Christmas 2013 is all about love, family, hope... and video games.
Not only do we get the release of two new consoles (in the Xbox One and PS4), and the rebirth of last year's Wii U, we also have a ton of great games out for the consoles you already own.
There's something for everyone - from Mario's latest 3D outing to piracy on the high seas with Assassin's Creed, capitalistic animal care with Zoo Tycoon and - of course - the latest Pokemon.
So whether you're a hardcore single-player gamer, a casual tinkerer or a family with an over-developed sense of competitive rivalry, there's definitely something new and exciting out for you this year.
Here are our picks of the best games out this Christmas for all of the big consoles. Take a look and let us know what you think in the comments.
'Mario & Sonic: Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games' is out for Wii U on 8 November.
Lots of Nintendo and Sega characters to play as
Big range of real Olympic events and 'dream events'
Interesting Wii U Gamepad controls for some games
Four-player multiplayer events
"Join your favorite characters, from Mario and Sonic to Princess Peach and Amy, as they team up and compete in the most exciting sports events at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Enjoy the thrill of 24 exciting events including bobsleigh, skiing, figure skating pairs, and even snowboard slopestyle, which will make its Olympic debut in Sochi, Russia."
The Olympics have rarely proven to be the inspiration for great moments in video gaming (Caveman Ugh-lympics aside...) and sadly Mario and Sonic's latest outing to the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, is no exception.
As ever this is a collection of short mini-games designed to collectively reflect the variety and depth of the Olympics. And this time around there are at least 25 to choose from, ranging from downhill skiing to figure-skating, snowboard 'slopestyle' and curling alongside a bunch of "supercharged" dream events, which try to make the Winter Olympics exciting. (Sorry, even more exciting.) So you'll be competing in "rollercoaster" bobsleigh and street-ice hockey, and other psychedelic versions of wintery pursuits, as well as traditional skiing, skating and that weird own with the rifles in it.
Predictably, some of the events work quite well, while others fall flat on their face, onto a hard, cold sheet of ice. Bobsleigh is fast and entertaining, and the Curling event is oddly compelling, especially with other players in the room with you. The 'Dream Event' version - Hole-In-One-Curling - is also pretty fun, turning the same mechanics into a golf game set in Sonic's Green Hill Zone. The skiing events are fairly solid, and the Snowball Scrimmage event - which is sort of like Call of Duty, with snowballs and Princess Peach - is also weirdly compelling, if a bit shallow. But others are less successful - Ice Hockey is all over the place, and Biathlon uses a mixed control set-up between the Wii Remote and Gamepad, which is inconsistent and annoying.
Inconsistency is the game's biggest problem overall. The control schemes are all customised for each sport and take too long to explain - both in the game's own tutorials, and to anyone playing with you in the room. The Gamepad is rarely used to its fullest, and the promising Worldwide Vs. online multiplayer mode is limited to just four events.
There is fun to be had here - the game is well produced, overall, while the appeal of having 20 Sega and Nintendo favourites duel it out at one of the world's most controversial sporting occasions is bizarrely interesting. But the game feels slow, confused and ultimately a bit irritating to play - which when most of the fun to be had is in convincing non-gamers to join in round the TV, is a bit of a killer.
Nintendo's Wii U has received a much-needed boost in the past few months with the release of some great first-party games. But now it's getting one of the best titles of the entire current (previous?) generation in Deus Ex: Human Revolution Director's Cut (also out for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3)
All DLC included in purchase
Second-screen "neural hub" for Wii U, SmartGlass and PS Vita
Overhauled boss fights
Improved combat mechanics
"The Wii U GamePad, Microsoft’s SmartGlass, and the PlayStation Vita provide the ultimate experience with 11 new Neural Hub features, including touchscreen hacking, interactive map editing, augmented sniping, smart vision plus, throwback explosives, inventory and augmentation management, and the possibility to play the entire game on the GamePad screen"
'Deus Ex: Human Revolution' was already a classic, and this reissued version with enhanced graphics, tightened up combat and a new (and genuinely useful) second screen experience delivers on its promise to make it even better.
The core of the game is still present and correct. You play as Jensen, a security chief for a cybernetics company who is brutally injured early in the game - and brought 'back from the dead' as a technologically enhanced super human. Your task is ultimately to adapt to these 'augmentations', and discover the truth behind the (cultural and corporate) war raging around their invention.
It's a cool, if vaguely generic setup, and in truth the game itself brushes the edge of cliche with its FPS first-person viewpoint, gruff to the point of silly dialogue and William Gibson-esque setting. But the game is better than the sum of its parts. It gives you space to invent tactics and strategies, explore the world at your own pace, interact in intelligent ways with the other characters and push the boundaries of the stealth/combat mechanics.
Not everything works perfectly - your enemies are all fiercely intelligent but have little-to-know short term memory. The game isn't easy either, and you'll need skill to make the most of it.
Fortunately the new Director's Cut resolves many of the issues from the original. The awful boss battles have been totally reworked, the second screen is brilliantly employed as a map/inventory/class tree device - especially on the Wii U. And while graphically it still seems a little dated, it's rich enough to stand alongside this generation's best games.
If you're prepared to commit, this is an entrancing and addictive story-led game, which blends great gameplay with a solid story, and still gives you space to use your own imagination. It's never going to match the next-gen consoles for novelty, but as a landmark of its time - and a welcome arrival on the needy Wii U - it's a genetically modified diamond.
Wii Party U offers another strong reason why the Wii U's Gamepad controller makes sense for families. Although the second screen technological is readily available on other platforms, albeit not in exactly the same package, it's only in Nintendo's hands that we see this properly leveraged for family fun.
Developer Nd Cube, who are famous for work on both Mario Party 9 and Wii Party on the original Wii, make intelligent use of the controller with a close eye on the detail. It is these small touches, of balancing game-play, adding novelty and creating a considerable level of nuance to the controls, that makes Wii Party U the success it is.
With so many games to choose from, this could have become a bewildering array of choices. Cleverly then Wii Party U structures itself around a board game mechanic that will make sense to both gamers and non-gamers.
TV Party offers a range of traditional (and not so traditional) board game experiences that tie together a variety of themed mini-games.
House Party has games that use your physical location and proximity to other players, whether that's the Twister-like contortions of Button Battle, room wandering of Lost-And-Found or gurning expressions of Name That Face.
GamePad Party offers two player one-on-one challenges using just the GamePad without the TV.
Different mini-games will appeal to different families. In my tests one stand out game was the Lost-And-Found Square. Here one player uses the Gamepad controller to look around the game-world and tries to describe where they are to the others who must race to find them. It works really well as rather than testing reactions or skills with the controls this is really a test of the Gamepad player's ability to accurately describe their surroundings and for the other players to listen.
Another game that worked well was a 3 vs 1 Block Drop mode that pitted one player with the Gamepad against the other three players using Wii Remotes. The Gamepad is used to drop blocks on the others who must run around to try and avoid them. The genius here is the clever balancing of the controls so that the Wii Remote players are just fast enough to evade being squashed if they pay close attention.
Button Battle takes things in a more physical direction. Having placed both Wii U Gamepad and Wii Remotes on the coffee table it tasks players with pressing a combination of buttons. As things progress it becomes increasingly harder to reach your button without disturbing your neighbor. Kind of like a table-top game of twister.
Finally there are a series of Table Top games that just use the Gamepad placed between two players. These present simple challenges that work because of the proximity of each player and felt much like playing table-top arcade games often found in bars and restaurants.
Wii U Party won't appeal to everyone, and certainly there will be many hard-core gamers still to be convinced. However, for families, the combination of this alongside Nintendo Land, Zelda Wind Waker and both Wii Fit U and Mario Kart 8 on the horizon will make the Wii U an attractive proposition this Christmas.
Sonic Lost World (Wii U, 3DS) is an all-new 3D and 2D platforming adventure featuring Sega's famous spikey blue runner. It is released on 18 October 2013.
In his latest plot to defeat Sonic and rule the world, Dr. Eggman has harnessed the power of six menacing creatures known as the Deadly Six. However, when the Deadly Six rise up against their new master, Sonic must unite with his arch nemesis Eggman and explore the mystical Lost Hex in order to take them on head-to-head. Use Sonic's amazing new moves and incredible Color Powers to speed across a variety of unique terrains, racing inside, outside and upside down in every level.
New moves, including wall-running, sky diving and spin dash
Range of colourful 2D and 3D environments
Mind-bending spinning courses
Play the Wii U version entirely on the Gamepad
Share radio-controlled 'gadgets' between Wii U and 3DS
For all its retro appeal, 'Sonic Lost World' is inadvertently a great argument against nostalgia. For while this extremely varied and creative game is occasionally a riot, it's always much more fun when it's trying something new, rather than emulating the past.
As you may have seen from the exhausting trailers, 'Lost World' is a hybrid two-and-three dimensional take on the classic Sega platformer, which had its glory years way back in the Megadrive era. Sonic himself is pretty much as he was - all speedy running and spiky blue prongs, saving animals from their robotic prisons in a progression of stages and defeating Eggman and his newly recruited, and fairly generic cohort of Deadly Six demons. But where Sonic once ran only from left to right, here he's free to explore his strange new worlds in many different directions (at least some of the time). Seen as a series of quick clips, it looks dramatic, bold and glorious.
And for the first few levels, the game lives up to the promise. Here, back in the stark blue-and-orange of the Green Hill Zone, you have to run along a series of rotating cylinders, finding paths and smashing enemies while maintaining the momentum and speed that is at the heart of any Sonic game. There are plenty of new moves to get your head around - from wall running and new attacks, all the way up to remote-controlled 'gadgets' and other strange power-ups - but the heart of these early levels is familiar, and straightforward: run fast, run clever.
In these early stages, it's easy to be dazzled. For about 20 minutes, 'Lost World' gives Sonic his best moments in years. Despite the frequent cut-scenes that take you between the level's different areas, it's kinetic and extremely quick. Yes, it's a bit baffling - but it's impressive too, in a way reminiscent of the Wonderful 101 in its 'trust me' style of bash-buttons-and-hope controls.
Quickly, though, the game splinters from this core, clever premise into a range of other modes which are far less successful. Worst are the recreations of the original 2D gameplay - which are poorly realised compared to both the 3D stages and the 16-bit games - and boss battles which are too hard and frustrating. Sonic's controls are less precise, slower and more complex than they were 20 years ago, and the result is gameplay that is similarly clunky. Soon enough you'll long to return to the simple ease of the first few tubular stages. Luckily, a range of time-trial modes means you can easily do this. But it's not quite enough to make a whole game.
In so many other areas, 'Lost World' makes you want to believe in Sonic again. Even the presentation recalls the old games, with stage cards sliding in with the same triangles and fonts, enemies taken straight from the 16-bit era and Sonic's loops, twists and rings all present and correct.
The unfortunate truth, though, is that the game just isn't consistent. It doesn't have enough trust in its new ideas to give them room to breathe, instead choking them with power-ups and 2D levels that should have been left on the cutting room floor. The result is a bit of a disappointment. For while Sonic Lost World can be a very fun and exhilarating game, it's just a bit hit-and-miss. Which when you're travelling as fast as Sonic does, is a treacherous strategy indeed.
There has been a lot of water under the bridge since I first played The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker on the GameCube. Not only two generations of video-game consoles, but also in in my family there has been the arrival of a new generation in human form -- two more children.
I remember playing the GameCube game with my newly born daughter asleep on the sofa beside me, or on my lap. A little while later I then played with my 2 year old son by my side. We spent many happy Saturday afternoons adventuring on Twilight Princess on the Wii.
Now my daughter is 10 and we have a fresh rendering of the GameCube classic in the form of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD. It's a single player game so I had expected to play on my own. However, as soon as my kids discovered what I was doing they wanted to play as well.
It wasn't long before all three children had joined me on the sofa to play Wind Waker HD and we started to make our way through the first few islands. They liked the look of the game, and I have to say I found both the familiar visual style and pixel perfect HD rendering to be a compelling next generation experience.
I know you may get more polygons or higher resolutions on other consoles, but it's the investment in visual storytelling here that makes the real difference. With simple, stylized line work and use of scale and motion -- not to mention the greater draw distance -- Wind Waker HD had us all hooked.
It's worth noting though, this is a Zelda game from the era before the requirement to add increased hand-holding and assistance for family players. I had expected this to be off-putting, and to frustrate the children with slow progress and obtuse puzzles.
I was again surprised to find that quite the reverse was true. They all happily took turns to play and assigned themselves different tasks within the game. Ellen (10) read out the dialogue complete with different voices for each character, Thom (8) took charge of the combat and Ollie (5) was best at spotting treasures and secrets. Together they progressed all the way to the end of the first dungeon.
At this point, it was with some relief that they called for my help. The complexity of the bosses meant that they couldn't get advance on their own. As you can see in the video shown above, we worked as a team and soon had the first boss beat.
As we continued there was one concession we needed - online guides. Playing Wind Waker with a family, I found that we needed to keep the momentum going and these guides sometimes aided our enjoyment. There are some puzzles that you could spend hours running around trying to solve -- usually the ones in the open world sections -- and it's with those that a guide can help you navigate with younger players.
I'd thoroughly recommend Wind Waker for families to play together. I didn't realise quite how much impact Wind Waker had had on the kids until I saw what my youngest decided to draw at school as his weekend highlight. It was a picture of him playing Zelda. Usually he's always drawing Skyalnders Swap Force characters, or LEGO heroes so this is a real boon.
Beyond the clever mechanics, visuals and attention to detail, Wind Waker does what all Zelda games do well: catch the player up in the legend of its world. Spending time on the different islands not only offers gameplay opportunities but connects you to these places emotionally. I can't wait to see the look on my children's face when we go back to visit old friends and family on Outset or Windfall Island, or discover new places on the high seas.
The funny thing is that they haven't once mentioned that the sailing is boring. In fact, it's their favourite part.
Nintendo has announced that the original Wii Sports games that made its motion-controlled console such a hit, are coming to the all-new HD Wii U.
All five of the core mini-games from the original Wii Sports - Tennis, Bowling, Boxing, Baseball and Golf - will be released as individual titles in the Wii U eShop.
Nintendo said that the games will have upgraded HD graphics, new Wii MotionPlus controls and online multiplayer which lets different regions play against each other.
Nintendo said that users will be about to chat via Miiverse, the gaming giant's social network, and practice against members of their own regional club.
Tennis and Bowling will be the first games to be re-released, hitting the shop on November 7. The rest will follow later in 2013.
The release will come with a number of options. Users can download Wii Sports Club and play all of the titles for 24 hours. They can then purchase a 24-hour day pass for £1.79, or buy each of the games individually for £8.99 each.
The Legend Of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD is a revamped re-release of the classic Nintendo Gamecube adventure RPG. It's out on the Wii U on 20 September (via eShop) and 4 October (physical release).
"As the definitive version of the game, you will experience The Legend of Zelda™: The Wind Waker HD in gorgeous, fully remastered 1080p graphics. Enjoy high-definition cell-shaded brilliance on your TV or entirely on the Wii U GamePad controller."
Remastered HD graphics
Streamlined interface - complete with Wii U Gamepad integration
'Tingle Bottle' allows you to share messages over MiiVerse
First-person aiming via the Gamepad gyroscope
New 'Hero Mode' with no in-game health pickups
High-Definition remakes of old video games are usually a terrible idea. So-called 'retro' graphics almost always look better in your memory than when they're jerking around on screen, even when 're-mastered'. Clunky mechanics, once forgotten, are no longer forgiven. And then there's the over-arching flaw - common to all forms of nostalgia: things always seem more perfect when they're gone.
Which is why the first hour or so of The Legend Of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD is such a joy. Because the game doesn't just look as good as you remember - it looks far, far better.
The cell-shaded cartoony design - Wind Waker was always regarded as one of the best-looking Zelda games - remains essentially the same, but everything is polished dramatically, upgraded into a widescreen, 1080p experience with an all-new lighting system. It's like someone lifted a plastic film off the 2002 original, and showed the game how it was meant to be seen all along. It still looks 'old school' - but old school how you want to remember it. In its way, it looks better than most games out there - it wears its graphical cheer as a badge of pride, just as it should.
The lack of graphical flaws means that the story, character and crisp humour of the original script can shine just as it did more than 10 years ago. And despite being regarded as one of the weaker Zelda games in some quarters, it's still more approachable, enjoyable and family-friendly than any other comparable series.
In 'Wind Waker', you play a version of Link living centuries after the hero of the original game saved Hyrule (here's a helpful timeline). The world is now flooded, dotted only by a few small islands, one of which is your childhood home. But after your little sister is captured you have to don the green tunic, take to the seas and sail around in a mad quest to defeat the evil so-and-so who took her, and restore peace to Outset Island.
In effect the structure is about the same as most Zelda games - explore the world, delve into deep puzzle-laden dungeons and fight a bunch of monsters on the way, with the help of your sword, bombs, a boomerang and a variety of other weapons and items. It's a very varied and creative mix, as ever, with a gentle focus on stealth and more complex combat, and it's impossible to get bored as the adventure rolls forwards with its own zany momentum.
What the HD remake doesn't do is add any new content to the title - beyond a few basic features, Gamepad integration (you can play off-TV, and use the pad as your inventory) and a new 'Hero' mode. A supposedly long-lost dungeon, cut from the game's final few acts late in development, does not make a reappearance, and none of the original's perceived flaws are conclusively fixed. Sailing is helpfully made easier with a new speedy sail, but that's your lot. Given that at least one major feature - the Tingle Tuner, with which you could play a companion game on the GameBoy Advance - has actually been cut from the game, that's a shame.
The game is also pretty expensive - with a listed price of £49.99 - which for an old game is not great value. And yes, it does feel like a stop-gap boost to the Wii U's library, at a time when the console really deserves better.
Despite that, 'Wind Waker' is really worthy of your time. Just like the 3DS remake of Ocarina of Time, this is an excellent, involving, funny and sweet classic of a game, and it's never looked better.
'Rayman Legends' is Ubisoft's gorgeously animated platformer featuring the neckless rascal, out August 30 for Wii U, Xbox 360, PS3, PS Vita and PC.
"Rayman, Globox, and the Teensies are off wandering through an enchanted forest when they discover a mysterious tent filled with a series of captivating paintings. As they look more closely, they notice each painting seems to tell the story of a mythical world. While focusing on a painting that shows a medieval land, they are suddenly sucked into the painting, entering the world, and the adventure begins. The gang must run, jump and fight their way through each world to save the day and discover the secrets of every legendary painting."
Dozens of levels, including special 'musical' stages
Special Wii U integration, with touchscreen and Gamepad-turning elements
5-player co-op play
Online challenges and leaderboards
For a gaming kid happily raised on endless Sonic and Mario platformers, the original Rayman was an infuriating challenge to my reinforced Sega-Nintendo blinkers back in the mid-nineties. Who was this neckless, floppy-eared clown-shoe dweeb squelching and flopping all over Mario's sturdy 2D pipes and Sonic's twisty loops? How dare he hob-nob with this rarified platform company, like Dynamite Headdy and Cool Spot before him, and so inexpertly try to take the throne?
Did he not know, as I - a street-smart kid from the leafy streets of Surrey knew so innately - that if you come at the king, you best not miss?
Alas, in gaming, as in Surrey itself, prejudice of all kinds runs deep.
Which is why I avoided all subsequent Rayman titles for literally decades, right up to 2011's acclaimed Rayman Origins and the recent - also highly praised - iOS endless runner/platform hybrid. And despite all evidence to the contrary, I remained sceptical, refusing to recognise the evidence before my eyes, right up until the point where I placed the Rayman Legends disc in my Wii U, turned it on, and realised that Ubisoft has made probably the best platform game I've ever played.
Most immediately, Rayman Legends is visually stunning. Not stunning in the loose gaming parlance sense of, 'wow, the lens flare on that space ship is stunning'. Stunning as in, 'calling everyone you know to ask how this Disney movie has come to life' stunning. Every one of the dozens of levels is resplendent with colour, different parallax elements, living backgrounds and pulsating artwork, painted with exuberance but also taste and restraint.
And the visual brilliance isn't just superficial. It's deeply embedded in the game's design and architecture. Michel Ancel and his team at Ubisoft's Montpellier studio haven't just thrown everything at the 2D wall and waited to see what flopped down, exhausted. They've exercised real judgement and selection, and combined their best artistic work with truly inspirational level design.
At its core, this is a very basic game. Your buttons are few - move, sprint, jump, attack. In each level you move usually from left to right, looking for an exit and little blue-skinned Teensies to save along the way, scoring points and searching out new racing lines. There are variant levels - time-based challenges, boss-fights, pursuits. There are also new control concepts, the best ones involving using the Wii U's Gamepad. In some levels you control 'Murfy', a secondary floating character charged with opening gates, snapping ropes and defeating enemies while the main platform action happens around it. Still, you will have probably seen all of the mechanics used before elsewhere.
But in combination all these elements - visual style, quality of animation, level design and control scheme innovation - make literal magic together. The game is bursting with life. There are sub-games and online challenges, a football mini-game and scratch-cards to win extra 'Heroes'. Even loading screens are turned into a playable dash for extra hearts. And every level is utterly replay-able, because the design of each is so good you'll not want to miss a single hidden spider, foreground tree or fireworks explosion, no matter how long it takes to get through it all.
A slight downside is that the game really is quite a challenge. Like the best platformers it confounds even expert players, and you'll fail often on most of the latter levels.
That said, it also remembers to give you an equivalent burst of exhilaration whenever you do something with flair, fluidity or skill. Which, by the way, pretty much sums up this game.
Legends is not a Wii U exclusive anymore, but Rayman still feels like he's definitively taking on Mario with this release. He really is coming at the king. And the trouble for Mario is that Rayman hasn't missed. Has the bullet hit the target yet? Not quite. It's still in the air, as it were. The plumber still has one more release this year with which to deflect its path. But it's hard to see how he'll manage it. Rayman Legends is a tremendous achievement, as impressive as any 3D shooter or open-world crime simulation. And it's one of the very best games of the year.
Nintendo also announced what amounts to a slight US price cut of $50 for the Wii U home console, by launching a new deluxe Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD Bundle costing $299. UK prices will be set by retail outlets, not Nintendo as is standard - so we'll have to wait and see if the price drops here too. The console has struggled for sales since its launch last year, and could come under new pressure from Microsoft and Sony's next-gen machines when they arrive in November.
The 2DS discards the clamshell form factor of the current 3DS and 3DS XL for a squat, non-folding design. It keeps the same aspect ratio of the screens, the Circle Pad and the 3D cameras.
It lacks the ability to display games and content in 3D, which has been the flagship feature of the handheld since launch. But it comes at a much lower cost - just £109 in the UK, according to MCV.
The 2DS is launching on 12 October, the same day as the new Pokemon X & Y games, in black with a blue trim, or white with red trim. It's targeted at non-hardcore audiences, according to GamesIndustry.Biz.
Offering you additional variety and value in your handheld gaming options, the Nintendo 2DS is a streamlined version of the Nintendo 3DS that will play games available for Nintendo 3DS, as well as Nintendo DS in 2D.
The Nintendo 2DS retains many of the same hardware features as the Nintendo 3DS including the same Nintendo 3DS gameplay controls, backwards compatibility with the vast existing library of Nintendo DS games, as well as wireless connectivity features such as access to Nintendo eShop as well as StreetPass and SpotPass functionality. However the console takes on a new distinctive fixed, slate form design, and will play all packaged and download Nintendo 3DS games in 2D.
"It doesn't mean that we are not committed at all to 3D and that we don't think that's a really valuable, unique eye-popping feature for a lot of gamers," Nintendo America marketing boss Scott Moffitt told the website.
"We just wanted to continue growing the installed base and needed to find a way to get to a price point that was more accessible for a broad swath of consumers. As we surveyed the marketplace, it seemed to us that there was an opportunity for something at that lower, entry level price point."
Nintendo also announced the following schedule for its upcoming games:
The Legend of Zelda Wind Waker HD (digital version): September 20
The Legend of Zelda Wind Waker Wii U bundle (Wii U price drop): September 20
The Legend of Zelda Wind Waker HD (retail version): October 4
Nintendo 2DS: October 12
Pokémon X & Y Versions: October 12
Wii Party U: October 25
Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag: November 1
Call of Duty Ghosts: November 5
Super Mario 3D Land: November 22
The Legend of Zelda A Link Between Worlds: November 22
'The Wonderful 101' for Nintendo's Wii U is an exhilarating, intense and difficult action game whose main distinguishing feature is that it's almost always totally bewildering - though usually enjoyable - to play.
'The Wonderful 101' is a game that doesn't ask that you understand it, or even always enjoy it - it simply demands that you submit to the chaos.
In 'The Wonderful 101' you play one of the titular 'wonderful heroes' (of which there are 100, plus you) in a fight against evil through a series of progressively more detailed and complex linear levels. But whereas in other action games you'll fight alone, or at best in a team of a few hand-picked fighters, in 'The Wonderful 101' you're just part of the collective.
In a similar way to Pikmin, while you play as one of the core heroes you're really controlling a swarming mass of dozens of combatants. You gather citizens and heroes into your gang as you progress through each level, and by using a series of 'Unite Morph' powers - launched by drawing shapes on the screen - you combine those individuals into massive single attacks. Your heroes might form a fist, a gun or a sword, and you can use that to take down bigger enemies or evade projectiles. As you level up and buy new attacks, your range of tactics and enemies increases exponentially.
In practice this means that in any given level, things will be almost out of control -- almost immediately.
As hundreds of heroes, enemies, attacks and explosions clatter around the level in a blur of near-disastrous energy, and as buildings fall, robots attack and fires burn in the distance, you might even lose track of where you're attacking and how you're doing it. But this, really, is the point. Like the best arcade games, '101' requires submission into an almost unconscious state before you can fully appreciate how enjoyable the game really is.
Technically, the Wii U copes brilliantly and the graphics look bright, simple (but not simplistic) and dizzying fast. The main issue with the game is that it's actually surprisingly obtuse at times. IE It's not always obvious which strategies work or why, and even when you know what to do, actually managing to do it can be difficult with so much happening on screen.
But if action and arcade style titles are your thing, and you can cope with the manic nature of the core gameplay, it's a really solid and impressive original title. And one that - yet again - you wouldn't find on any other console.
Wonderful 101 may not seem like a hugely significant game to many outside the core gaming set. That it comes from Platinum games and is on the Wii U may be a headline for the gaming faithful but for families these things matter less.
However, in the families I've worked with it plugs a really important gap: that of PEGI 12 rated games. Scan the weekly game sales charts and it's quickly evident that there are fewer games in this category than other age groups.
As stated on the PEGI website a PEGI 12 game may "show violence of a slightly more graphic nature towards fantasy character" but not include "violence that looks the same as would be expected in real life". While PEGI 12 games can "show nudity of a slightly more graphic nature" they mustn't "reference drugs or tobacco". Walking this line is no easy matter for a realistic modern videogame.
Again, it's an important category though. As I talk to families about playing games together and getting them out of the bedrooms and into living rooms I'm often asked what alternatives there are for the older rated games.
Wonderful 101 is strong example of game getting this right for all the best reasons. Firstly it is gorgeous to look at and oozes the sort of attention to detail and little touches usually reserved for Pixar movies. In fact in many ways it resembles that style of visual storytelling, only here rather than a small bunch of heroes there are literally hundreds running round the screen.
You are placed in control of an angry mob and can control them via the touch screen on the Wii U controller. Particular motions then arrange them into different attacks -- a huge pink whip, a green gun used to launch your little people and a big hammer that cracks up concrete.
Within this mob are 101 "super" heroes from various different nations. Each has a different look and ability and needs to be used intelligently to proceed through the various city-scapes. It's all rather reminiscent of Japanese B Movies like Godzilla.
Platinum Games manages to create the kind of bedlum that pre-16 year old players may have been missing since the excellent Smash Brothers Brawl on the Wii - another great PEGI 12 game. That game seemed simple but turned out to have a tonne of depth, and Wonderful 101 seems similar.
The controls slowly grow in their diversity and must be combined in ever more brain twisting combinations. If you are looking for the video-game equivalent of patting your head and rubbing your tummy this may well be it. Only you'll look much cooler doing it.
Some may complain that as the game develops it lacks refinement, but actually for younger children this really isn't an issue. They can happily spend hours figuring out and crafting new weapons in the alchemy system, and although some may find the opaqueness of this process frustrating it actually adds to the fascination for those with the time to fiddle and discover.
I'm looking forward to spending many more happy hours playing Wonderful 101, and will be keeping it on hand for when my kids are of the age where they need something more exuberant to play.
Coming up next, my Disney Infinity review and then Skylanders Swap Force will soon be with us. Not a bad year for family gaming already!