In the world of The Wonderful 101, the recently remastered and re-released action-adventure game that originally launched in 2013 for the Nintendo Wii U, the planet’s best line of defence against an invading army of aliens is a massive squad of sentai-like superheroes who, in addition to having a variety of powers, are able to combine together to form humongous weapons and gadgets.
In typical sentai fashion, the Wonderful Ones are led by a red-themed hero (Wonder Red) who, in his civilian life, is known to the world as a mild-mannered teacher with a deep love for his students, and truly, all young people. But rather than solely focussing on Wonder Red and framing him as the most skilled of the Wonderful Ones, The Wonderful 101 stresses that each and every single one of the heroes has the potential to be an effective hero capable of saving the world.
Something that also makes The Wonderful 101's gameplay so interesting is that as the proper superheroes traverse the world busting baddies, on more than a few occasions, the heroes lend some of their power to civilians, briefly transforming them into a domino masked support squad of sorts. That’s part of how the Wonderful Ones inspire hope in the public: by making sure that everyone knows the time may come when they can get in on the action and do their part to help keep the forces of evil in check.
A big part of what makes The Wonderful 101's depiction of the world feel like a thoughtful approach to aping the hallmarks of sentai stories is how no two of the Wonderful Ones are exactly alike. The heroes come from a whole host of different countries and there’s a solid mix of people on the team of all different ages. While the game’s core team of Wonderful Ones’ themes all focus on specific colours, the bulk of them have more novel motifs like Wonder-Voodoo, who hails from Haiti, and Wonder-Lunch, a Brazilian home cook who fights with a unique claw weapon.
The deeper you get into the game, The Wonderful 101 begins to hammer home that beyond just being an international coalition of costumed heroes backed by the United Nations, the Wonderful Ones embody the concept of community. When they aren’t running around saving trains from literally flying off the rails, a number of them find fulfilment volunteering, working as teachers and doing everything they can to give back.
Like any sentai tale worth its salt, The Wonderful 101 ultimately ends up emphasising that seeking revenge for perceived wrongs almost invariably leads to the warping of one’s emotions. It’s something that happens to Luka, a troubled school child who initially has intensely negative feelings toward the Wonderful Ones. In not being able to verbalise the grief he feels over having lost his mother, Luka’s heart turns cold and it’s only by opening up that he’s able to fully embrace his natural borne inclination towards heroism. (There is, of course, a narrative twist to the invading aliens’ motivations, revealed in a moment that’s worth experiencing firsthand if you aren’t familiar with how the story plays out.)
Frantic and ridiculous as The Wonderful 101 is, from the moment you begin playing right up until the ending credits roll, it’s also just utterly delightful and a joy to work your way through. It’s what made the game so strong when it was first released, and it’s what’s likely going to make it a valued part of any gamer’s free time if they give it a try now.
Featured image: PlatinumGames