The Wonderful 101 vs Tokusatsu Tropes
“Tokusatsu is a Japanese term that applies to any live-action film or television drama that features considerable use of (tokusatsu literally translates as “special filming” in Japanese)”
Seeing you’ll here that term a lot from my I thought I’d just put it into perspective; as Platinum Games latest game Wonderful101 is both a homage, parody and all around love letter to 30+ years of Japanese Movies and television that for the most part references tropes and characters you’ll likely never have herd of before.
The closest thing most people will associate with the game will of course be Power Rangers, and even if you only have a passing familiarity with the show you’ll see it in every inch of 101 because that’s what it’s parodying 50% of the time, the other 50% is Pikmin but a lot more action added in for good measure. With up to 100 heroes following you around at any point you (Wonderful Red at first but the team expands as another 6 coloured members are introduced) along with civilians you rescue along the way you battle through a extremely cheese story right out of a regular Power Rangers episode.. just watch the 8 minute long trailer for the game and you’ll know if this is for you in the first 30 seconds!
It’s perhaps ironic given the content of the game that overall sales will be a curiosity, let’s put aside it being a niche exclusive title for the WiiU; the general lack of software for the system and Platinum’s currently popular brand name, the game has gone to the forefront of the current WiiU sales pitch. You get discounts if you buy it with Pikmin 3, it’s had a lot of Nintendo Direct coverage and promotional support that’s put it squarely in the sights of WiiU owners. Yet despite all this it has to battle against people who may shun it for simply being what it is.. a Power Rangers (PR) game; and in Japan this wile certainly work in it’s favour however outside of that domain people will pass on the game for that fact along (speaking from personal experiences, getting people to give the Matrix/Mad Max inspired Power Rangers RPM a try has been an uphill battle with the cheesy stigma PR shows have attached to themselves)
Yet the opposite will also be true as that cut-off line tends to be blurred when it comes to games, unlike TV shows… along with the parody aspect of the game. Wonderful 101 knows it’s not an Oscar story and runs with its central theme! Plantnum fans as well will likely find this par for the course after numerous tokusatsu inspired games over the years extending back to when they were Clover Studios. Viewtiful Joe, Vanquish, Okami and even Metal Gear Rising had their share of in jokes and references so finally making full game based around a multi coloured team of heroes must have always been on the cards for them.
There’s still more to it though… perhaps its a product of the times that a game like this can even be made and marketed as a AAA production outside of Japan. I’m sure great care was taken with pitching the game in the first place with Nintendo funding the project. In Japan tokusatsu films are bigger then ever, with multiple hitting the cinema per year and multiple franchises crossing over for big screen team ups not unlike Marvel’s Avengers. However Power Rangers has hit a revival as well, become big business again following the Saban re buy of the franchise from Disney and releasing the game a mere 2 weeks before the official 20th anniversary of the show. With so much more general coverage of PR and reunions bringing back previous cast members getting main stream media attention the Wonderful 101 is capitalising on the current mainstream love of all things PR.
Perhaps its an overall test for main streak tokusatsu games in general outside of Japan, with everything in it’s favour it seems that the game could have everything in it’s corner marketing wise, while the physical game it’s self might not be in every commercial it does have a presence in pop culture currently and you could perhaps argue that this was the best time to try creating and releasing a game like this. It has the best chance and if it doesn’t do well we may never see another like it. While Platinum aren’t known for making sequels (which I do think is a very respectable and daring thing to do when new IPs are few and far between) if the game fails to perform sails and review wise it may affect weather we see future games like this from other developers.
However that’s not to say that there wasn’t a market for the game to begin with, tokusatsu has a very big, if select, fan base in both the US and Europe. Now not all of them are likely to have WiiUs but they have supported the recent Kickstarter for Chroma Squad (a game based around making a PR style TV show); almost doubling the required pledge amount and also a Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (MMPR) web series with a gritty and darker tone more aimed at original fans. So the audience is there, but is it a profitable one when making big titles? Time will have to tell there.
Knowing all this perhaps the question is “is the Wonderful 101 a game for you” well chibi-esque presentation aside the game is a challenge and makes constant references to shows you’ve never seen… but now at least herd of. It’s cheesy and feels like a Saturday morning TV show… and op top of all that its ENTERTAINING and FUN! That’s what you really should be caring about, references you’ll get or you won’t but you’ll laugh up the cheese either way. It’s a true main stream tokusatsu game and perhaps Platinum’s biggest trick is that you probably never knew.