The secret ingredients of The Wonderful 101

by Gabriel Turcotte-Dubé

The Wonderful 101 is a title that flew under the radar of most gamers last year. Even those who looked at screenshots or videos often had trouble figuring out what kind of game it was. Is it a strategy game or a beat ‘em up? A simple, kid-friendly game, or a super-hardcore one?

Don’t worry! Here at 4CR we studied these questions for you. Through some complex reverse-engineering processes, we managed to identify all the elements constituting the game’s design. In doing so we made a shocking discovery: Hideki Kamiya, the game’s designer, recycled a lot of ingredients from his previous games! See for yourself with this ingredients list we compiled, exclusively on 4 Color Rebellion.

1. The gameplay of Devil May Cry and Bayonetta

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Even if it might not look like it at first sight, The Wonderful 101 is very close mechanically to two of Kamiya’s most popular games: Devil May Cry and Bayonetta. Like in those two games, the focus is on fast 3D combat with complex combos, a mix of melee and long-range weapons, and last-minute dodges. The game systems are also a lot deeper than what the colorful and cartoony aesthetic might suggest. Even some of the more advanced concepts from Bayonetta are brought over, like the “dodge offset” which allows you to continue a combo even if you use a dodge in-between two attacks.

Of course, the game is still accessible to newcomers to the genre (…if they choose the easier difficulties), but action game fanatics should feel right at home and manage to pull off impressive moves, as seen in some of the way too rare “expert” videos for the game.

2. The style of Viewtiful Joe

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This one is the most obvious if you’re familiar with Hideki Kamiya’s previous creations. The theme is the same across both games: an homage/parody of classic “Sentai” superheroes shows that were extremely popular in Japan.

A few winks are directed at Viewtiful Joe fans through the game, like the way the main character closes his mask just before a boss fight, or a Joe lookalike called “Poseman” as a hidden character.

The final game’s visual style is similar to Viewtiful Joe’s, but the resemblance was even more striking in the prototype before Nintendo asked for some changes.

3. The main mechanic of Okami

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The main gameplay twist in The Wonderful 101 is that you control an army of superheroes and can draw shapes to make these heroes “unite up” and create huge objects. These can be weapons that you use in combat (swords, whips, bombs…) or items that you use to progress (bridges to cross gaps, gliders to fly, ladders to climb…).

Drawing to attack and solve environmental puzzles should remind you of another game. Okami, another Hideki Kamiya game where using a paintbrush to make drawings come to life was the main mechanic.

And again, there’s a reference for Okami fans in The Wonderful 101: you can circle dead plants to bring them back to life!

 

4. Extracts of classic Nintendo games

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Note: The next paragraph contain a bunch of spoilers, so read it at your own risk if you plan to play the game!

It’s no secret that Hideki Kamiya is a big fan of the 8-bit and 16-bit era of gaming. As a result, there’s often throwbacks to these games in his productions. The most obvious reference is a boss fight where the Wonderful Ones are piloting a huge robot fighting another robot in a boxing match. This segment plays almost exactly like Nintendo’s Punch-Out!! series. The last chapter of the game, where you’re piloting a robot through space, is also similar to Starfox. It wouldn’t be surprising that the space shooting series inspired Kamiya, as he expressed a few times his interest in creating a new Starfox game. You also visit a lost kingdom called “Lowrule” where you can cut grass and need to light torches to open doors… And that’s not even mentioning the final boss that look strikingly similar to Mother Brain from Metroid!

END OF SPOILERS!

It was revealed that The Wonderful 101 was originally conceived as a game featuring various Nintendo characters, à la Smash Bros. The characters were changed when Nintendo turned down the idea. Still, it’s possible to see some remains of that concept in the final product. The sword morph could have been Link’s attack, the fire-throwing hand for Mario, the whip could have been Zero Suit Samus.

5. A dash of Pikmin?

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A common description for The Wonderful 101 is that it’s “Pikmin with superheroes”. After some times with the game, it’s obvious that the similarities to Nintendo’s cute strategy games are only superficial. While the management of a big crowd of characters is a common gameplay element across both games, almost everything else is different. The fast action of The Wonderful 101 has little to do with the resource management and strategic aspects of Pikmin.

In fact, Hideki Kamiya once mentioned in an interview that he never even played any game in the Pikmin series, so the similarities are purely coincidental.

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