The anime "One Piece" might not be one of the most well known shows to the general public, but it is one of the longest-running of its type currently on television.
The show, which first aired in 1997, is about Luffy, a seafaring pirate cursed with a rubber-like body and his rag-tag misfit crew, the Straw Hat Pirates. They sail the high seas in search of an artifact that would make Luffy the next pirate king.
In One Piece: Unlimited World Red, the latest in a line of video games based on the show, players command Luffy and his crew on yet another (mis)adventure. While the story is self-contained, players start fairly late into the source material's storyline, which is apparent by the references made to things not found within the game. While not a problem overall, it is something that can prove detrimental to series newcomers. Either way, there is a good amount of humor throughout thanks to the game's many nonsensical moments.
Two games ago in One Piece: Pirate Warriors the game focused largely on combat gameplay in the spirit of Tecmo KOEI's Dynasty Warriors games. In One Piece: Romance Dawn, the most previous title, things were more RPG-oriented. This time around, it seems like a well balanced combination of the two.
The game's 10-or-so-hour main campaign is in the style of a free-form action RPG in which players traverse through a variety of areas fighting enemies, finding treasure, and so on. Blending heavy role-playing game elements in with real time action, the game flows quite well and keeps things interesting for quite a while before the rinse-and-repeat combat begins to wear thin. Combat, however, is really the only way to improve the stats of all nine of the Straw Hat Pirates, and stat bonuses are awarded for mixing up your moves. Not only does this encourage players to try out new combinations in combat, it also encourages against simple button-mashing and repetitious gameplay tactics. It's not perfect and could use a bit of refinement, but's it's passable as-is.
In addition to standard exploration and combat, the game also provides players with a selection of ho-hum minigames. Unfortunately, most all of these - which include exciting activities such as fishing - are clumsily made and offer very little appeal beyond the first couple of times giving these activities a go.
Outside of the campaign is the exciting Battle Coliseum. This is where multiplayer elements come into play with the PlayStation Vita, allowing for up to four-player co-op. Geared towards those preferring more action than less, players will go at it against an extensive variety of enemies, including recycled boss battles from the main campaign and survival challenges.
Presentation-wise Ultimate World Red stays faithful to the anime show. Developer Ganbarion did a good job re-creating the characters in good detail, as well as making a game world that looks like it was ripped right out of the source material. Furthermore, action is smooth, and not once did the game's frame rate seem to suffer even when there was a lot going on on-screen.
When it comes right down to it, One Piece: Unlimited World Red is a rather good play. Could it have used a little bit of extra attention paid to it from its developers? Sure. However, what is there isn't worth too much criticism. The new Coliseum mode brings a new core gameplay element to the franchise, and enough of the gameplay elements mesh together nicely that the lackluster minigames can be partially overlooked.
Series newbies might have some trouble making sense of it all, but franchise fans shouldn't have a problem picking this game up.
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Platform(s): PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Nintendo Wii U, 3DS
Rating: T for Teen
Score: 3 out of 4