One Piece: Unlimited World Red Review
The concept is enough to put a smile on anyone’s face: Pirates with superpowers. I’m actually surprised nobody thought of this before. Of course, you sorta have to like the Japanese art style; specifically, the hugely popular manga and anime cultures. If you’re a fan of such colorful, very much over-the-top artistic themes, you’ll probably enjoy One Piece: Unlimited World Red. At its core, the game is a beat-‘em-up action game based on the “One Piece” television series and as you might expect, the stirring combat is the highlight.
Technically, the production doesn’t necessarily impress. The level design isn’t exactly spectacular and some of the animations aren’t perfect. But the bottom line should be obvious: If you like this style, you’ll enjoy the visual presentation. The distinct Japanese flair is loaded with color, flashy special effects, and characters that are basically caricatures (or in some cases, not even human). Toss in that cel-shaded format and you’ve got a unique presentation that should appeal to all you anime lovers out there. Again, it’s not technically superior – the frame rate can stutter, too – but for what it is, it works.
When it comes to the sound, you have to make the standard concessions. You need to understand that cornball effects and cheesy voice acting is a staple of this particular style of entertainment. Those who are familiar with anime and manga know precisely want to expect, and there are no surprises here. The soundtrack fits the hectic, vibrant on-screen action, the effects run the gamut from silly and ridiculous to powerfully effective, and the balancing is decent. When analyzing such games these days, I feel I only have to say one thing: “If you know Japanese culture, you know exactly what to expect in terms of graphics and sound.”
Unlimited World Red is a spin-off adventure featuring a non-canon story penned by author Eiichiro Oda. The story boasts a few appreciated twists and turns, and begins on a strong note: Protagonist Luffy’s crew has been kidnapped, so he’s out to rescue his buddies with the help of Pato, a raccoon who can bring drawings to life (for whatever reason, this reminded me of Okami). From the moment your rousing adventure begins, you will realize just how critical the atmosphere is; if you’re a fan, you’re good to go. If not, this extremely rich, colorful assault on the senses might prove downright obnoxious.
For the sake of argument, let’s just say the presentation is to your liking. You’re familiar with anime and manga, you’ve heard of “One Piece,” and the completely bonkers box art didn’t turn you off. Okay, so you’ve gotten that far. Now, you want to know about the gameplay and for the most part, I’ve got good news: This is a fun, engaging, in-depth quest that feels fresh and original from start to finish. Even though the game is an action brawler at heart, it tries to expand beyond that somewhat simplistic format and delivers a relatively robust experience.
Like I said, the locations aren’t all that interesting, but you do get to face down rival pirates, all manner of crazy wildlife creatures, and even a few intimidating bosses. If you can get past the uninspired locales and focus entirely on the battles, you’ll be in for a satisfying treat. Each character uses a specific weapon set, and a bunch of combination attacks that coincide with those weapons. Frankie unleashes cannonballs and lasers, while Zoro, the disciplined swordsman, utilizes an entirely different combat technique. Now, I’m not a big fan of fighting games because I’ve always hated having to constantly memorize and execute complex combos.
But this game is a bit more streamlined and intuitive, even though you are encouraged to perform well. For instance, if you successfully execute a particular combo (helpfully listed on the screen during combat), you’ll enter Rush Mode, which allows you to dole out much more damage. Plus, the actual button input process isn’t overly taxing, so you never feel completely overwhelmed, as I often do in strict fighters. Participating in pitched battles with significantly powerful enemies forces you to react and adapt, and you also have to embrace each ally’s very specific skill set. You can’t merely become proficient with one style, so the game keeps you on your toes throughout.
Your goal is to expand upon your home base, Trans Town. You’ll end up building important facilities like factories and pharmacies, so the game has that strategy twist as well. With each new facility built comes the ability to enhance your characters; you can earn new items or equipment, or heal hurt fighters. Building requires the acquisition of materials obtained during missions and mini games like Card Rush, so you’re always looking for those valuable elements. I particularly like this mechanic because it’s a cerebral addition to the gameplay, making it feel like a more well-rounded and rewarding game. It’s not just about flashy viscera.
Lastly, there’s the Battle Coliseum, which lets you throw down against waves of foes. You can tackle this difficult challenge solo or with a friend, although you can’t actually compete against one another. However, you do get to sample characters that aren’t available in story mode, so it makes tackling these challenges worthwhile. You raise your rank by succeeding in the Coliseum and eventually, if you’ve got the skills and the spirit, you can fight the exceedingly strange Donquixote Doflamingo. To some, this would be little more than a diversion, but it fits with the style and theme of the production, and adds more entertaining gameplay.
One Piece: Unlimited World Red has its flaws. The story doesn’t really impress, the combat can be tricky, the locations could’ve been much more interesting, and you can’t fight against a friend. It’s also not the most technically accomplished title you’ll ever play. At the same time, what it offers is a solid fun factor, which you can enjoy even if you’re not a fan of the series. There’s a lot to like about this unique battling system, and the home base expansion infuses the game with much-appreciated intricacy. So, provided the wacky atmosphere doesn’t turn you off, you might want to consider giving this one a try. The summer drought is in full swing, you know…
The Good: Vivid, vibrant color palette. Engaging, dynamic gameplay. Added strategic variety spices up the experience. Solid control and good pacing. Battle Coliseum is a challenging feature. High fun factor.
The Bad: Not technically impressive. Story has promise but doesn’t deliver on that promise. Bland locales. No competitive multiplayer option.
The Ugly: “Well, if you’re not into the quintessential Japanese style, the entire game is a turn-off.”
7/22/2014 Ben Dutka