When we saw The Wonderful 101 at last year's San Diego Comic-Con, it was a single-player game at a very early stage. It even had the temporary name of Project P-100. Even then, players could tell that the game's far-out concept of gathering average citizens and turning them into super-powered humans who could also transform into energy-based weapons (similar to the Green Lantern's ring powers) was going to be a fun romp. This year, we saw the game in a much more polished state, and it even has multiplayer to go along with the craziness.
The multiplayer plays similarly to the single-player mode but has its own set of levels as opposed to being an alternative method to playing the campaign. Unlike the single-player levels, the multiplayer stages are more self-contained areas where you and your crew face off against waves of enemies, sometimes with a boss fight at the end. Though the presence of up to five players should make the endeavor easier, it is balanced by the fact that the death of one player results in the game ending for all players. This provides some real co-op as opposed to hoping that the strongest player on the team can carry fallen players to the finish line.
The premise of multiplayer remains the same as the single-player in that you take control of a group of heroes. With up to five players playing simultaneously, each hero gets a group of people to use as weaponry. Just like the solo game, the more people you have in your group, the more powerful your created weaponry becomes. Thus, multiplayer is a hybrid competitive and cooperative mode since you're all working to defeat the enemies while trying to convert more citizens and get the highest score in the level.
In practice, the mode works quite well. Though the camera pans out far enough for everyone to be seen, it doesn't pan out so far that you can easily lose your party. The frame rate holds up despite the presence of so many characters on-screen, and the graphics don't look like they've taken a hit in fidelity. More importantly, the game remains fun with so many people involved. The players in our group had fun beating up on the bad guys, but they were having more fun discovering all of the weapons they could conjure, including a few that the presenter didn't tell us about. Despite the chaotic nature of the gameplay, it felt like a natural evolution of beat-'em-up titles, and judging by the small sampling at the event, this could be the next go-to multiplayer game for the system.
At our demo station, we had one Wii U GamePad and 4 Wii U Pro Controllers, which allowed the use of the right analog stick for drawing shapes in lieu of the GamePad touch-screen. Using the Pro Controller worked great and felt quite natural, with a minimal learning curve. However, the representative didn't know whether or not the Wii Remote/Nunchuk scheme would also be supported. While it might be cumbersome to use in the long run, especially with the presence of on-screen pointers on an already chaotic screen, it is important to know for those who are looking for a multiplayer title for the Wii U. With so few Wii U games supporting the Controller from a multiplayer standpoint, the potential investment to enjoy this mode could be larger than expected.
The Wonderful 101 is set for release in late August in Australia, Europe and Japan, and it'll hit North American shelves in mid-September.
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