to $29.99, which is a tragedy.) Then after you have completed it to the very end, come back here and tell me that I’m totally wrong. Tell me that you have figured out an all-encompassing way to describe the unreal insanity that is Platinum’s most amazing game, in my opinion. We should be ashamed at ourselves that it has gone so underrated in the industry, especially when the Wii U so badly needs excellent third party games. It has gone under-played, under-enjoyed, under-priced, and under-appreciated. I hope this little piece encourages you that this game is well worth anything you have to give up to get it. For me this is not hyperbole, it is sincere unbridled passion for a game that I love. Some of our forum members went out and bought it on our recommendation here recently and have come back positively glowing. We all tried to describe the game. It was pretty funny and interesting to see some of the quotes that resulted:
“In three words: Sheer Heart Attack.”
“Maximum the Hormone.”
“It reminds me of every great Dreamcast game I ever played. It’s that good. Yes, that good.”
LightsaberBlues also said “I’m almost convinced that gamers these days don’t even deserve a game like W101″. He’s wrong though, because some of us do. As long as we can think for ourselves, when we see a master like Hideki Kamiya create a new IP, we have to be willing to go out and give it a shot without being swayed by what the popular media and casual gamers say.
If you’re already a fan of The Wonderful 101, tell us about your experience in the comments below. And if you haven’t played it yet, are you brave enough to go out and purchase a copy of The Wonderful 101?