The Wonderful 101 is a Nintendo Wii U-exclusive game directed by Hideki Kamiya for PlatinumGames and published by Nintendo. In it, the player controls a group of heroes trying to protect the Earth from an alien invasion by transforming into a wide range of weapons and objects including a giant fist or bridge. Players have to employ different strategies for a successful approach to taking out the invaders.
The player controls a group of heroes that can attack enemies or 'Unite' into larger objects with their own unique uses and advantages including a sword, gun and hang glider. For defense, the player's team can form into Unite Guts to block attacks or Unite Dodge to quickly move out of harms way or re-position behind an enemy. Rescuing any of the civilians scattered across the maps increases the size of the player's team, which in turn has an effect on the overall power of attacks.
Because of its group-based nature, the game is played from a top-down, three-quarters perspective with the camera pulled out for scale. At its distance, it's possible to control even large groups of heroes but individual character models are displayed small in relation.
Unite Team moves are special formations and moves created by forming the heroes into specific shapes through two possible methods; by either drawing a shape directly onto the Wii U GamePad touchscreen or through the use of the right thumb stick. This mechanic is conceptually similar to the celestial brush in Okami.
By combining the heroes into a single larger object, the team can create weapons to be used in combat or context-specific support equipment such as hang gliders, bridges and ladders. Using these Unite Team special attacks expends energy from a battery meter, but they can be recharged with basic Unite Attacks. The meter can be lengthened one battery at a time by collecting batteries found throughout the world.
For greater strategic depth, it is possible to use more than one Unite formation at once. For example, shapes for both the Unite Hand and Unite Sword can be used in succession to divide the player's team into both and have them fight simultaneously.
While much of the Wii U's touchscreen functionality allows the player to draw shapes to quickly access Unite Team weapons, there are moments where the display is used for other purposes. When inside buildings, for example, the touchscreen displays the building's interior, while the building exterior is displayed on the television. This allows for puzzles such as a combination lock in which the numerical displays are only visible outside the building (on the TV), but the dials to change the combination and the combination itself are located inside, on the touchscreen.
The game features a local-only competitive co-op mode for up to five players with support for the Wii U Pro Controller or Wii Classic Controller Pro. Players have to work together to defeat enemies but are ultimately competing for high scores against each other. If one player dies, everyone has to start over.
Where The Wonderful 101's core gameplay necessitates a large sense of scale, it also creates a specific aesthetic. The perspective evokes the idea of playing with action figures. As enemies are destroyed, they break apart and reveal metal frames and toy-like parts. With character designs similar to the ones found in Viewtiful Joe, the game has a look reminiscent of Japanese tokusatsu in the vein of Super Sentai and Kamen Rider.
According to Hideki Kamiya at PAX Prime 2013, the game that became The Wonderful 101 began life as a title that was to feature an all-star roster of Nintendo characters. This game featured similar gameplay concepts in the unite morphs. However, the pitch to Nintendo was rejected when part of the pitch involved an image of Princess Peach, Luigi, and Yoshi being used as a bridge by Mario; a concept that those involved at Nintendo did not approve of. The idea was subsequently reworked, replacing the Nintendo characters with the new hero characters found in the final game.
On February 3rd 2020 Platinum games launched a kickstarter campaign to fund and self-publish a Nintendo Switch port of the game. The campaign's initial goal of 50,000 USD was met within 30 minutes of the campaign launching. Stretch goals for Steam and PS4 versions were also met within hours.