The opening of The Wonderful 101 is presided over by a classically dry narrator who has no qualms with stopping the action to deliver a soliloquy. But during these brief moments of pause, the characters are forced to remain in place like a battalion of mimes. Muscle cramps, reactions to the narration, and forgetting their place in formation makes these moments of exposition genuinely funny and much appreciated. It displays a very different form of humor than the written genius of a Double Fine game or the slapstick physical bits of Octodad, but it’s effective nonetheless.
We’ve already focused on the nuances of 101's combat and strategy, but the thing that stood out to me was the care given to character and environmental animations that are so very easy to miss. Everything is over-exaggerated with the vaudevillian flair of a Merrie Melodie, or more aptly, Viewtiful Joe. The way each hero poses in an overly-elaborate fashion brings back memories of Clover’s 2D platformer, as does the way that 101 distorts time during its cutscenes. What a hero does the instant he dons his costume might flash by in a second, but thankfully the game rewinds, slows things down, and dissects the blip with the flourish of a sports commentator.
My only qualm with the opening of 101 is that the touchscreen actions felt incredibly unresponsive. Not necessarily shoehorned, because the motions themselves make perfect sense in the context of the world (draw different shapes to move your team into different tactical formations), but rather the actual interaction between my finger and the screen just didn’t jive. Straight lines weren’t registering as straight, and connected circles still wouldn’t trigger the desired response. Thankfully you can substitute most of these gestures with a rotation of the right analog stick, but it’s still a shame that 101 can’t quite clear the hurdle of the Wii U’s defining feature.
But that’s definitely not the case with Bayonetta, which eschews any sort of touchscreen functionality and simply turns your GamePad into a television's little brother. The action looked great in the palm of my hands, and I could definitely see myself playing through a solid chunk of the game on the Pad while some dumb garbage TV rattles off in the background. Note to developers: If the GamePad isn't an essential part of your game’s experience, let us use it as a handheld device.
The Bayonetta demo is reminiscent of the opening from pretty much any God of War game, and honestly, I’m fine with that. We find ourselves battling a choir of ornery angels atop a screaming jet as it navigates through the airspace of a metropolitan area. But don’t let the bombastic set-piece fool you – Platinum’s impeccable combat mechanics return in full force, as we reported back at E3. Mashing buttons will let you advance through the game with some modicum of style, but learning the timing and combination nuances transforms our heroine into a goddess of destruction. Bayonetta’s combat was top-notch in 2010, and it only looks like it’s evolving with this sequel.
2013 has already been crowded with action games, with DmC, Anarchy Reigns, Revengeance, and God of War: Ascension all hitting early on in the year. But what little we’ve seen of Bayonetta 2 screams that the game absolutely has what it takes to rival those four, and possibly even stake its place as the queen of the “cut things until they die” genre.
The thing that impressed me about both games was just how much fun they were to watch. I had a bit of time to kill after I got my hands on the two of them, so I decided to just creep on some other folks playing the demo. And honestly, I was able to appreciate and absorb some of the madness on a level that I had completely missed while the GamePad was in my hand. In the same way you’re able to pick up on new details and layers in a movie once you have it on Blu-ray, both games contain so many cute, clever, and modest elements that can easily be missed. From the way the city interacts to your attacks in Bayonetta to the fact that each member of the 101 has a completely different look (there was one hero in the background with a fully framed painting as a face…I kind of want to know what sort of childhood trauma causes you to do that).
Fun to play, and fun to watch – it’s hard not to appreciate that combination. The Wonderful 101 and Bayonetta 2 are two of the increasingly rare third-party standouts on Wii U that make up the console’s impressive upcoming lineup. And while it’s honestly shameful that we don’t have some of these games in our homes right now, rest assured that Platinum’s pair has what it takes to live up to the studio’s storied legacy.