Wonderful 101’s User Experience is a Nightmare

I started replaying Wonderful 101 Remastered recently (I’ve bounced off this game before), and the User Experience (UX) of this game is REALLY REALLY BAD. Here’s a quick introduction to User Experience for people who don’t know. User Experience is a field of design descending from User Interface design that incorporates a lot of different aspects that users run into in the process of trying to interact with a software product or service. In a game, User Experience covers not just the UI, but the presentation of game elements on the screen, the way that rewards are structured, the way new options are unlocked, the color coding of various elements (like enemies, attacks, etc), the presence and intrusiveness of cutscenes, the controller layout, online ranking systems, cosmetics, the tutorialization, and even the structure of the game’s mechanical design itself. Something like the way Gears of War gives new players in online multiplayer a subtle buff for the first 5 matches, so they’re more likely to win and therefore stick around, is UX. UX is ideally informed by research, both on the level of the whole discipline, and for individual games and playtesting to find pain points for new users. Playtesting with new users is inherently UX.

This article helps explain UX in the context of games better: https://medium.com/@player_research/what-is-games-user-experience-ux-and-how-does-it-help-ea35ceaa9f05

Platinum games AS A WHOLE, have extremely bad UX. Wonderful 101 manages to kick it up a notch from the normal badness of Platinum’s UX.

A common Platinum Game UX problem is requiring basic defensive abilities to be unlocked in the store (sometimes through progression). This is in practically every Hideki Kamiya Platinum action game, from Bayonetta (air dodge), to Wonderful 101 (unite guts and unite spring), to Metal Gear Rising (Offensive defense, a dodge. Technically not a Kamiya game). Wonderful 101 is notable here, because Unite Guts and Wonder Spring are your block and dodge, your ONLY defensive abilities. Blocking attacks with Unite Guts is the only easy way to make some enemies vulnerable and the easier of two ways to make them susceptible to juggles. If you do not unlock these abilities, your only way to defend yourself is to run away from attacks, some of which home-in! There is a big tutorial pop-up telling you to buy them when you first visit the shop, but you do not have them for the entire first mission, and the first fight versus bigger enemies in the game. Plus, you won’t see that pop-up unless you go into the store, which you’re not guaranteed to do immediately. Presumably the reason such basic moves are unlocks is so that tutorials don’t need to be front-loaded at the start of the game, and can be spaced out more over the first few missions, and requiring you to buy them makes it obvious what you have versus what you don’t, and you try out the new thing you got. However it would be easy to just have these unlocked from the start and have prompts pop up about them at appropriate points, instead of locking you out of mission critical moves.

The ranking systems in Platinum Games are extremely demotivating to a new player. They function on a triad of time / combo score / damage taken. A new player is guaranteed to score poorly on almost every mission, because they don’t understand the systems, they aren’t familiar with the encounters, they’re practically guaranteed to get hit once per fight, and they get penalized harshly for using continues or items, which these games hand out like candy. This annoys a lot of new players. The ranking systems do exist to give players an incentive to work towards playing the game better/more perfectly, but the combo score component depends on unlocking moves that you do not have from the beginning of the game, and will not unlock until multiple playthroughs through the game. In Wonderful 101, it is not really possible to get a platinum in many fights on the first playthrough because you need to unlock Wonder Rising first. With each weapon no less! My proposal for fixing this problem is to have a completely different grading system for the easy and normal difficulties that is biased towards only giving the highest ranks. Getting a platinum in any of the 3 scores should yield at least a gold rank on the fight, 2 should yield platinum, 3 pure platinum (and if the last is a gold, maybe give pure plat anyway, at least on easy and very easy), REGARDLESS of the other scores. Make it a similar deal with 1 gold yielding at least a silver, 2 gold = gold, 3 gold = platinum, and so on down the ranks. On easy to normal difficulties, make the penalty for using items, low or nil. Same for Continues. Save the real scoring system for the higher difficulties. Fans of action games don’t enjoy clearing out the lower difficulty modes for their score card, in large part because it is so annoying to get a high combo score on the easier difficulties.

Platinum games are loaded to the brim with cutscenes intermittently throughout missions. These cutscenes are frequently fairly lengthly, being minutes long, but don’t have a lot of real plot development. Some of them are unskippable, and skipping a cutscene means opening a menu, moving the cursor over, and selecting skip. It’s nice that you can pause cutscenes so you can walk away. It’s not nice that the pause has a delay before the menu is active, meaning it takes time to pause and unpause, as well as time to move the cursor over to the skip button. You need to do this a lot or sit through a lot of cutscenes and this can seriously interrupt the gameplay and the learning process. If these cutscenes played out without interrupting your ability to interact and progress, they would be significantly less intrusive. Nier Automata largely learned this lesson by having characters speak about non-critical story elements during battles and exploration.

Collectible consumable items pop up CONSTANTLY, with tutorial popups for what they do. These pop-ups always have a delay before you can dismiss them, to guarantee you’ve reread how they work after you already know. I KNOW HOW MUCH A BLUE RUPEE IS ALREADY! This is highly distracting and disturbing to flow. Collecting batteries factors into your final score, as well as how much energy you can use during each mission (???), adding more distraction during fights and exploration.

The screen is massively cluttered with characters, enemies, and random environmental objects, and zoomed in by default. The color scheme makes it difficult to discern enemies or your character from the background, especially in circumstances where the ring around your character disappears. The submenu can come up for rearranging your team leaders, or giving you a radar, which covers enemies underneath it, and it does not display the prompt to dismiss it anywhere onscreen and it does not go away automatically if you don’t use it. BY DEFAULT, THE PC REMASTER HAS KEYBOARD BUTTON PROMPTS ONLY, AND DOES NOT AUTOMATICALLY SWITCH WHEN A CONTROLLER IS DETECTED. YOU NEED TO DIG THROUGH THE MENUS TO FIND THE OPTION FOR THIS, AND IT IS NOT CLEARLY LABELED. Tiny enemies are not clearly color coded when they are attacking, or vulnerable (I have not divined the way their states are color coded yet) and are generally easy to miss when they’re attacking, or there is one left to kill before the mission ends. Enemy attack cues can be extremely subtle and not have a clear cadence like in other action games, allowing even the attacks of large enemies to get lost in the sea of information on-screen.

There is no explanation that you need to use unite guts to deflect blunt attacks, or that it is pierced by spiked attacks. My brother actually got up to the tanks and quit because he couldn’t damage them. I knew you needed Unite Guts already from watching footage of the game, so I didn’t have a problem with them. There is no prompt to zoom the camera in or out, or to dismiss the submenu. You need to unlock wonder stinger and wonder rising WITH EACH WEAPON! These are the only 2 command attacks on each weapon and they need to be reunlocked with each one, from finding secrets and fighting enemies! WHY.

Wonderful 101 overloads you with information, distracts you from what’s useful constantly, hides essential features and information, fails to explain essential information, and presents information in a way that is very difficult to interpret. It is entirely clear why so many people had such a hard time getting into this game. It is made seemingly on purpose to drive people away from it as fast as possible, with the tank enemies in particular being hard barriers, requiring you to use options that you don’t necessarily have and certainly that aren’t explained to you.

I’m eventually going to overcome the new player experience and see how good the game is overall, but in the meantime it massively frustrates me.

4 thoughts on “Wonderful 101’s User Experience is a Nightmare

  1. UnintelGen June 22, 2020 / 4:25 am

    It’s cool that you’re finally digging into this game. It’s one of my favorites, and I’ve always wondered why you never dove into it before.

    I do want to annotate your article for the *smallest* of inaccuracies, as there is so much bad information in the discourse of this game already. Just a few small comments..

    “Wonder Guts and Wonder Spring are your block and dodge”
    Ok, I’m joking here, but it’s “Unite”, not wonder. I-I don’t know why everyone does this, not everything in this game is wonderful!

    I do agree that basic buttons and block/dodges (L2/R2) shouldn’t do nothing without an in game upgrade, I’m used to it, but new players aren’t going to acclimate with such roadblocks. Kamiya’s headstrong nature against playtesting really rears it’s head with this game- It expects not just things from other (Platinum) action games, but from The Wonderful 101 itself!

    Funny little detail though, if you DO enter the shop, and leave with out buying guts/spring, the game has a prompt basically saying “You sure? Go buy them!”. I thought the shop prompts show up regardless of entering the shop, but I double checked and they don’t. They, uh, really should if nothing else.

    “completely different grading system for the easy and normal difficulties”

    This is something Astral Chain does, kinda. The game basically doesn’t rank you (iirc, I did not play it) on the basic difficulty, and you have to beat the chapter with the ‘hard’ difficulty for rank and for future chapters to have the difficulty option. Platinum said they changed the normal prompt to “the Platinum Standard” to emphasize the difficulty. This… could’ve worked, but that term means nothing to new players! The game should railroad players into the easy/very easy difficulty at all costs. Kamiya’s normal is everyone else’s ‘hard’, etc.

    “Nier Automata largely learned this lesson by having characters speak about non-critical story elements during battles and exploration.”

    The game actually does do this later. A fair bit too. Some don’t like it cause the subtitles can be disabled, but only by holding a camera button which isn’t ideal. Those fights are much less intense though to compensate.

    The game does have an auto-skip key combo, but obviously that doesn’t help a new player if it’s never taught in game.

    “consumable items..You don’t want to use them, given the scoring system.”

    Here’s a mistake- While you wouldn’t want to use them for Pure Plat runs, as far as I remember*, most items do not penalize you on rank, at all. Only specifically marked items, like the steak or missiles (barring the justice missile, since you make ammo for that it doesn’t count) count against rank. If you’re doing bad and low on health, use a soup! You’ll still get a bad score on dmg, but you won’t ruin the rank by dying. This also makes cakes more useful early game because it’s great to default to them to keep battery up. The constant prompts at the beginning though? Yeah, not a fan of them. Considering they only happen once a playthrough though, I can’t dislike them

    *I’ve only tested this on prologue and never on a pure plat run. I assume items might mark a pure plat operation run down to a platinum, but I have not tested this

    “BY DEFAULT, THE PC REMASTER HAS KEYBOARD BUTTON PROMPTS ONLY, AND DOES NOT AUTOMATICALLY SWITCH WHEN A CONTROLLER IS DETECTED”

    This is, understandably, wrong. The game soft checks what inputs are being used on the start screen and defaults the input display that way. It does still suck, obviously- It should switch between what the last input was used, or even have a toggle to do so. This also may be a rare exception in your case, my game does not do this.

    “Enemy attack cues can be extremely subtle and not have a clear cadence”

    I know you’re still early in the game, but this.. I can’t wrap my head around. The cues are some of the most *obvious* in the genre, mostly because the camera/large object count on screen necessitate it. Every enemy has about a solid 2-5 second windup, and every large attack has a distinct audio cue. It’s obviously not going to help a new player much, but the enemies are very predicable and have wide attack gaps and cooldowns, at least until operation 5 or so. Dough Goos fire is also a non-issue. You could get hit, but wonderful ones are almost always in the way of fire, acting as a soft shield.

    “explanation that you need to use unite guts to deflect blunt attacks, or that it is pierced by spiked attacks”

    I feel there’s a great divide here. Like, the goofy jello block is such a great concept and should be interpretable to some degree by an observant player. That’s solid design. I feel there’s less a problem with guts itself, and maybe more with subscreen info. (like the store page for it being really basic) In any other game Unite Guts would be considered excellent game design. This is a game though with at least 6 or so hard counters, so I dunno.

    “There is no prompt to zoom the camera in or out, or to dismiss the submenu”

    There is a tutorial prompt, but like a lot of things it goes by too quickly for a new player. Subscreen is also introduced on the start screen, but obviously that’ll recede into the back of your mind by time it’s actually useful

    “..only 2 command attacks .. reunlocked with each one, from finding secrets and fighting enemies! WHY.”

    I can only *speculate*, but I feel their reason for blocking these attacks from the get-go was to ease players in. A lot, A LOT is introduced, and a lot has to be introduced from the jump, but rising/cyclone/stinger adds additional inputs that the player could accidentally preform and knock their already delicate sense of balance. Now, I don’t agree with it, I just feel that’s why they’re locked to the rank system.

    “There’s no explanation that the sword deflects lasers, that the whip is necessary to peel spikes, that the hammer blocks falling objects from above”

    I hate to state the obvious, but there are tutorial prompts for literally all of these- and they stay on long enough (for the fight they’re introduced in) that I do feel they ‘work’. Not ideal, but work. I feel that the game should overall be more generous with the prompts and remind you what they do in subsequent missions. Hammer actually does do this for the operation 3 boss, iirc.

    There’s probably more I wanted to say, but it’s escaped me. I hope I didn’t ramble too much…

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    • Chris Wagar June 22, 2020 / 4:38 am

      “The game soft checks what inputs are being used on the start screen and defaults the input display that way.”

      It didn’t detect my controller on first launch…

      The rest, yeah, legit mistakes, my bad.

      Like

      • UnintelGen June 22, 2020 / 4:42 am

        It depends on what input you press on the start/main screen I believe, but I need to test it more. Mind you, that’s still not ideal and games before and after have solved this issue, but if you use mouse keyboard for the main menu it’ll assume dumbly that you want m/kb inputs. It’ll do this on every subsequent boot too. It’s dumb

        Like

  2. thelastgogeta/ British_Otaku June 23, 2020 / 2:26 pm

    I can see a dude from the TW101 discord has already shared some feedback and I’d like to share some of my own.

    “In Wonderful 101, it is not really possible to get a platinum in many fights on the first playthrough because you need to unlock Wonder Rising first.”

    I’ve haven’t done a test run and understand that most players even PlatinumGames veterans may find this game daunting but I’m certain that you could get some (not all) consistent platinum scores without abusing jank and without Wonderful Rising. What makes Wonderful Rising so wonderful is that it launches and that every Morph button press gains 100 points. However, you can get the same bonus with the Blue Stun (often from successful Guts use) though it may be a little tight if you don’t get your multiplier up.

    I don’t expect it to be nearly as fun, but Rising isn’t not a prerequisite.

    It is also important to note that no unlockables in this game require a Pure Platinum, I do feel some sort of longing for a clean set of Pure Platinums in every difficulty (at least Normal and up) but it was also immensely stressful to overvalue it on the Wii U with slow loading and the meta centering around remembering, exploiting or disabling auto-save points to be optimal.

    I didn’t 101% the Wii U original and think it is better to pace yourself with the game getting small victories. That said, the game could be a lot clearer with requirements.

    “You need to unlock wonder stinger and wonder rising WITH EACH WEAPON! These are the only 2 command attacks on each weapon and they need to be reunlocked with each one, from finding secrets and fighting enemies! WHY.”

    I can’t fault anyone early on for not knowing that Wonderful Cyclone is a thing, it could be possible that you spread the experience values in such a way that no one gets it but that would probably need you to miss out on a lot of permanent heroes and to basically never change your leader heroes (can be done with the subscreen which I usually toggle briefly as a translucent option).

    On a related note, one weapon type required in the story always has all of the Wonderful Skills but it isn’t explictly said. >_> That’s another issue.

    I assume the reason was to keep a sense of progression, but I think it is a bit overdone since we do have some characters tied to achievements (can be gained through a cheat after beating the game), secret morph variants and even just having a few more Wonderful Ones pays off if you use multi unites.

    It would be more acceptable if the game always tracked your leader hero better (Kahkoo-regah have a tendency of messing with order and some story missions exclude characters at points) or if the game communicated progress better since the Remaster does make some things clearer but the noise from prompts (not all) or making the health bar get longer mid-battle which stops time… That can be a problem when Astral Chain not only had decent training resources but also saved leveling up like that for pausing, the hub or at the end of a story chapter.

    I mentioned that the Remaster has some improvements and the director of it has a thread on Twitter that is regularly updated which has a bunch of em: https://twitter.com/platinumgames/status/1271278134772461569

    Feel free to reference them if you do a second piece on your progress with the game and best of luck.

    Like

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